It might not be found in the history books, but the reason for chief Te Haupuku's June 24, 1840, signing of the Treaty of Waitangi off the mouth of the Tukituki River and a settlement then known as Waipureku was clear as Waitangi Day opened in Hawke's Bay today.

Hastings kaumata Jery Hapuku, almost 78, had from his very youngest days been told by his elders who in turn had been told by theirs of what really happened the day his great-great-great grandfather inked the document, under "duress", as would be recorded in some history.

At a re-enactment of history beside the now Clive River, a few hundred metres from where Te Hapuku, Hoani Waikato and Harawira Mahikai signed under the watchful eye of emissary Major Thomas Bunbury aboard HMZ Herald, Mr Hapuku was today re-enacting how the history was told, and passing it on in just the same way.

He said Te Hapuku, who was also one of the few non-Ngapuhi to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1835, had issues about the treaty, and land that had already been unlawfully taken. He initially refused to sign, Mr Hapuku said he was told while listening intently as a boy on his marae at Te Hauke, between Hastings and Waipawa.

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Bunbury, he said, told Te Hapuku that if he didn't sign he was going to "blow his (Te Hapuku's) ship out of the water."

Mr Hapuku said such stories were told regularly on the anniversary and while there were misgivings at the time Te Hapuku's signing was "sufficient to us for it to be remembered."

"You won't find that in the pakeha history," Mr Hapuku said after his account to those gathered in the bright sunlight and mild breeze beside the waterway, including Napier Mayor Bill Dalton, new Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazelhurst, Hawke's Bay Regional Council chairman Rex Graham, Labour Government MP Meka Whaitiri and new Opposition National MP and former Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule.

Each spoke to the gathering, Ms Whaitiri in a minute re-enactment of Bunbury's missing, sailing from the Bay of Islands 178 years ago after the initial signing to get the signatures of other chiefs around the country.

Ms Whaitiri had been in the Bay of Islands on Monday party leader and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was stamping her mark on her first Waitangi Day commemorations, which met some possibly unlikely approval from Mr Yule, who reflected on how different Waitangi Day had become and how the new Prime Minister had done a good job in helping.

Donning lifejackets the dignitaries then joined kaihoe paddling waka taua Nga Tukemata o Kahungunu downstream on the near high tide, between the pylons of the State Highway 2's Clive Bridge, escorted by two crews from the Westshore Sea Scouts, to the river mouth and back.

They returned to be called ashore with a full-school haka from the 120 pupils of Te Aute College, which was founded in 1854.

For some it would be part of a busy first week at Hawke's Bay's oldest school, and it wasn't quite over, for by midday the school would also have performed at Ngati Kahungunu's day long celebration with entertainment, sports and fun at the Hawke's Bay Regional Sports Park, beside modern awa the Hawke's Bay Expressway and on the northern outskirts of Hastings.

At Clive, the waka was pressed into annual Waitangi Day service ferrying all comers on the river, on the quarter-hour.

There would be up to about 30 at a time, and 18-20 of the mini-voyages before bailing-out of the day about before 4pm — "before it gets to low tide," said mariner Jim Edwards, who had the waka built and launched more than 20 years ago to educate and to restore some traditions.

He trains disabled in matters related to the waka, but found himself almost among their number in a waka-shed mishap in late-2015.

With most of the pieces back in the right places today he was able to carry on, aged 72.
"I was only a hair's breadth from being paralysed," he said.

The programmes at both Clive's Farndon Park and the Regional Sports Park, as well as another at Alexandra Park, Wairoa, were based around continuous entertainment.