International sports ground McLean Park in Napier will be turned into a marae for today's welcome for 47 kapa groups and supporters hitting Hawke's Bay for the Olympics of Maori cultural performance.

The powhiri from Hawke's Bay-Wairarapa iwi Ngati Kahungunu for performers from throughout New Zealand as well as a group from Australia starts at 11am, the entree or kumamatanga to the four-day biennial Te Matatini competition festival from tomorrow to Sunday at Kahungunu Park, otherwise known as Hawke's Bay Regional Sports Park, in Hastings.

It is open to performers, visitors and the general public, gates opening at 9am, and among the thousands will be Hastings district councillor Baden Barber, of Waimarama, who will be making his second Te Matatini appearance with host rohe group Ngati Kahungunu ki Heretaunga.

Its performance is mid-morning Friday, with pressure not only as the locals determined to represent their area to the best of their ability but also to try to have a host iwi group on the stage when nine finalists compete for the major honours on Sunday.


"We are all passionate about who we are and where we are from," Mr Barber said during a break from council business and the intense practices which have dominated life in recent times.

"It's a huge commitment," he said.

"Getting towards the big day there are full weekend practices, midweek practices and individual preparation.

"There are many hundreds of hours of work from a multitude of people, right from the composers and choreographers to the performers and all their supporters."

But also at work have been dozens of people transforming Kahungunu Park, now fitted with a stage the size of a major rock concert platform

This is flanked by the mahau, a 13-metre span stretching 13m high carved by members of the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, where it was used for Te Matatini for the first time in 2013 and described at the time by institute director Karl Johnstone as a "taonga for the nation".

Its timbers are all natives, and include a huge kauri carbon-dated 4500 years old, and it illustrates the regional styles of Maori wood carving.

Mr Barber said "The stage we practise on is relatively small. When you walk out at Te Matatini it feels like a football field."

But he said it was crucial not to get overwhelmed.

"We have 25 minutes from start to finish and we have to make the most of it," he said.

"We have to all give 100 per cent, and we will."