The 182nd anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi has been marked with a series of small-scale events at the nation's birthplace in what was almost certainly the most subdued Waitangi Day on record.
At 8am on Sunday — when commemorations would normally be in full swing — the Waitangi waterfront was all but deserted with just a handful of people walking their dogs or guarding the marae grounds.
Mist still clinging to the hills around the Bay of Islands only added to the eerie atmosphere.
All the same, with tensions running high nationwide over Covid restrictions, police weren't taking any chances.
All roads in Waitangi were closed to traffic and even pedestrians weren't permitted beyond the bridge to the closed Treaty Grounds.
Early on Sunday police easily outnumbered visitors on Te Karuwha Parade, Waitangi's main street.
The waka pageant was one of the few events that went ahead, with five waka crews performing a ''drive-by'' of Tii Beach while kaumātua on shore recited karakia (prayers).
In normal years more than 2000 spectators pack the beach to see one of Northland's great spectacles; on Sunday barely 200 were lined up along the waterfront.
Mukai Hura, a senior kaihoe (paddler) with Ngā Waka o Te Tai Tokerau, said the challenges facing Waitangi Day this year only strengthened the group's resolve to keep going.
''Waitangi Day is a taonga (treasure), we need to carry on with it. It's a living day, a living document. It's not just signatures on a piece of paper,'' he said.
Te Kauri McPherson, kaihautū (captain) of the waka Kahakura, said the paddlers had to represent those who couldn't come to Waitangi.
''Obviously, it's different this year, on a smaller scale, but we still feel the need to be here, to honour our tupuna (ancestors).''
Waka were so significant because they brought Māori to Aotearoa, he said.
With Te Tii Marae closed to the public a few hundred people set up a tent village on grass verges nearby.
Many had planned, as they have every Waitangi Day for decades, to pay respect to their ancestors at a series of carved pou called Tou Rangatira.
A decision by trustees to close the entire marae grounds, including Tou Rangatira, was a source of significant tension in the days leading up to the commemorations.
In the end, however, kaumātua and kuia were allowed onto the grounds at dawn, while others paid their respects from beyond the fence.
Until a few weeks earlier the marae had planned a three-day programme of events including a market, speakers' forum and pōwhiri.
The trustees had been torn between conflicting obligations to welcome manuhiri (guests) but also to keep people, kaumātua and kuia especially, safe.
As well as worries about the spread of Omicron there had been concerns the marae could become a focus for anti-vaccination protests.
Waitangi resident Sharee Tito was among those helping with security.
''Usually I'd be out there on the waka so it's very different this year. We have to be peacekeepers because Covid is the enemy, not each other. We need to protect our whakapapa.''
Sunday was the first time in more than 50 years Ngāpuhi matriarch Titewhai Harawira had missed Waitangi Day in Northland.
Hinewhare Harawira said her mother, aged 90, had travelled to Waitangi two weeks earlier to be part of the pre-recorded Waitangi Day commemorations broadcast on TV3.
''I'm proud to be part of a hapū that's taken a stand for the health of our people,'' she said.
Meanwhile, another hapū member was painting out the yellow no-parking lines outside the marae while bemused police looked on.
She said mana whenua was taking back jurisdiction of the road from the Far North District Council.
In previous years Waitangi Day has drawn up to 40,000 people, many of them visitors from outside the region or even overseas. This year there was just a handful.
Tom Taylor from Liverpool visited the museums at Treaty Grounds on Saturday; on Sunday he watched the waka pageant.
''It was powerful. The rawness, the passion, the pride. You can only imagine what it was like back in the day.''
The Marsh family of Woodville were also spending their first Waitangi Day at Waitangi.
They had listened to kaumātua in a speakers' forum outside the marae and seen the waka display.
Though the commemorations were far more subdued than usual Aroha Marsh said they had enjoyed the experience.
''Just being part of it, seeing them all go out in the waka, connecting with people. Everybody's been really friendly.''
Te Tii Marae also ran an online forum with a raft of high-powered guest speakers spread over three days.