Unity and remembering the shared values that made New Zealand strong emerged as a common theme at today's Waitangi Day dawn service at Mount Maunganui.

Speaker after speaker stressed the importance of maintaining relationships, with New Zealand's Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy saying young New Zealanders deserved to know their region's history, the good and the bad.

''Trying to hide the past and making out that it was always wonderful or always terrible is neither true nor fair,'' she told the estimated 300 people that gathered on the terraces of Hopukiore (Mount Drury) to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.

Dame Susan said New Zealanders lived in one of the most peaceful nations on earth, as well as one of the most ethnically diverse.

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''Whether it stays that way depends on every one of us,'' she said.

The MP for Tauranga Simon Bridges said that while there were clearly differences between the Crown and iwi, he was optimistic about the growing enterprise and entrepreneurial spirit among Maori.

''Maoridom in general is embracing the culture of success and doing well at it.''

Sadly, public opinion surveys still showed that many European New Zealanders looked on Waitangi Day as a day at the beach and the shenanigans that went on at Te Tii Marae at Waitangi, he said.

New Zealand needed to continue to have the korero on the way forward and coming together, Mr Bridges said.

Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless said the relationship with tangata whenua was getting better, as shown by the return of Mauao's ownership to local iwi, with the day-to-day governance of Mauao by a joint committee of the council and Maori.

Western Bay Mayor Gary Webber said the two-way dialogue must continue because the future of New Zealand depended on it.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council (Toi Moana) chairman Doug Leeder said everyone belonged in some way to a family or whanau and all had extended families. ''The nation is the sum of those extended families...shared values make us strong.''

He said it was about building relationships at a really basic level.

The whakatau or welcome to the dawn service was by Kihi Ngatai (Ngai Te Rangi), with music accompaniment by the Ratana Band and the Waiata International Group comprising people from the Philippines, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Samoa and New Zealand.