Among the paddlers taking part in Waitangi Day's waka pageant will be a group of men and women retracing the steps of their ancestor Abel Tasman almost 400 years ago.

New Zealand and the Netherlands have had a special bond since 2011, when master waka builder Hekenukumai Busby, of Doubtless Bay, built a waka for the Volkskunde national ethnology museum in the Dutch city of Leiden. A crew from the city's student rowing club was trained in paddling, chants, haka and protocols, with a few travelling to Waitangi each year to keep their knowledge fresh.

This year, five Dutch students will paddle in the Waitangi Day pageant, among them Thomas Driessen. The 26-year-old medical student said he first took part in 2013 and saw this year's trip as a "return to the motherland".

"It's wonderful to be here again. It's an honour to paddle with the Maori."


Like many western societies, the Dutch had lost their cultural and spiritual roots, Mr Driessen said.

"So we're not used to the love shown to us by Maori. They take care of us, take us into their homes and their culture. They bring us back to the essence of who we are."

One of the group's ancestors, the explorer Abel Tasman, visited New Zealand in 1642 but the Dutch were unable to stay or build a relationship with Maori.

"Now we get a second chance," he said.

Mr Driessen said he was lucky enough to paddle on the great waka Ngatokimatawhaorua in 2013. He was not sure which waka he would crew this year, but any waka was an honour.

The Dutch waka, Te Hono ki Aotearoa (The Link to New Zealand), had been used only occasionally since the handover but there were plans to paddle it once a year.

The museum also had a waka tete (training waka) which the Dutch had named Taahimana (Tasman). That was used regularly to keep the paddlers' skills up, Mr Driessen said.

The club is called the Njord Royal Rowing Club, Njord being the Norse equivalent of Tangaroa.