A mix of tears, cheers and exaltation greeted Te Arawa's first kapa haka group performing at Te Matatini 2013.

In an emotional day, the first 14 of 41 teams competed yesterday at this year's nationals held at the Rotorua International Stadium.

Many in the crowd attempted to hold back tears as the event made its long-awaited return to Te Arawa soil.

It's been 17 years since the festival has been held in Rotorua and even Prime Minister John Key got into the festive atmosphere, eating ice-cream and chatting with some of the 10,000 spectators who attended the festival in sweltering heat, which saw temperatures reach 26C.


After a performance by crowd favourites Opotiki Mai Tawhiti, which earned the group a standing ovation, it was hard to think another group could get the audience fired up.

But as the time drew near for Te Arawa group Kataore to take to the stage, the crowd surged forward and the excitment grew to fever pitch.

Kataore kaitataki wahine (female leader) Rie Morris admitted to having some nerves as she walked up on stage.

"There was certainly a lot of pressure on us because we were the first group to stand on behalf of Te Arawa and so there was a lot of expectation I suppose on our group," Ms Morris said.

"But that aside, what prompted us to give everything that we gave on the stage, was the fact that we have had so many people be a part of us and our journey through the last eight months, if not longer, and we wanted to go out there and push everything out of us for them."

The result was a response usually reserved for Hollywood movies, when the crowd moved forward and performed a haka to show their appreciation.

"I just cried. I didn't hold back anything actually ... I'm still quite shaky right now. I couldn't even sign my name. We were just totally emotional because we knew how long and how hard we'd trained and what we'd done on stage for our iwi, for our group and our family."

Ms Morris said it was the group's goal to attempt to bring something special for their first appearance at a national kapa haka competition.

"It's our first time to Matatini so we bring a different sort of flavour, I suppose to kapa haka.

"We needed to do that, we needed to stamp the ground, we needed to make our mark.

"Just in order to be noticed because we're up against such guns in kapa haka."