Labour MP Mita Ririnui hoardings are scarce on the journey into Rotorua.

The face of his Maori Party rival, Te Ururoa Flavell, however, can be seen smiling from a number of strategic sites throughout the North Island's tourism mecca.

Mr Ririnui's place in recent opinion polls may be related to his perceived low profile. A Maori Television TNS-poll released last night showed Ririnui was 8 points behind Mr Flavell in the central North Island seat.

Mr Flavell attracted 47 per cent of the 350 voters polled, Mr Ririnui 39 per cent, and Destiny Party's Hawea Vercoe got 10 per cent.

The result narrows an almost 18 percentage point lead by Mr Flavell in a Marae DigiPoll released last month.

Mr Ririnui says his billboards have "disappeared" but will not speculate as to who may be responsible.

The broad electorate the Ratana Minister holds takes in Taupo, Rotorua, Tauranga and stretches along the East Coast just past Te Kaha.

The Maori Party looks strong in four of the seven Maori seats. Besides Waiariki, it could wrest Tamaki Makaurau, Te Tai Tokerau and Te Tai Hauauru from Labour.

Mr Flavell's background includes consultancy work, teaching and a stint as principal of his old school, St Stephens Maori Boys College in South Auckland.

The softly spoken man bristles at suggestion he and his rival are the "Mr Nice Guys" of the campaign trail. He says that although he has deliberately not courted media and used it to attack his opponent, he has gone "toe to toe" when candidate debates have required.

He is critical of Mr Ririnui's support of last year's foreshore and seabed legislation, a stance he believes will cost Mr Ririnui on election day.

"Our people have not forgotten his stand on the foreshore. If Mita had chosen to follow Tariana, he would be a hero today and I would not be here."

Mr Flavell, a strong advocate for treaty settlements, is also critical of recent settlements that he says are not a fair compensation for Maori loss and are based on Maori being bullied by the Crown to achieve a settlement.

He has opposed the negotiation process between the Crown and Nga Kaihautu o te Arawa, a group representing more than 20,000 members.

Mr Flavell's iwi, Ngati Whakaue, was among those to pull out during negotiations.

Last week the Government signed an agreement in principle between the Crown and the organisation over historical treaty claims. The Nga Kaihautu agreement includes a financial redress package totalling $36 million, the return of 23 sites, and options to buy Crown forest land.

Mr Flavell says that although he does not support the process, he acknowledges the progress Nga Kaihautu have made.

Mr Ririnui, along with nine other political hopefuls, addressed an evening gathering of around 20 locals at the Mamaku War Memorial Hall.

His sheepish smile and sincere delivery briefly won the attention of those gathered before talk of Maori representation and the achievement of Labour's Maori caucus set some heads shaking and glazed eyes wandering.

Before the meeting Mr Ririnui is unsure whether he should have accepted the invitation as few of his potential voters are likely to attend.

Mr Ririnui shakes his head at suggestions he is taking it easy because of a high place, 15, on the Labour list.

"I want the mandate of the people. If I am on the list, I am a general MP and cannot focus on working for my people."

He says he has achieved a number of gains while in office, including legislation allowing the creation of Maori wards in the Bay of Plenty District and educational and health policy gains.

As Associate Minister of Treaty Settlements he takes personal pride in the settlements achieved by iwi in Waiariki, including the return of the Te Arawa Lakes and settlements for Ngati Awa.