by Cleo Fraser
You can almost hear the karanga ringing out and the slapping of the hands.
Up to 22 volunteers have been toiling for months in preparation for the country's biggest kapa haka festival, which takes over Tauranga Moana for the first time next month.
Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Festival 09, which runs from February 19-22, is expected to pump $6.7m into the local economy - and pull in at least 40,000 people over the four days.
And at least half of those are predicted to be visitors travelling to the Bay from around the country and across the Tasman.
Festival co-director Wharehoka Wano told the Bay of Plenty Times ticket sales were looking good, although he wouldn't disclose just how many had sold so far.
"A conservative estimate would be about 10,000 a day [attending the festival] and [ticket sales are] looking well towards that figure at the moment," he said.
Maori King Tuheitia, who is a patron of the nationals, is set to be among the distinguished guests at the event.
It is the first time the event will be hosted by Tauranga Moana in its current format since it began as the Aotearoa Traditional Maori Performing Arts Festival in 1972.
The biennial festival features 36 teams - including Te Kapa Haka o Ngati Ranginui, the only team from Tauranga Moana competing - from 13 regions across the country, with two teams from Australia.
The main aspect of the set-up of the festival - a 20m by 15m stage or "battle ground" - will feature a backdrop painted with a scenic image of Mauao, about six carvings and tall woven flax sails.
"Certainly one of the challenges is to create the appropriate atmosphere for what is essentially a very important Maori [and] kapa haka event which only comes around every two years," Mr Wano said.
A number of waka, including Te Awanui, which sits along the The Strand, will also be on display.
Along with kapa haka performances, the festival also features 86 kai, craft, arts and corporate stalls.
Chairwoman of the Tauranga Moana/Mataatua organising committee, Iria Whiu, said about 22 people from the Bay of Plenty had been kept busy over the past months preparing the different aspects of the event.
"It has been a massive undertaking to organise a festival of this capacity," she said.
Although core groups, both national and local, have put the show together, the festival wouldn't be possible without the massive community support it has received.
About 250 volunteers have put their hands up to help out over the four days and by February 23 organisers estimate about 500 people would have been involved with the event.
Leaders have already begun preparations for a massive powhiri welcoming the different kapa haka groups to the area at the start of the festival.
Tickets are available through Ticketdirect at www.ticketdirect or 0800 4TICKET. Visit www.festival.tematatini.co.nz