In Mitimiti yesterday, John Martin was at the urupa, the cemetery where his cousin Ralph Hotere will lie when his body is flown by helicopter to the beachside marae.

The spot is about 12km north of the Hokianga Harbour and Mr Martin, 72, spent the morning in his digger making sure a couple of jobs were done, up on the high hill that looks out on to the Tasman Sea.

The Matihetihe Marae kaumatua has his hands full making sure the tangi for New Zealand's most famous artist runs smoothly. But he's used to big funerals. Today he'll go fishing.

"I sent a message out to the lads: Go ahead with the beef, we can hang it in the chillers. The longer the better, makes it more tender.


"There will probably be half a dozen mutton. That's enough to get us started until we get an idea of how many people will come through the door," Mr Martin said.

Making things extra busy is that there are separate headstone unveilings planned for Saturday.

Whanau from Australia have already arrived for the unveilings and they will go ahead, although the timing is still to be discussed.

Hohaia Rd, where the marae is, and West Coast Rd, which runs parallel to the beach, have a population of about 141, according to Statistics New Zealand figures. The second road is a long one.

In Mitimiti, lazy horses rarely create traffic hazards, but this weekend, Mr Martin said, it is shaping up to be packed, which means a possible overflow of people staying at the marae for the tangi.

"We're chasing up three marquees actually, possibly from Te Runanga o Te Rarawa [tribal council]. We don't see all of the people fitting into our little marae.

"The whare will be left for the immediate family, then we'll set the marquees up for sleeping. We have to make contact with other marae around here, Panguru, Waihou and Rangi Point, and borrow some gear.

"One has already offered everything they've got, whatever we want besides mattresses, commercial steam cookers. They're waiting for me to ring them back."

Off the menu is the shellfish delicacy toheroa, a favourite of Hotere's but no longer abundant on the beach.

Mr Martin lived in Invercargill for much of his working life and was a regular visitor to the artist's place in Dunedin before returning home in 2003 to retire.

He loved his cousin. He was a very generous man, and he'll miss him.

And then there is the problem of two special paintings.

One was given to Mr Martin's wife, who has since died, and one was a 50th birthday present.

"I got a couple of paintings on my wall. I'll have to chain them up now. I'd say they've doubled in value."

On Thursday, Hotere will be farewelled with a Requiem Mass at St Joseph's Catholic Cathedral in Dunedin. The burial day will be decided after the whanau arrive in the Far North the next day.