Maori culture proudly to the fore in unforgettable start to tournament
It was a rhythmic chant that accompanied 600 waka paddlers into Auckland's Viaduct Harbour yesterday where thousands waited for them to kick-start a six-week-long party.
Captains of 20 waka extolled their crews to "Kokiri, kokiri" (advance, advance) as they cut through the glistening waters of the Waitemata.
They came in with smooth strokes, their white painted hoe or paddles propelling the ochre-coloured craft softly through the water.
There was an expectant quiet as the waka made their way towards Te Wero bridge. The sound of a karanga, as women called the waka in, and the notes from a conch shell carried clearly across the water.
Six-year-old Sam Rackham, sitting on his dad's shoulders with a big smile on his face, yelled out: "Go waka, go."
Through the raised arms of Te Wero bridge, waka including King Tuheitia's Tainui craft and Ngapuhi's beautiful Ngatokimatawhaorua iti made their way past opulent superyachts such as Janice of Wyoming to dock at a harbour more used to seeing multimillion-dollar America's Cup contenders.
It didn't stay quiet long. Once the first waka had passed the bridge, thousands who lined the waterside steps at Wynyard Quarter, the balconies at the Events Centre and wharfside let rip with cheers as the men and boys glided to dock.
There was one waka for each competing rugby nation.
As thousands waited patiently for the paddlers to come up onto the Viaduct for a haka, the classic Pokarekare Ana rang out over the loudspeakers.
The crowd began to sing the love song, a fitting ode to an afternoon on which people took care to watch out for each other in cramped quarters.
Dave Dobbyn serenaded the 600 kaihoe - paddlers - with his signature ballad Welcome Home before a haka leader finally split the air with a call to all for the paddlers to "taringa whakarongo," the signal to the men to ready themselves.
Wallabies utility James O'Connor heard those haka and he tweeted followers that he'd love to be watching them live.
"Gd 1-2 Km's from the Viaduct n can hear the Haka from in my hotel room like I'm facing it on the field..unreal", the Aussie wrote.
Visitors, tourists and mums and dads crowded bars, apartments and office buildings to watch the spectacle but still many couldn't get a glimpse of the mass haka.
Fortunately for many who missed the main event, the first crew to leave made sure they gave the masses a show by performing a second time.
Tony Lewis, 74, from Takapuna, who was watching with binoculars, said that made his day.
"It's just fantastic. They're a good bunch of lads - bit of beef there."
Midi Rapana, 34, sat on a deckchair with her sister and picnicked during the afternoon.
She couldn't have wished for a better start to the Rugby World Cup, she said.
"It's been the most brilliant day - feel it, we've all come together."