Hundreds of volunteers are taking a well-earned rest this weekend after one of the biggest tangihanga seen in Northland in decades.

The farewell for Sir Hekenukumai Puhipi, also known as Hector Busby or Sir Hek, saw thousands of people pay their respects at Te Uri o Hina Marae at Pukepoto, west of Kaitaia.

Well over 500 attended the karakia whakamutunga (final prayers) on Wednesday alone, with some mourners coming from as far away as Hawaii and the Netherlands.

Sir Hek, who died on May 11 aged 86, was a master waka builder and navigator credited with reviving centuries-old Māori ocean voyaging traditions.

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His tangi, or hui mate, was a major logistical exercise for Te Uri o Hina Marae with so many manuhiri (guests) needing to be welcomed and fed over a four-day period.

Wednesday's hāngī was big enough to feed 2000 people, 10 times bigger than any previously prepared at the marae.

Mori Rapana, usually the visitor experiences manager at Waitangi Treaty Grounds, took on the task of co-ordinating more than 40 kitchen workers known as ringa wera (literally ''hot hands'').

Thirteen muttons, two cattle beasts and 100 chickens were prepared on the final day alone.

Volunteer helpers included Labour Minister Kelvin Davis, who spent two days peeling spuds and cutting up meat, while the Defence Force sent up a team of eight from Linton army base near Palmerston North to help with cooking and preparation.

For several hours every day students from Kaitaia College, Te Rangi Āniwaniwa and other schools also helped out, taking the pressure off the haukainga (home people), Rapana said.

''We've got a good team, it's a well-oiled machine. There's lots of moving parts but everyone knows their place.''