The thundering sound of hundreds of Northland students filled Kensington Stadium yesterday, signalling the beginning of the Nga Kura Tuarua 2012 National Secondary Schools Kapa Haka Competition.
Welcoming thousands of kapa haka competitors and supporters from around New Zealand, the Tai Tokerau students gave a stirring powhiri as the competition's trophies were brought into the stadium and given pride of place.
Local dignitaries and politicians, including Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira and Whangarei Mayor Morris Cutforth, attended the powhiri, while the Maori King Kiingi Tuheitia was expected to arrive later in the day and Prime Minister John Key later in the week.
Competition organiser Johnny Waititi said the competition was attended by 43 teams, one of which will return home at the end of the week with the title of best secondary school kapa haka team in New Zealand.
It's an honour that will be well earned after some tough competition this week.
Supporting the 1800 competitors were an equal or greater number of supporters - all up about 4000-5000 people converging on Whangarei, Mr Waititi said.
"I think every motel and hotel and marae from Ruakaka to Kaikohe has been booked, so it's a great benefit because one of the things is that these groups will be staying a little bit longer and seeing a bit of Northland." Four South Island teams had arrived with the furthest-away coming from Dunedin.
Organisers had been working since October last year, Mr Waititi said. "To host a national event it takes a lot of preparation and a lot of people, from the stage to people doing tickets to the judges, people organising the powhiri for today and all the people behind the scenes who make the event as special as it can be."
Three Northland teams are competing this week: Te Rangi Aniwaniwa School, from Kaitaia; a combined Whangarei Girls' and Boys' High Schools group and Nga Puna Waiora, of Hokianga.