More than 1000 people crowded Tii Beach yesterday to watch one of Northland's greatest spectacles as hundreds of fierce warriors performed a series of spine-tingling mass haka.

Always one of the highlights of Waitangi Day, this year's waka display started at Haruru Falls — close to the ''Tent City'' where hundreds of kaihoe are camped — with the fleet of ten waka paddling to the landing near Waitangi Bridge to regroup, then performing a lap of the estuary as hundreds of people lined the bridge to watch.

Fatu Taua awaits his turn to board as the waka are readied by Waitangi Bridge. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF
Fatu Taua awaits his turn to board as the waka are readied by Waitangi Bridge. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF

Around 9.30am the waka converged on Tii Beach where more than 300 kaihoe disembarked and treated the crowd on the beach and road to almost half an hour of earth-shaking mass haka.

The waka crews included seven students from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, who are guardians of the only waka taua (ceremonial canoe) in Europe, and paddlers from the Lummi Nation of Washington State in the USA.

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Joey Rapana of Moerewa (centre) with guest paddlers on the waka Kahakura from the Lummi Nation in northwestern USA. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF
Joey Rapana of Moerewa (centre) with guest paddlers on the waka Kahakura from the Lummi Nation in northwestern USA. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF

Later they paddled to Hobson Bay, at the lower Treaty Grounds, where the great waka Ngatokimatawhaorua was taken onto the water around 1pm as another huge crowd packed the shore.

Kaihautu (captain) Joe Conrad said Ngatokimatawhaorua did not take part in the morning's display because the paddlers ran out of time to get it ready after an eventful night on Monday.

The waka Mataatua cuts a wake across Waitangi Estuary. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF
The waka Mataatua cuts a wake across Waitangi Estuary. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF

First, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made an unscheduled visit to Tent City at Bledisloe Domain, giving the paddlers just 20 minutes warning.

''She was only going to spend half an hour with us, she didn't want a big hoo-ha — but I said, 'This is kaupapa waka, we will receive you properly. This is who were are'.''

''Of all the powhiri she had at Waitangi, she said ours was the bomb,'' Mr Conrad said.

Paddlers perform pukana as the waka Mataatua passes under Waitangi Bridge. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF
Paddlers perform pukana as the waka Mataatua passes under Waitangi Bridge. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF

After all the selfies and cups of tea it was 11pm by the time the paddlers sat down to dinner.

Then, during the night, the grandfather of one of the paddlers died. That delayed the paddlers again while they paid respect to him with a poroporoaki (farewell).

Mr Conrad said waka had the power to bring people together.

''If you look on Ngatoki now we have First Nations people on there from America, we have the Netherlands boys and iwi from around the motu, all using Ngatoki as a way of celebrating the signing of the Treaty. Waka brings out comradeship for each other.''

Jef Murupaenga-Ikenn awaits the mass haka after landing the waka Kahakura on Tii Beach. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF
Jef Murupaenga-Ikenn awaits the mass haka after landing the waka Kahakura on Tii Beach. PHOTO / PETER DE GRAAF

Waka also played a key role in the nation's history. Many tupuna (ancestors) would have come by waka to Hobson Bay to sign the Treaty; and if it wasn't for waka, of the traditional Maori kind or European sailing ships, neither side would have been there to have a Treaty in the first place.

''It was waka that brought everybody to this place,'' he said.

Mr Conrad said Ms Ardern was the third Prime Minister to visit Tent City, after Jim Bolger and Jenny Shipley, but the first to be formally welcomed.