This year's Waitangi Day waka pageant will include for the first time paddlers from the Ainu, the indigenous people of Japan.
Up to 16 waka are expected at the February 6 pageant - one of Northland's great spectacles - and will be paddled by international crews from Japan, the United States and the Netherlands as well as iwi from the length and breadth of the North Island.
Nga Waka Federation chairman Robert Gabel of Kawakawa said about 20 members of the Ainu people, hosted by Te Wananga o Aotearoa, would take part for the first time. Members of a canoe culture like the Maori, they would be allocated to various crews so all would have a chance to experience the pageant.
Also taking part would be an 18-strong contingent of Native Americans, including the Suquamish people of Seattle who have a long-standing waka exchange with New Zealand, and two young Dutchmen from the city of Leiden. The Dutch paddlers are members of the Njord Royal Rowing Club, kaitiaki (guardians) of a canoe carved by Far North waka master Hec Busby for a Dutch ethnology museum.
Called Te Hono ki Aotearoa (The Link to New Zealand), the waka is often used at cultural events around Europe.
Mr Gabel said another cause for excitement was the participation of Te Arawa, who were bringing two waka from Rotorua for the first time since 1990.
Also taking part would be waka crews from Ngati Awa (Whakatane) and Tainui (Waikato).