St John Driving Academy - Whangarei
0800 DRIVING or (09) 437-4120

ST John Driving Academy

0800 DRIVING or (09)437-4120


1992 –

The Academy was established in 1992 primarily to deliver classroom based Driver Retraining courses as a sentencing alternative for the Courts when dealing with minor traffic offenders.

The instigation for this is understood to have come from the Northland Road Safety Forum / Trust (Bill Rossiter) and through Peter McRea of St John Training. 

The resources at that time were two Ford Laser hatchback sedans, traffic cones and Drive Plan education programme and videos along with a large cumbersome TV/Video player – all owned by the Northland Road Safety Trust and in 1996 these were purchased from them by St John Whangarei Area Committee of St John.

The original staff and vehicles for the Academy were:

  • Des Beattie – senior driving instructor – full time - an ex-traffic officer with driver testing and school training experience.
  • Harry Apetera – part-time – 17 years experience delivering Defensive Driving course.
  • Gerry O’Connell – part time.











Harry Apetera (left) and Gerry O’Connell (right) with the Ford Lasers purchased in 1992 – no power steering, no electric windows or air conditioning. They really fogged up on damp days with four students!

(each of these cars ran up 250,000 + kms)



Replacement Ford Lasers 2002 (they got up to 150,000kms)



Replacement Ford Focus (X 2) 2007

(With air con, cruise control, we are getting spoiled now)



The fleet in 2014 after one of the Ford Focus’ was written off.  Not our fault, we got hit from behind by a four wheel drive vehicle whilst we were parked!

2007 Ford Focus manual

2013 Mazda 2 automatic

2014 Mazda 2 manual



In our 25th Year of operating we have decided to update our vehicle signage.  We also said goodbye to our Ford Foucs to come in line with the demand of more automatic lessons.  

2013 Mazda 2 automatic

2014 Mazda 2 manual

2008 Nissan Tiida automatic


Gerry has retired from full time instructing, and had returned to his part time instructor role.  He's turning the clocks back to 1992 when he first started as a part timer.  We look forward to still seeing Gerry around from time to time.  


1992 -

The Courts were slow to refer offenders to the Retraining courses – easier and more traditional to issue fines? - so more emphasis was placed on provision of driving lessons and a Driver Education course was created.


This course took 15 / 16 year olds with no licence, gave them training to pass their learner licence (testing by police was done in St John classrooms), theory training through the Drive Plan programme – a First Aid component was included, and practical training (peer assisted tuition) with 3 or 4 to a car on Saturdays to take them to their Restricted licences.


1996 -

Early in 1996 the Academy in conjunction with Police (Sgt Doug Te Paa) commenced a three day Marae based Driver Licence programme aimed mainly at Northlanders over 20 years and living in rural area as there was a major issue with estimated 3,000 plus driving without any licence. Courses were run from the Far North down to Rodney / Kaipara on local Marae. On the third day all sat learner licence tests and those over 25years were able to be tested for their full licence. Participants were a varied lot – some even over 70years, a truck driver from Auckland, recent jail release, several generations from a family. Several thousand obtained the licences during this programme – success rate was over 94%.





 The Marae based Driver Licence programme concept and course development was ours and was picked up around the country and a version of it

adopted even by our Aussie cousins!


1996 -



Des Beattie was involved in the development of Safe with Age courses which were delivered around NZ for many years – we delivered these until they were taken over by unpaid volunteers.


With changes to Driver Licensing – photo & eyesight testing – these courses ceased and have been replaced by

DLAC courses (Driver Licence Assistance courses) co-ordinated by People Potential PTE and funded by

RoadSafe Northland on behalf of NZ Transport Agency.

The students are largely those who have left schooling early – for a variety of reasons! –

Our success rate is often rather impressive.

An essential part of our work is the delivery of the defensive driving courses (official / legal name “Advanced Driving Skills Course”) for many years the “NZ Defensive Driving Course” owned by Automobile Association, but for the last few years we have chosen instead to provide the NZTA programme “Street Talk” under the franchise of Passrite Driving Academy, Auckland.

We were the first in Northland to provide “Street Talk”.  This programme is now owned by NZ Institute of Driving Educators (Instructors) Inc.



The academy goes into serveral local High School to run Street Talk defensive driving courses for classes of up to 16 students as well as assess the students for up to a ten NZQA credits.

Courses have been delivered off-site to a variety of schools and organisations.



Some of our delivery methods have changed in the past 20 years. Overhead Projectors and videos are now almost a thing of the past as Powerpoint presentations and DVDs have taken their place. We still cannot do without our whiteboards though!




The Academy was also involved with process in obtaining and renewal of the “E” licences required for Ambulance Drivers until systems changed in the 1990s -  This has since been changed and replaced with new training. 



We now deliver a two day weekend Ambulance Driver Training (around 8 courses a year) usually in Whangarei (but we have delivered in Kerikeri and Doubtless Bay and been as far as the Coromandel) and have assisted Ambulance Driver Training in Auckland with their Ambulance Driver course and with assessments for new recruits.               




Of recent times were are seeing more GP referrals of elderly drivers for assessment, and we also have involvement with occupational therapists for stroke and accident rehabilitation work.

Hospital geriatricians refer patients to us for training and assessments.  


We are also involved in an experimental programme involving people on Methadone treatment for drug addictions.





We also assist with the delivery of the Rotary RYDA youth driving attitudes programme for the region’s High Schools

RYDA's Mission

• To provide first quality road safety information to youth

• To help ensure that when young people commence driving they have had the best road safety education possible.

Workloads have varied due to systems / laws changes, school exam times to name a few – at times we have been fully booked three months in advance, but we always maintain a high standard and help all students to acheive their goal.  

All Instructors have been/are NZTA approved driving instructors and are also registered Assessors for NZQA, as well as St John Clinical Assessors for driving. This enables us to assess Core Driving unit standards for NZQA.

They are also approved facilitators for approved courses of Advanced Driving Skills - Street Talk our preferred defensive driving course (NZ Institute of Driver Educators / Passrite Driving Academy – previously NZ Transport Agency, previously LTNZ).  Two of our Instructors have completed a National Certificate in Adult Education and Training (Level 4), and working towards level 5 NZQA.