It's one of Northland's most enjoyable sporting events, but organisers say the real aim of the Pawarenga United Marae Sports Day is to give whanau a chance to come together. And they certainly did that on Monday, farewelling 2012 with a day of sporting challenges including an iron man and woman, kids' races, tug-o-war, wood chopping and volleyball.

The annual event is best known for its horse races on the beach and a gruelling cross-country horse race that incorporates a beach sprint, a hill climb across rugged farmland, jumps, metal roads and a mangrove swamp, however.

Sports day stalwart Joanna Olsen, better known as Nanny O, said the event was a chance for whanau to come together. Many people with ties to Te Uri o Tai o Pawarenga came home from as far away as Australia for Christmas and the sports day.

"It's about whanaungatanga [family relationships]. It's lovely to see so many people I haven't seen in a long time," she said.

It was also a major fundraiser, with the proceeds split between Pawarenga's three marae - Taio, Ohaki and Morehu.

The event had been going for at least 30 years, with a break after Pawarenga was hit by a major flood in 2000, the most successful (financially) to date raising $38,000. Proceeds had dwindled since that peak but were climbing again, thanks largely to the sale of the popular Pawarenga Sports Day T-shirts. Many local families also sponsored events, providing prize money and trophies.

Mrs Olsen said Monday's big occasion was tempered with sadness because it marked the first anniversary of the death of her brother, Tamati Rudolph, soon after his return home from 40 years in Australia. Her family had sponsored the volleyball tournament in memory of Tamati and John Rudolph, and called for a minute's silence early in the day.

Co-organiser Frank Herbert put Monday's crowd at close to 1000, well up on last year, when the turnout was affected by rain. The "magnificent" day was a credit to everyone involved, he said.

A happy New Year for most - page 3.

- Northland Age

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