Pupils from Kaitaia's Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Pukemiro and Whangārei Primary School spent a day with the Navy in the Bay of Islands last week, courtesy of a Royal New Zealand Navy-sponsored primary school art competition.

'Ahoy Waitangi' invited Year 5-6 pupils from around Northland to submit artwork depicting what Waitangi Day meant to them. Children from the two schools were equal winners, and were invited to Ōpua, where they boarded HMNZS Wellington for four hours of activities opposite the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

Each student was presented with a Navy baseball cap and branded drink bottle, some then getting into fast of manoeuvres on an RNZN rigid-hulled inflatable boat, while others used 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.

RNZN chefs provided a buffet lunch on the flight deck for the children, parents and teachers, with the ship's crew joining in.

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

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

Sophie (9), said the "speedboat" was the best part.

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

Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Pukemiro teacher Taihera Heka, who brought 20 children, said the youngsters had been over the moon.

"How often do you get to do something like this? It was pretty exciting, and more than what we expected," she said. "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 last Tuesday.

The Navy has always been strongly involved in Waitangi Day celebrations at Waitangi, initially with Royal Navy ships and officers and latterly with the RNZN parading at the Treaty Grounds for the first time since 1947, after being granted access by the Waitangi National Trust.

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In 1990 the Navy was presented with a charter recognising the strength of the relationship between it and the community. The charter allows the Navy to parade on Te Tai Tokerau land and Treaty Grounds.