Mourners have started gathering on Napier's Pukemokimoki Marae today for the tangi of kaumatua, educationalist and former Maori All Black rugby player Ruruarau Heitia Hiha.

Aged 85 when he died on Wednesday, he was carried onto the marae just after 11am today, followed by family, friends and supporters of his many endeavours, and the pupils of Hawke's Bay's oldest high school, Te Aute College in Central Hawke's Bay, where son Shane is the principal.

The weather was fine outside as he was taken into the wharenui Omio, the feature of a marae that was a dream realised when it opened almost 11 years ago.

He will on Saturday be taken for burial at an urupa at Petane, just off State Highway 2 between Bay View and Whirinaki, north of Napier and where he grew-up around a marae currently planning to build its own new facilities.

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Blessed with an outstanding knowledge of Napier and the wider Ahuriri area of which the city is a part, including whanau and kaumatua history from the days of pre-earthquake inland waterway Te Whanganui a Orotu and its seafood bounty, he was foremost in the Wai 55 Napier inner harbour claim to the Treaty of Waitangi, heard by the Waitangi Tribunal more than 20 years ago and completed with a remedies report in 1998.

While a Deed of Settlement is in place, final settlement is still to be completed more than two decades after the rulings in the claimants' favour.

Heitia Hiha formed a formidable partnership with wife Margaret (nee Raureti), whom he met while both were training at Ardmore Teachers Training College. They married in 1954.

It was that year that he became a Maori All Black lock, in a career that included games for South Auckland, Hawke's Bay and East Coast, while Margaret Hiha, already an Auckland hockey and softball representative, represented New Zealand at hockey and became a successful coach. Both were representative tennis players.

Having also become a successful horticulturist, with a hydroponic tomatoes operation at The Loop, just south of the Pukemokimoki Marae, he retired from fulltime work in 1998 but continued in numerous kaumatua roles, including as senior adviser to the Hawke's Bay Regional Council and and as Maori Consultative Committee chairman and Kaumatua with the Napier City Council.

The couple's careers and other service earned each recognition in the New Zealand honours, he being made an Officer of the Order of New Zealand (ONZM) in the Queen's Birthday Honours last year, Margaret Hiha having been made a Member of the Order (MNZM) in the 2009 honours.

Heitia Hiha is survived by his wife, daughters, Anne, Alana and Shelley, and son Shane, and seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.