When Hana Kōkō arrived at Waitangi yesterday he didn't bother with anything as silly as a sleigh drawn by reindeer.
Instead the big guy arrived on a waka decorated with tinsel and flying the United Tribes of Aotearoa flag — a mode of transport he knew was far more suited to Northland conditions — while a kuia welcomed him to shore with a karanga.
It's the fourth year Hana Kōkō (that's te reo for Santa) has visited Waitangi, an initiative by the local waka ama club and the police youth organisation Blue Light to give Christmas a distinctly Māori flavour.
As well as presents, the 40 or so children who had gathered on the beach enjoyed paddle boarding, a sausage sizzle, music, a treasure dig and tug-o-war.
Sharee Tito, of Waitangi Waka Ama Kaihoe, said the Bay of Islands was a melting pot where Māori and European cultures met, so it was important to retain a Māori influence even when celebrating a festival like Christmas.
The waka ama club started only a few years but was going from strength to strength, she said.
As well as organising Hana Kōkō's visits it hosted an annual regatta and, in February, the club would take part in the Waitangi Day waka display for the first time.