Thousands gather in Waitangi for national day

By Yvonne Tahana

Members of the anti family violence hikoi march up the hill to the Treaty Grounds during Waitangi celebrations. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Members of the anti family violence hikoi march up the hill to the Treaty Grounds during Waitangi celebrations. Photo / Sarah Ivey

A hikoi march against domestic violence has arrived at the Treaty Grounds in Waitangi chanting "if you are a man, walk away."

The group, which is a couple of hundred strong, walked onto the grounds as the Navy band were playing this morning.

A 21 gun salute has just taken place as thousands of people gather around the historical grounds to eat their lunch and soak up the collegial atmosphere.

The Airforce's Red Checkers have also wowed Waitangi Day crowds in the Bay of Islands.

The aerial lunch time display of five E-model CT4 air trainers included vertical manoeuvres flipped planes ground wards after they'd lost power, making some on the ground queasy.

"It better not crash!" one mother said.

Another, looking skywards said jokingly "I didn't think they had this sort of carry-on this day [the government] sold everything," she said.

Earlier, the foreshore at Waitangi turned muddy in the bright sun as waka paddlers delighted thousands with haka.

Eight waka including the country's largest - Ngatokimatawhaorua - delivered young and old Maori to the beach where thousands had gathered to watch the annual spectacle.

A couple of hundred went through a series of haka before finishing with Ka Mate.

They paddled away from the beach, waka by waka to the sound of the conch, the individual calls to keep the vessels in time mingling with each other on the water and back to clapping crowds onshore.

Waitangi Day kicked off at dawn with a light-hearted church service led by the country's politicians and iwi leaders.

Check out all the photos from the day here.

But a little known Pawarenga man, who was called on to run the service two minutes before it began by Ngapuhi's Sonny Tau, was a little bit of a scene stealer.

Hohepa Rudolph asked the Prime Minister John Key, Labour Leader David Shearer, Mana's Hone Harawira and Metiria Turei to offer prayers.

The service is usually in sharp contrast to the activities on the lower marae at Waitangi as people contemplate the day, but it can draw lone protestors. Memorably one year a man talked about his vision of Wellington being destroyed.

This year Mr Rudolph, a Catholic, mercilessly ran down his Far North home town.

"God took six days to create the earth," he said.

"He rested on the seventh and then woke up on the eighth and said 'S**t I forgot Pawarenga'," he finished, sending the crowd - which was smaller than usual - into giggles.

Warming to his task he told the Maori and Pakeha gathered that as a young Catholic boy he often asked his grandparents why his family were always kneeling and praying.

"Because when we opened our eyes all our land was gone," he said.

It was a cheeky joke and performance that captures the kind of humour that Tai Tokerau Maori are known for.

The Prime Minister opened the prayers in more formal fashion saying those who signed the Treaty more than 170 years ago had done so with courage. New Zealand today was a place of peace and prosperity, he said.

He took a moment to remember Sir Paul Holmes grieving family, as well as troops in Afghanistan.

Titewhai Harawira, who was one player in granny-gate yesterday, walked in late to the service just as Ms Turei was giving her prayer - and mentioning the many strong women in leadership the country was lucky to have had.

Rachel and Blake Cameron from Haruru Falls brought their two young children to the service. It's the second time the pair have attended.

They said they loved listening to the Te Reo portions of the service and their four-year-old daughter, Indie, was looking forward to the kapa haka later in the day.

"People have said to us 'oh I'm not going to Waitangi because of all the protesting,' but I tell them it's not really like that. There's bands, food, it's a real fun day," Mr Cameron said.

- NZ Herald

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