Seventeen Far North rangatahi and seven adults will travel to Italy next year as guests of honour at one of the world's biggest kite festivals.
They have been invited to represent Maori at the 10-day Artevento International Kite Festival, held in the seaside town of Cervia every April.
This year's event drew wind artists from 40 countries, and an estimated 300,000 spectators. Every year the organisers focus on one or two 'cultures of honour', choosing Thai and Maori for 2018.
The Far North contingent, travelling under the banner of the KaiMatariki Trust, will make and fly traditional manu tukutuku (kites), perform haka, poi and waiata, teach flax weaving and share traditional games such as ki-o-rahi and ti-uru. They will also take part in Anzac Day commemorations at a nearby Commonwealth war cemetery and a civic ceremony in San Marino.
The adults accompanying the group include two of New Zealand's leading authorities in traditional Maori games, bilingual unit teachers, and experts in kapa haka and taonga puoro (traditional Maori instruments).
Co-ordinator Harko Brown said the aim was to give youth opportunities overseas and allow them to "express themselves in places that will love and respect them".
Maori were particularly popular in the Cervia area because of the World War II heroism of 14 soldiers of the Maori Battalion, who lost their lives resisting a German attack while villagers fled to safety, Mr Brown said.
Locals still played a fast-paced, full-contact ball game they called Palla Maori, based on the traditional game ki-o-rahi, played by Maori soldiers in World War II.
Mr Brown said the connection with European kite festivals dated back to 2005, when he began teaching a kite-making in Ngaruawhia. One of the participants, a French woman, passed his details to the organisers of Europe's biggest kite festival, in Dieppe, France, who invited him to the 2006 festival.
When Mr Brown and his family returned to Dieppe last year he bumped into the long-time organiser of the Cervia festival, the biggest in Europe after Dieppe, who invited him to bring a group to Italy as guests of honour. He also helped organise a ki-o-rahi tour to France in 2001 with former All Black captain Buck Shelford.
The kite festival will run from April 20 to May 1, the rangatahi, from Kaikohe, Kaitaia, Kerikeri, Matauri Bay, Ohaeawai, Okaihau, Taipa and Waiharara.