The tears on the face of Hinemoana Huata-Cracknell silenced the audience at the Tabard Theatre as she asked if she could dedicate her Miss Aotearoa pageant effort to her whanau and her late brother.

The 19-year old woman from Maraenui was one of six contestants in the pageant, which held its crowning ceremony at the Ahuriri theatre on Saturday night.

In the finish Marlena Martin from Rotorua was crowned Miss Aotearoa 2012, while Esther Jordan-Muriwai was the first-runner up.

But it was Ms Huata-Cracknell's moteatea, or chant, she performed as part of the talent section at the ceremony that brought out the emotion in the 200 people in the audience.


"This moteatea was one my brother sang to me the last time I spoke to him on the phone," she said.

At the end of the night, she told Hawke's Bay Today, it had been difficult to let go of her brother.

However, she hoped the experience at the week-long pageant would provide the incentive to carry on.

"Just the fact of him not being here really hurts, but I think if he saw me now he would be smiling and so happy for me."

Before the pageant Ms Huata-Cracknell had been studying and working part time at KFC, so the competition offered some first-time experiences, including public speaking, one-on-one interviews with judges as well as more familiar workshops in te reo Maori, tikanga and kapa haka.

But the most exciting "first" had been walking down the runway at the Te Koanga Fashion Show in Hastings on Thursday night and then helping to present awards at the National Waiata Maori Music Awards ceremony in front of about 900 people.

"It was so mean walking down the runway at the fashion show. It was just the second time I've been photographed professionally, too, and I could picture myself doing that sort of thing again, if I was asked."

She won the event's "Miss Sarong" and "Miss Photogenic" sashes and hoped to use the experience to inspire others in her Maraenui community to "give life a go". "I would say, 'Don't be scared to try new things'." She was studying retail at the EIT and hoped to move into retail or hospitality management in the future, "or even look at doing some work with the youth".

Learning te reo Maori and about her whanau connections with Ngati Kahu (Northland) is set to become a priority for student Breone Lay.

The former Miss Hawke's Bay winner was one of three Hawke's Bay women to enter Miss Aotearoa, along with Karamu High School student Amelia Marfitt and Hinemoana Huata-Cracknell.

"The te reo Maori workshops I found quite difficult because I have only very basic language skills and so it was a huge challenge for me," Ms Lay said.

"But it's definitely inspired me to learn a lot more about te reo, especially after being part of the Waiata Maori Music Awards, that was a first for me."

Ms Marfitt , Ngati Kahungunu, said she had enjoyed the week and having her family at the crowning ceremony,

"I've learnt more about manaakitanga (hospitality), putting other people before yourself and I want to share everything I learned in the past week with my friends and family."

She also hoped the intense workshops and discipline of the week-long pageant would help towards her goal join the navy next year to train as a medic.

Ms Lay won the "Miss 170 Below Directors Choice" sash and Ms Marfitt the "Miss Traditional Outfit" sash.