A Hastings athletics arena built to replace another track displaced by a shopping centre development seven years ago is nearing completion of its biggest transformation as national kapa haka festival Te Matatini is prepared for its four days of competition starting on Thursday.

But even before the first powhiri - most of the groups will be welcomed on to marae today ahead of the festival powhiri being held tomorrow in the unique setting of Napier rugby and cricket stadium McLean Park - a festival spokeswoman says it has already reached new heights.

"Each festival goes up another level," said Te Matatini communications manager Wena Harawira. "It has to."

The standards tend to be set by the growth, with a record 47 teams - more than 50 per cent up on the 30 that graced the stage as recently as 10 years ago.


All will be targeting places in the top nine for Sunday's finals, including Louise Kingi, of five-times winner and Te Aitanga A Mahaki group Waihirere, the only person who will have performed in the festival in every year it has been held since the founding event in 1972.
"For Waihirere to make the festival each time is one thing," Ms Harawira said.

"For someone to perform at every festival is amazing."

She said the "local contribution" had also gone to unprecedented lengths, with regular training for all of the roles of a week which needs an estimated 350 volunteers, either at the stadium or throughout the region hosting the groups, which each number about 60 in the region to focus on performances finely tuned to run about 25 minutes each.

Ms Harawira marvelled at the level of involvement, with all "locals" involved in tomorrow's McLean Park powhiri told to make their own costumes for the occasion, collectively or individually within their marae groups - spending several months - as host iwi Ngati Kahungunu prepares for the biggest event of its sort in its area for 34 years.

It was last staged in its performing arts format in Hastings, at Hawke's Bay Showgrounds, in 1983.

Yesterday at the arena, named Kahungunu Park for the month in honour of the event, crews were putting finishing touches to the stage, especially positioned near the track's pole vaulting and high jump quarter and backing towards central Hastings, so that spectators won't be peering into the sun.

There is also the large VIP tent in the main arena, some extra seating, and three large screens to display the performances, which are being live-streamed by Maori Television.

There are numerous other fixtures, including a media centre catering to up to 200 media representatives accredited by the organisers.