A combination of driving rain and the absence of John Key took the heat out of what had been shaping up to be a stormy start to Waitangi Day commemorations today.

Tensions had been building over the TPP trade deal, signed in Auckland yesterday, and a vote by hapu members earlier this week not to welcome the Prime Minister on to Te Tii Marae, but Mr Key's decision to skip Waitangi removed any real chance of trouble.

The rain did the rest, slashing the number of people gathered outside the marae from the usual thousands to just hundreds. At times soaked and bedraggled media outnumbered spectators.

Marchers on the annual Hikoi ki Waitangi arrived about 9.30am, battling the wind and rain as they walked the last leg of the hikoi which started at Cape Reinga on February 1. This year's hikoi took a detour to Auckland to join Thursday's TPP protest rally.


The roughly 250 marchers chanted and sang as they carried flags and placards denouncing the trade agreement.

They were led onto the marae by Mana Movement leader Hone Harawira and welcomed with a challenge and haka powhiri, plus waiata performed by high school students from Kaitaia, Hokianga and Okaihau.

It was expected the marchers would be joined by as many as a few thousand people from the Auckland rally but the weather put paid to that.

Another hikoi on Saturday, from Te Tii Marae to the treaty Grounds flagpole, is also expected to focus on the TPP.

With no Prime Minster taking part this year, there was no formal welcome for National Party MPs or their support parties. Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell was present this morning, however.

Around 11.30am members of the Labour and Green parties, including Labour leader Andrew Little and his predecessor David Cunliffe, and Green co-leaders Metiria Turei and James Shaw, were to be welcomed on to the marae under a forest of umbrellas.

However, Mr Little and Labour MPs were left standing outside the Te Tii Marae gates in the rain when the Green Party went on ahead of them.

The Opposition parties were to be welcomed on at the same time, but instead the Greens were taken on for a separate powhiri. That left Labour standing in the rain for an hour. Although they were not to talk politics on the marae, they were happy to show their colours - the Labour group was a blaze of Labour-branded umbrellas and flags.

Later today, at 3pm, the new Museum of Waitangi is due to be opened by Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae, while at 3.30pm a public meeting discussing the TPP will beheld at Paihia's War Memorial Hall, where NZ First leader and Northland MP Winston Peters is expected to speak.