Birdsong was the backing track for the first day of Timi te Heuheu's Waihi Village tangi yesterday.
On the southern shores of Lake Taupo, it is a beautiful place where steam from geothermal springs rises out of the bush-blanketed cliffs that hug the settlement.
It is heartland Ngati Tuwharetoa. A handful of homes are on the only road in. They lead to Tapeka, the wharenui where mourners are expected to pour in until one of the tribe's best-known and loved representatives is buried on Monday.
The trills and calls from the trees could be heard as speaker after speaker from iwi from around the central North Island spoke of their connection to the 68-year-old.
Chris Winitana, speaking on behalf of Tuwharetoa, said Timi, the brother of paramount chief Tumu, had been the tribe's "manu tioriori", a heralding bird who'd worked tirelessly for his people's interests.
Hundreds waited patiently for their turn to go on to the marae, keeping warm with cups of tea as the temperature fell.
Eru George of Te Arawa said the late husband of former Cabinet minister Georgina te Heuheu was his brother's right-hand man. He was equally at home with Pacific royalty, MPs or the cooks who keep Maori gatherings going. "And what's more - he knew all their names too. He could be with the common people too."
Sartorially elegant and articulate, he'd have people roaring with laughter at tribal tidbits.
The brothers had been an amazing team, Mr George said.
"Their tuakana-teina [older brother/younger] relationship was special. Timi was the best PR man for Ngati Tuwharetoa and the house of te Heuheu, he was hugely warm but he was discreet and very, very careful. He never assumed he was talking for Tumu."
Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples, Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta and former Deputy Prime Minister Sir Michael Cullen also paid their respects. Sir Michael said he would remember Timi as a man of honour.By Yvonne Tahana Email Yvonne