A column of intense white light is shooting skyward from Rangitoto Island this weekend.

The magical image is a gift from 13 of the region's iwi to celebrate the Maori identity and heritage of Tamaki Makaurau - the city of Auckland.

The installation, Te Haeata o Rangitoto, is made up of 33 powerful lights similar to those used at Ground Zero in New York, and the Sky Tower.

The lights, powered by generators shipped to the island, will be switched on from 10pm to midnight tonight and tomorrow night, weather permitting.

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The lights were tested on Thursday night, prompting speculation about the light show.

Some brushed it off as lightning, some joked about an alien invasion, while others wondered whether it was a promo for the new season of The X-Files, which premiered that evening.

The light beam is intended to echo the form of traditional pou herenga - hitching posts or moorings for waka.

The project is an initiative by the iwi of Marutuahu, Ngati Whatua and Waiohua-Tamaki, known as the Tamaki Collective, and is supported by Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed). It coincides with the Tamaki Herenga Waka Festival, which focuses on the Maori identity and heritage of the region.

"We hope this beam of light will be a beacon, visible across the Auckland region, conditions permitting, drawing the eyes of Aucklanders and visitors, generating public interest in Auckland's Maori identity," said Ateed's general manager destination, Vivien Bridgwater.