As many as 25,000 people travelled to Waitangi today to celebrate the 181st anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi).
Hundreds made the early pilgrimage up to Te Whare Rūnanga on the upper grounds to witness the dawn ceremony, which was held outside in its entirety - a break from tradition which dictated a portion of the ceremony be held inside the wharenui.
The crowd only grew larger as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern threw on an apron and served sausages, bacon and hash browns to about 2500 people.
As the morning chill vanished and was replaced by searing afternoon heat, Treaty Grounds marketing manager Nineke Metz said the crowd easily topped 20,000 and could have been as high as 25,000.
It was almost half of last year's crowd, which saw as many as 40,000 people. However, interest had piqued in 2020 as it was the 180th anniversary of Te Tiriti and the opening of Te Rau Aroha, a museum dedicated to the Māori contribution to New Zealand in times of war.
Covid-19 had also impacted crowd numbers with some groups cancelling and no international visitors.
However, the virus' impact on the dawn ceremony was met positively with many suggesting its outdoor theme be continued in years to come.
Waitangi National Trust chairman Pita Tipene and Bishop Te Kītohi Wiremu Pikaahu, the latter of whom officiated the ceremony, both threw their support behind continuing this year's format.
"Looking out at everyone is really special, singing together, the hymns and the waiata, is really unifying," Tipene said.
"We didn't want to lock people in [Te Whare Rūnanga] and there be a risk, but out here is fine. It was a great opportunity for people to witness it," Pikaahu said.
Despite the day's jovial vibe, it was not without political intrigue. In a media conference during her mass breakfast, Ardern firmly ruled out the prospect of NZ First leader Winston Peters – or any other former politician as the next Governor General.
"I take a view that the Governor General position, as important as it is, is not rightly held by past central government politicians. It has only happened once in our history, and at that time that was quite controversial. I'd rather remove that controversy.
"There is any number of fabulous candidates. It's a no to any past central government politician, and that's a position I've held for some time."
The only politician to also become Governor General was former Prime Minister Sir Keith Holyoake. Holyoake was appointed Governor General by Sir Robert Muldoon from 1977 to 1980, after being Prime Minister from 1960 to 1972.
However, any politicking was soon forgotten by the hundreds of people left shaken by a mass haka, performed by about 300 kaihoe (waka paddlers) on Tii Beach.
Thirteen waka took part in this year's display, including the twin-hulled waka tangata Mahurangi, which hit the water for the first time after a launch ceremony at the Waitangi boat ramp.
Also present was the waka hourua (double-hulled voyaging waka) Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti, built by the late Hekenukumai Busby.
The great waka Ngātokimatawhaorua didn't take to the water this year because of the sheer number of men needed to paddle it. The waka takes a crew of 80.
On the stroke of noon, after a performance by the Royal NZ Navy Band, the HMNZS Canterbury fired a 21-gun salute from just offshore, echoing across the Bay, and a Navy Seasprite helicopter flew over the Treaty Grounds flagpole.
That marked the end of the formalities with the rest of day given over to series of kapa haka, Cook Islands dance and music performances on the Treaty Grounds main stage.
Te Tii Marae was also humming all day with a bustling market and a marquee offering talks by a range of experts on issues relating to te ao Māori.
While previous Waitangi Days had been marred by protest, Northland Police inspector said the past week's celebrations - starting with Ruapekapeka commemorations on Tuesday – had gone "exceptionally well".
There had been only one arrest, which was for an assault near Te Tii Marae on Waitangi Day. The assault was thought to have resulted from a case of mistaken identity.
A number of patch-wearing gang members had been escorted off the Treaty Grounds, but were not arrested.
As the property owners, the Waitangi National Trust had the right to ban gang patches from the grounds.
Symonds said everyone was welcome on the Treaty Grounds but they had to follow the rules.
"There were a number of gang members at the Treaty Grounds with their families and without patches, and I'm sure they had a great time."
With around 200 officers deployed this year, Waitangi week was the biggest planned police operation of the year in the North.
All staff working at Waitangi were from Northland. Extra officers had come up from Auckland to fill gaps in Whangārei, Kaitaia and the Mid North.
Police would continue to have an increased presence in the Bay of Islands for the rest of the long weekend.
"It's a great day, our staff really enjoy it. We love the way people respond to us. And when you're on the Treaty Grounds as the sun comes up, where else would you want to be?"
One protester at the dawn ceremony had to be calmed by Māori wardens after she shouted her concerns about abortion law and inequity, directed at Ardern.