Students from three Northland schools will represent the region in next year's National Secondary Schools Kapa Haka Competition.
The schools — first-placed Te Rangi Āniwaniwa, followed by Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Rāwhitiroa and Bay of Islands College — took out the top three places in last Saturday's regional secondary schools competition at Kensington Stadium in Whangārei.
Te Rangi Āniwaniwa, at Awanui, north of Kaitaia, and Te Rāwhitiroa, in Whangārei, are no strangers to success in the biennial contest, with the Awanui wharekura often taking out the top spot.
For Kawakawa-based Bay of Islands College, however, it was the first time in 20 years its kapa haka group had won a place in the nationals.
Teacher in charge Jasmine Maunsell said she was humbled and grateful for the support the group had received.
The last time the college got to the nationals was in 1999 when she was a student.
It was ''almost impossible'' for a mainstream school to reach the nationals and had required huge commitment from the students and tutors, some of whom hadn't had a day off this year.
However, Maunsell said now the hard work would really start, because students competing in the national competition had to step up in every aspect of their lives.
Tai Wilson, who is in Year 11, said it ''felt amazing'' when the judges announced the winners.
''I tried to be humble but really I just wanted to do a back flip,'' he said.
Morgan Cherrington-Wikaire, Year 13, was looking forward to the ''exciting journey'' of competing in the nationals.
''Looking back, all the hard work we did really paid off — all the week nights and weekends of training,'' she said.
The college's kapa haka group, Te Roopu o Peowhairangi, has 94 members, 40 of whom performed in the regional contest. The group is tutored by the Maunsell whānau and Waiora Arama.
On Wednesday and Thursday this week many of the same teams performed in the Tai Tokerau Festival, a non-competitive celebration of Māori performing arts hosted by Whangārei Boys' and Whangārei Girls' high schools.