The family of a young woman found dead on the side of State Highway 3 at Otorohanga say their hearts are "broken into pieces."
Ocean "Lovey" Heke, 17, spent Saturday night celebrating her close friend Filma's 18th birthday.
Police are investigating what happened, including whether a car was involved.
Ocean's mother, Bella Tupu, posted a tribute to her daughter on Facebook.
"It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that Clarry, I and our children must farewell our beautiful baby 'Lovey' Ocean Poihaere Heke.
"Our hearts are broken in pieces baby girl, but we will be strong.
"I know Granddad was waiting with open arms a smile and a tear. We love you so much. This is hurting my soul so much my Lovely I can hardly bear it but for all your sisters and brothers I will be strong, we will be strong.
"Rest in the everlasting loving arms of our Father and our Tupuna, our Lovey Love."
Her family last night told the Herald she was "a beautiful soul".
Filma's mother, Emmy Tapara - who is good friends with Ocean's mother, Bella Heke - said she was grateful to have shared a special last few moments with Ocean when she arrived at the party on Saturday.
"I gave her a kiss and a hug. She said, 'Hello, my aunty, I missed you', and gave me a big kiss ... It is special. I didn't realise it was going to be the last kiss."
Ms Tapara said Ocean had a nice evening at the party, spending time with her friends and cousins.
Ocean's father, Clarry, was also at the party, and spent most of the night there "waiting for her".
"She was all good. She's a quiet girl, always smiling. She wasn't drinking, or falling around like that. She was just her usual self."
And that's how Ms Tapara will now always remember the teen.
"She was a quiet girl but always had a big smile."
Ms Tapara said Ocean was one of eight children.
"[They were a] very tight-knit family. They were mummy's kids."
"Our daughter broke down when she found out. Her friend had texted her this morning that somebody had died and she didn't want to believe it was her."
A passerby found Ocean lying on the grass outside the Tapara home on State Highway 3, just north of the King Country township. It was 6.30am and she was dead.
I'm just so sad that someone's baby was taken away. It is just heartbreaking.
SHARE THIS QUOTE:
Detective Senior Sergeant Ross Patterson said debris indicated that a vehicle was involved, and Ocean had "collided" with it.
Last night, police were still trying to identify the vehicle. Resident Lauren Zanders said she had heard a car whizzing past her property early in the morning.
"I got woken up some time in the wee hours of the morning by a car doing a burn-out down the road. The only thing I heard apart from that was a crowd of people saying 'chug, chug' at a party down the road.
"I'm just so sad that someone's baby was taken away. It is just heartbreaking."
Mr Patterson said a post-mortem examination would take place in Auckland today.
Police officers spent part of the day knocking on doors within a cordon covering a large section of SH3, which runs through the centre of Otorohanga. A blue tent had been erected inside the cordon and yellow numbered markers dotted the road.
Mr Patterson said the police wanted to hear from anyone with information.
"We expect that as our investigation progresses, we will find out more about how she came to be there and the circumstances of her death. This is a tragedy and our thoughts are with her family at this time."
Otorohanga District Mayor Max Baxter called for the community to stick together and support one another.
"This is a very close community and we've got a wonderful group of young people in this town."
- additional reporting: Cherie Howie