Puppets, mechanical dolls and hula-hoop skirts.

It's a combination not usually associated with kapa haka but these are some ideas that have won Whangarei Mai Tawhiti 1st place at the 2Degrees Kapa Haka Super 12s, three years in a row. And they hope their innovation will lift a fourth title tomorrow.

The kapa haka competition is an event where groups of 12 from around New Zealand have 12 minutes to impress judges with their contemporary kapa haka style - Whangarei Mai Tawhiti return to defend their title in Auckland tomorrow.

"It's using contemporary ideas while keeping it based on tikanga. It's fun, there are money prizes. It's good to see what's out there and see us test innovative new ideas, especially our sound making," said group member Joby Hopa.


Last year the group played around with bold make-up, hoopius - hula hoop piu piu - and they even put keys in the girls' backs and turned them into mechanical dolls.

All songs performed at the competition will be in te reo Maori. Mr Hopa said this year the group would be different than previous years.

"It will be different to our signature look with 'hoopius' as we call them - hoola hoop piu pius. We'll also have some new members as a few of the usual are in Hawaii. Our haka is something to look out for," he said.

Whangarei Mai Tawhiti is an offshoot of the Hatea Kapa Haka group, who were one of the Northland roopu (groups) who headed to the Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Competition in Christchurch this year.

Mr Hopa said the Super 12 competition was "quite different" to performing at Te Matatini where each group had 25 minutes to perform.

"The super 12s are a bit easier, it's a bit like the Sevens rugby, it's whanau and a bit of fun," he said.

If the group wins again, they will be awarded $12,000 and 2Degrees merchandise.