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Safe pair of hands . . . Laser Plumbing Oamaru's Meli Kolinisau is now a fully qualified plumber and drainlayer. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

Meli Kolinisau’s lockdown experiences could not be more different.

Just before last year’s lockdown, Mr Kolinisau was forced to return to his homeland, Fiji, when a supporting document for his visa application was out of date.

He resubmitted his application from Fiji, but New Zealand’s borders closed due to Covid-19 and he became stuck in Fiji.

It was seven months before he returned to Oamaru and was reunited with his partner Laura Pickles.

The stress of last year’s lockdown was vastly different from what he experienced in recent weeks.

Mr Kolinisau had a reason to celebrate, as he graduated from the Apprentice Training Trust with his plumbing and drainlaying qualifications.

It brought to a close five years – extended from a traditional four-year apprenticeship because of last year’s complications – of hard work and dedication for the Laser Plumbing Oamaru apprentice.

Mr Kolinisau was supposed to graduate via Zoom last Friday due to Alert Level 3 restrictions, but admitted he forgot and missed the online ceremony.

Despite the mix-up, which he laughed about, Mr Kolinisau was really pleased to have completed his qualification certificates.

“It’s pretty good. It took up most of my time so it’s given me a little bit of extra freedom really,” Mr Kolinisau said.

Throughout this year’s lockdown, Mr Kolinisau had been on call for Laser Plumbing, undertaking emergency work, and said it was definitely better than last year’s situation.

“It’s just way better – especially because I’m with Laura as well.”

Mr Kolinisau grew up in Fiji, and moved to Oamaru to take up a rugby scholarship at Waitaki Boys’ High School.

He went on to be a talented rugby player for Valley and North Otago – he captained the Old Golds against King Country at Queen’s Birthday weekend – and played for the New Zealand Heartland XV.

After leaving school, he took up an apprenticeship at Laser Plumbing.

The business, and its owner, Shane Carter, played a big part in his life, Mr Kolinisau said.

Mr Carter guided Mr Kolinisau not only as his boss, but as his rugby coach for Valley and as an assistant for the Old Golds.

“He’s pretty much one of the reasons why I’m still in New Zealand at the moment. He’s the one that offered me the apprenticeship to stay in New Zealand and work.

“I’m really grateful to him. He’s pretty much the one that’s been helping me through all of this, and playing rugby for him, it makes it easier for me.”

Mr Cater said Laser Plumbing was proud of Mr Kolinisau for completing his apprenticeship.

“He has done exceptionally well and it hasn’t been easy being an apprentice in a demanding trade along with all his other commitments.

“We’ve loved supporting him throughout this journey, and to see him graduate it fantastic,” he said.

“We are excited to see what the future holds for him.”