Hundreds of teenaged students have arrived in Hawke's Bay for the national secondary schools kapa haka festival which opens with a powhiri in the Pettigrew Green Arena in Taradale today.

Te Haaro o Te Kaahu has attracted 39 groups which have made their way through competitions in 14 regions throughout the country.

The competitions, one of the biggest events on the secondary schools' calendar this year and seen as an entree to national kapa haka festival Te Matatini in Hastings in February, start tomorrow with 13 groups on stage each day.

First off is Hastings-based Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Ngati Kahungunu ki Heretaunga, while the Hawke's Bay area - Te Matau-a-Maui - is also represented by Te Aute College and Hastings Boys High School's Te Roopu Manu Huia.

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Among the groups is the most travelled Te Wharekura o Arowhenua, an Invercargill school which after winning the Southland/Otago regional finals last year enlisted pupils from Southland boys' and girls' high schools and co-educational Invercargill Catholic school Verdon Colege to boost the numbers, flying 38 performers plus tutors and supporters to Napier for the week.

The competition is divided into three pools, the top three from each qualifying for the finals on Friday.