The Ratana Church is gearing up for its biggest annual event in a few days - and the focus is on youth.

"The youth are our future so we have to keep them interested and you know how difficult it is to keep youth interested," Ratana Church executive committee chairman Waka Paama said.

The annual event celebrates the birthday of church founder Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana. He was born on January 25, 1873.

On January 25 - a Monday this year - numbers at the Ratana settlement 25km from Whanganui could swell to as many at 15,000. Every year seven uniformed bands lead the way to a noon service in the Ratana temple. Afterwards there is a great hakari (feast) in the marae dining room.


This year people are expected to start arriving on the Friday, and some could stay as long as a week. Many Ratana faithful take their annual holidays in January in order to come to the celebrations, Mr Paama said.

He's been involved for decades, and said as far as the church was concerned they followed a set format.

Activity consists of church workshops and sport for the young people and music on the Ratana stage. The programme is flexible, depending on who comes.

Sports include volleyball, table tennis, netball and sevens rugby, with competition between the seven Ratana parishes.

The Maori King, Tuheitia Paki, and Tuwharetoa paramont chief Sir Tumu Te Heuheu will be welcomed on January 23.

On January 24 at 2pm, New Zealand politicians are welcomed on to the marae in a single body.

In the past the political parties have come on separately, each needing a separate welcome.

"Last year they all arrived together by accident.

"This year we managed to arrange it," Mr Paama said.

The marae and settlement are being prepared for the occasion, with people out washing windows and tending graves and gardens.

Many visitors bring tents and caravans. Others sleep in the marae's three big sleeping rooms.

Each can hold 300-400 people.

Some campers cook for themselves. Others are served breakfast and dinner in the marae dining room, where young people are encouraged to help out.

"We have designated cooks. They are busy people. Our eating house opens and goes for one week, so it gets quite stressful."

No meal is served in the middle of the day. Instead visitors can buy food at canteens in the village, and their payments contribute to funding future celebrations.