A gentle wind whisked away the heat of the hot sun as prayers were recited and waiata was sung by mourners at Waiōhau Marae today .
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More than 200 people - some from as far away as Northland - travelled to the remote and peaceful grounds to farewell William John (Bill) Kerrison who was affectionately known as "Mr Tuna".
A korowai was draped over his coffin, with photographs of Kerrison sporting his wide and approachable smile and bouquets of flowers placed on top.
He died suddenly on Thursday, less than three weeks after he was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year Honours.
Under the basking sun, Carwynn Kerrison told the crowd that his father was a man of many talents, with a great passion for his whānau and, of course, eels.
He remembered receiving a phone call from his father, telling him to come around to the farm. Kerrison went to find that his father had received a letter from the Queen herself.
"He was a great father and a great koro. He loved all of us."
For more than 35 years, the 81-year-old, also known as "Kaitiaki mo nga Tuna" (Guardian of the Eels), collected tuna (eel) blocked by dams in the Rangitaiki River and moved them so their natural migration cycle could continue.
He has also been active in education and advisory roles, raising the profile of the longfin eel, a special endemic taonga of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Remembering 'Mr Tuna': New Year honouree dies suddenly
New Year Honours: 30 million eels and the Queen pay respect to Bill Kerrison
After the ceremony concluded, Kerrison was buried in the urupā behind Waiōhau Marae.
Among the people attending the ceremony was Milly Farquhar of Ngati Awa iwi. After the service, she told the Rotorua Daily Post she had travelled down from Northland to attend.
"I had to come and pay my respects. He was a man like no other," she said.
Farquhar said she had known Kerrison for a few years after the two had bonded over their shared love and appreciation of eels.
"We'd go and do mahi together," she said. "He was generous and do all this work for nothing.
"His passion was contagious."
Meanwhile, Rawhiti Coates said Kerrison was a great networker who readily shared knowledge and inspired others to consider environmental sustainability.
"He cared for the river as a whole and helped bring people together".
Larry Smith said he was set to implement a catchment system inspired by Kerrison at his property in Tauranga.
"He was the Godfather of eels. He was the big eel."
His teachings stemmed from those of his grandmother, although his love for the "beautiful creatures" came after his first encounter at 11 years old, he told NZME last year.
Less than three weeks ago, Kerrison was honoured by becoming a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to river and wildlife conservation. He was also named a KiwiBank Local Hero in 2017.
It is estimated he had helped to relocate more than 30 million tuna.