Students at Te Wharekura O Mauao marked their graduation with an early morning hike up Mauao for the blessing of their individually carved taonga sunrise.

Deputy principal Heywood Kuka said the Saturday graduation ceremony up Mauao began in 2014, and this was the third time it had been held.

"We wanted something special for our kids, usually you have a graduation dinner but we really wanted to make it unique, not only to them but also a uniquely Maori experience."

"We want our kids when they leave to give back to society and to their marae. We thought that celebrating this way, it's more than just an education they're getting, it's a step into the rest of their life."


The group, including the 19 graduating students, met at 5.15am at the base of Mauao and got to the top just before 6am as the sun was rising.

"Typical teenagers don't like getting up early, the first two minutes dragging their feet but they're the first ones up there."

Once they had reached the top, they group said a karakia (prayer) and blessed the taonga to be given to the graduates.

Each student had talked to the teachers who carved the taonga who had worked "around the clock" for a week and a half creating each gift from just a piece of wood.

"It's pretty intense. They are quite detailed," Mr Kuka said.

"Students have to talk to carvers and tell them their stories and pick what they want to have."

The students were given carved taiaha (traditional weapon), waka huia (a treasure box) or a patu (club).

The ceremony drew an audience of interested tourists, who stopped on their early walk to watch.

"It's all part of being who we are," Mr Kuka said.