The people of North Hokianga farewelled 2017 with a day of horsemanship, sporting challenges and whanau on the shores of the Whangape Harbour.

Pawarenga's United Marae Sports Day is held on December 31 each year as a fundraiser for the isolated settlement's three marae — Morehu, Ohaki and Taiao — but it's also an excuse for members of the hapu Te Uri o Hau to come home from every corner of Australasia for an annual catch-up.

Pawarenga United Marae Sports Day 2017

The woodchopping was MCed by sports day veteran Frank Herbert, 78, who has been doing it as long as anyone can remember; other attractions included a volleyball tournament, lots of kai, kids' rides, an iron man race and tug 'o war.

For many, however, the biggest drawcard was watching up to 15 horses at a time, some with bareback riders barely into their teens, thundering down the beach and throwing up clouds of dust and sand. Other equestrian events included barrel races and the stockman's whip, in which the rider has to knock a bottle off a post using a whip.


There were a few spills this year to add to the spectacle, especially in the hotly contested relay, while in the first race a spooked horse jumped a fence and left a boy with minor injuries.

The cross-country horse race — which traverses the beach, rough hills, gravel roads and a mangrove swamp — was won by Joshua Robinson-Korewha, who also won in 2015, with Kaharau Atutolu second and Pouaka Skinner, 13, third. The first two place-getters came through Rob Pink's riding programme in Rawene.

The Iron Man title went to woodchopper and regular contestant Jesse Whitehead of Waiuku.

Prize money is donated by local families, often in memory of deceased whanau members.

Those remembered on Sunday included Wayne Leef of Mitimiti, a long-time sports day supporter who died in July 2017.