Pupils from two Northland schools experienced a day in the Bay of Islands on offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington, after winning a Royal New Zealand Navy-sponsored primary school art competition.

Ahoy Waitangi invited Northland Year 5 and 6 students to submit artwork on what Waitangi Day means to them, and Whangārei Primary School and Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Pukemiro, in Kaitaia, were judged equal winners.

The students boarded the boat from Opua for four hours of fun activities in the bay opposite the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

Whangārei Primary School teacher Teresa Battersby, who attended with 24 children, said the experience was amazing.

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"I don't think the kids understood how big this was going to be, but when they got halfway down the hill at Opua they said, 'Wow, there's the ship'. They've had a ball today."

Chief of Navy Rear Admiral David Proctor and deputy chief of Navy Commodore Melissa Ross greet pupils from Whangārei and Kaitaia at Paihia Wharf. Photo / Supplied
Chief of Navy Rear Admiral David Proctor and deputy chief of Navy Commodore Melissa Ross greet pupils from Whangārei and Kaitaia at Paihia Wharf. Photo / Supplied

Every student was launched for a fast series of manoeuvres on a Royal New Zealand Navy rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB), while others were allowed to use the fire hoses to see if they could reach the RHIB as it came close.

They also toured the bridge, mess decks and crew quarters, and watched demonstrations of fire-fighting equipment.

Whangārei Primary School student Sophie , 9, said the "speedboat" was the best part.

"We got a bit wet. It was a bit scary but more fun than scary."

Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Pukemiro teacher Taihera Heka, who attended with 20 children, said the children were over the moon to be invited.

Whangārei Primary School pupils ride in a Royal New Zealand Navy rigid-hulled inflatable boat. Photo / Supplied
Whangārei Primary School pupils ride in a Royal New Zealand Navy rigid-hulled inflatable boat. Photo / Supplied

"How often do you get to do something like this?" she said. "It was pretty exciting and more than what we expected. Hopefully one of them in the future will have a think about joining the Navy."

The third and fourth-placed schools in the competition, Kawakawa School and Ruawai College, enjoyed a visit from an RNZN Seasprite helicopter and crew.

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From the outset Waitangi Day commemorations have included naval involvement, first with Royal Navy ships and officers and later with the RNZN, which paraded at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds for the first time in 1947.