Wānaka birthing unit finally opens with visit from PM

by Lauren Pattemore - Jun 27, 2024

In an exciting day for expecting mothers and midwives, the long-awaited Wānaka primary birthing unit had its blessing and opening event, with the centre officially opening for births late July.

The occasion prompted a visit from prime minister Christopher Luxon and health minister Dr Shane Reti.

Speaking this afternoon at the new centre, named Rākai Kahukura, Dr Reti says he expects it to support 400 families and 50 births per year once it opens on July 29.

One of four post-natal rooms at the new Wānaka birthing unit.

"This facility and the incredible staff who will work here will make a real difference for many local families, who until now have faced long and potentially stressful travel to give birth," the minister says.

The birthing unit is a big step forward for health infrastructure in Otago, but Dr Reti acknowledges there is still work to do to expand access to healthcare in the Central Lakes area.

Health minister Shane Reti speaking at the event today.

The facility includes a birthing room with ensuite and birthing pool, four post-natal rooms with ensuites, an onsite antenatal clinic with four rooms, a community room for relaxation and education, and a whānau room. 

Wānaka expecting mother Caroline Gray found out two days ago the centre would be open in time for her August due date, and the news made her cry. 

For Ms Gray, the new centre will make all the difference after spending three weeks in Dunedin during the birth of her first child.

She notes she's one of many mothers who's had to do this.

Expecting mothers and new leaders of the centre, from left, Karen Ferraccioli, Health NZ's midwifery southern director, Emma Bennet, Caroline Gray, Kayla Best and Jane Wilson Jane Wilson, chief nursing and midwifery officer.

"I just think being uprooted very close to your due date when you're having your first baby is quite scary...it's really exciting that people will not be needing to be doing that so much any more."

The former luxury lodge come birthing facility was purchased back in July 2022 by the then-Labour government.

It was originally flagged to open early last year, however the conversion project faced continual pushbacks.

Prime minister Christopher Luxon says he was happy to part of the celebration this afternoon when addressing the crowd.

Speaking at the event today prime minister Chris Luxon acknowledged the long drives Wānaka families had been facing in order to give birth.

"By establishing this centre, we're creating a space, I think, where families can come and welcome their little ones with great love into this community surrounded by familiar faces and support.

"We stand here, I think, on the cusp of something that's truly remarkable, a birthing centre that will bring many new beginnings to this great community."

He reminded the crowd today that the government wants to ensure that smaller communities like Wānaka have timely access to quality healthcare.

Budget 2024 contained the "largest ever investment" into healthcare with $16.7 billion of spending over the next four years, Mr Luxon says. 

Also at the event, Dr Reti shared an update on the Clyde birthing unit, saying construction will start in early 2025, with the facility expected to be operational by 2026.

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