Ngāpuhi leaders are mourning one of their people's ''true soldiers'' following the death of Kingi Taurua.

Taurua, aged 80, died on Thursday evening at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland, after a long battle with cancer.

Waitangi National Trust chairman Pita Tipene said the loss would be strongly felt by Ngāpuhi.

He was a soldier who really fought a lifelong war for his people.

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''In terms of another totara that has fallen, Ngāpuhi has lost a great one.

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''I just look around here where I'm standing right now at Waitangi [yesterday] and know the ground will be shuddering from the fall of that totara for a long time.''

Taurua had been an adviser on Māori issues and tikanga to several government ministers, including former prime ministers Helen Clark and Jenny Shipley, when they were Cabinet ministers, and Annette King.

Before working in the Beehive, he was a Vietnam War veteran, member of the Army's elite SAS, and a prison officer. He spoke openly at times about the post traumatic stress and depression he struggled with after his active overseas duty.

More recently, he was an award-winning broadcaster with Radio Waatea.

Taurua was a kaumātua at Te Tii Marae, Waitangi, at times playing a double role as both host and protester at Waitangi Day events.

With his distinctive full-face tā moko, smart dress sense, charm and seeming ability to be everywhere at once, he was one of the enduring, public faces of Waitangi.

He was a passionate advocate for tinorangatiratanga (Māori sovereignty), and Whakaputanga (the 1835 northern chiefs Declaration of Independence). He was outspokenly frustrated over the slow progress of Ngāpuhi's Treaty settlement.

The former soldier once said that when he fought overseas in the New Zealand army, he had yet to realise his fight should be at home, for Ngāpuhi, to achieve the promises of the treaty and help bring to young Māori the opportunities settlement of claims would enable.

Tipene described Taurua as ''vociferous and polarising '' over issues he was passionate about.

''I received some of those barbs myself at times but Kingi was also, always, very friendly and likeable, and he had a great sense of humour. I really enjoyed his company. I think of him as a little like Mauī, a bit of a prankster, a real character, brave, determined and likeable.''

Former Labour MP and Northland local body politician Dover Samuels, who was a cousin and close friend, was at the bedside with extended whānau before Taurua died.

''He was a good bugger,'' Samuels told the Northern Advocate.

''His last words to me were, 'We're going to catch up later, for sure'.

''The sadness for him was he never achieved his lifelong dream of settlement for Ngāpuhi. He was a soldier who really fought a lifelong war for his people. He was one of the true radicals in the history of Ngāpuhi.''

Born at Oromahoe, south of Kerikeri, in 1937, te reo Māori was Taurua's first language.

He strongly criticised elders who bemoaned the decline of te reo or the inability of young Māori to speak it.

''Whose fault is that? It is not theirs,'' he raged.

Taurua lost his own name for many years. When he started school, the teacher told him to go home and choose a Pākehā name.

The boy had no idea which name to take, until a rooster the family called Albert strutted past in the yard.

The name stuck until as a New Zealand soldier Albert Kingi could not get a passport for advanced training in Britain because there was no record of his birth certificate.

However, there was a document for a Kingi Taurua that matched; the name Albert was passed in forever.

Among people paying tribute to him yesterday was Hone Harawira.

''He was a very special guy. He was an amazing orator. He will be a great loss to the whole of Māoridom.''

Kingi Taurua's body will lie in state at Te Tii Marae, Waitangi, before being taken to his people's Ngāti Rehia marae at Kerikeri.

See 48 Hours, page 6, for a photo tribute.