It took some strong persuasion, but Bachelor of Bicultural Social Work tauira Te Ara Puketapu-Hunt is propelling herself out into the universe, and so far it’s paying off.
Last month, the 22-year-old was announced as one of 20 Miss Universe NZ finalists, and the only one from Te Tairāwhiti.
She says despite being constantly encouraged to "just give it a try" by her aunty, she eventually ran out of excuses not to.
“I felt that it was far too out of reach for myself,” she says.
“Being from a small town (Te Araroa) and coming from a Muay Thai training background, I wasn’t sure what I could possibly get out of entering, but this perspective has changed and so has my entire outlook on life.”
Since 2013, a major part of the pageant has involved an initiative called Entrepreneur Challenge, in which contestants fundraise to benefit Variety – The Children’s Charity.
So far, more than $150,000 has been raised through Miss Universe NZ and whichever entrant successfully raises the most - based on funds raised, sponsorship received and tickets sold - gets an automatic place in the Top 10.
As part of her competition strategy, Te Ara is using her Facebook page to sell Tairāwhiti t-shirts, enter a draw to win a Tā Moko session or attend a mid-winter Auction Dinner in Gisborne.
Te Ara says as well as seeking support from her Whirikōka whānau, being a contestant from a small community has its advantages, which she knows well having grown up in a family which always opened its doors to others.
It's that culture of helping others that led Te Ara to social work.
“One day my mum said to me; ‘just think about what you’re good at doing and enjoy at the same time and find a job that aligns with that,’ and so I did.
“At 18-years-old I enrolled myself into the Social Services Certificate at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa so I could eventually begin my Bachelors in Social Work. I’m now into my third year.”
Te Ara says her study has not only taught her a lot about supporting people, it has also allowed her space to learn about herself.
“At the end of my degree, I hope to infiltrate and change the systems that are not benefitting or supporting our whānau who enter them,” she says.
“From this degree, a passion for mental health and youth has evolved and led me to my current job at Te Kuwatawata, a gateway service for mental health.”
And her caring background means she has forged strong relationships with the other 19 girls chasing the Miss Universe Crown.
“I believe I’ve made life-long friendships - each girl is unique and has their own, empowering story," she says.
"I’ve even learned things about myself that I would never have known before, both good and bad.”
And win or lose, Te Ara says it's been a worthwhile experience.
“I’ve already achieved so much. Taking out the pageant would be magical but I’m grateful that I’m on the journey in the first place. I hope by doing well in this competition, I’ll encourage others from the community to leave their comfort zone and reach for the stars.”
The Miss Universe New Zealand 2018 grand final will be at SKYCITY Theatre in Auckland on August 4. To vote for Te Ara visit http://nz.iticket.io/te-ara-hunt