Waitangi Day celebrations got off to a cracking start in the Bay of Islands for hundreds with a free feed and an up-close-and-personal moment with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on a beautiful morning.

Straight from the dawn service at the Te Whare Runanga on the upper marae at Waitangi yesterday, Ardern and her ministers donned barbecue aprons and wielded up tongs as throngs of people lined up for a serving of bacon, eggs and sausages.

Labour MPs Kelvin Davis and Greg O'Connor were among the first politicians to start cooking while the Prime Minister arrived about 7am, followed by a phalanx of reporters.

Ardern spent some time mingling with the crowd while moving between barbecue stands serving the hungry crowd.

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Despite the relaxed and upbeat atmosphere, there was a large police and security presence around her during the Prime Minister's Breakfast.

Jacinda Ardern serves tomato sauce during the Prime Minister's Breakfast. Photo/Michael Cunningham
Jacinda Ardern serves tomato sauce during the Prime Minister's Breakfast. Photo/Michael Cunningham

A father and son from Ohaeawai who preferred to call themselves H and T were the first in line and were served by MP Willie Jackson.

"The Prime Minister's breakfast is good and one of the rare occasions where people get to interact with leaders. It's all done in good spirits," the father said.

Aucklander Josh Neueli, 10, was served barbecue by Ardern last year and a photo with her was posted on his school's noticeboard.

This year, his family came back and dad Randolph said he did not know of any other country that organised a meet-and-greet session with leaders like New Zealand.

"Every time Waitangi Day came around, I thought I knew everything about it but I wasn't here. So we thought we'd come up and experience it all ourselves," Randolph Neueli said.

Randolph Neueli from Auckland was among hundreds that took advantage of free breakfast served by Cabinet ministers. Photo/Michael Cunningham
Randolph Neueli from Auckland was among hundreds that took advantage of free breakfast served by Cabinet ministers. Photo/Michael Cunningham

Another Aucklander, Faith-Joy Aaron, said the Prime Minister's Barbecue showed Ardern cared for the people.

"It's manaakitanga. No other prime minister has ever done it. She said to me 'Have you got tomato sauce? Would you like some?' and I said 'Of course I do'.

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"I think it's nice to be served by her face-to-face. That shows true leadership qualities."

Yvette Lawrence from Rotorua and daughter Hayley Lawrence who lives in Napier also enjoyed a plate full of barbecue and said it was nice of the prime minister and her ministers to show manaakitanga.

Yvette Lawrence has been to Waitangi Day celebrations in the past but not on the Prime Minister's Breakfast day.

"I thought it might be just a sausage and bread but there's bacon and egg too and everything's served on biodegradable stuff."

Ardern said she had been reflecting on the day.

"I hope every New Zealander has an opportunity at some point to come and be at Waitangi during the Waitangi celebrations. I think they'd be surprised.

"It's a different experience than perhaps what has been portrayed over a number of years, but it's also a really moving place to be at this time of the year.''