The navy wants to go back to Waitangi with a full ceremonial service after an absence of 12 years.

After one of the most peaceful Waitangi Day commemorations in years yesterday, chief of navy Rear Admiral David Ledson said the service had been working on a full return of the navy for the Waitangi Day commemorations within five years.

The Waitangi National Trust which runs the Treaty House and manicured grounds, said the navy would be welcome back as soon as it could get there, next year or the year after.

Yesterday the navy band gave two performances on the Treaty House grounds -- one as the navy frigate HMNZS Te Mana fired a 21-gun salute at midday, and the second as a small navy colour party lowered the navy White Ensign from the flagstaff during the traditional "beat the retreat."

RA Ledson said the navy had already spoken to Nga Puhi elders about the commemorations but it would not return with a full formal ceremony until after wide consultations with other interested parties.

The navy has had only a small presence at the Waitangi Day commemorations since 1995 when its role was reduced on orders from the National government.

The year before in 1994 when Prince Charles was at Waitangi, the navy was there in force, with a full guard and ceremonial party.

During the evening a guard from the former frigate HMNZS Wellington gave the royal salute and a 21-gun salute was fired.

Three or four ships, including at least one Australian warship, were anchored in the bay and turned on their lights simultaneously at 9pm in a spectacular display.

RA Ledson said people were beginning to understand Waitangi Day was a celebration and not a commemoration.

"We have talked to the local people and said maybe we can work together to realise a dream of getting to where we were in the past.

"The navy can't come here and say 'this is what we are going to do'. It is about consulting with the local people.

"At last maybe now we have reached a stage where we can talk about moving ahead rather than staying anchored in time."

However, the chairman of the Waitangi Day organising committee, Pita Paraone said today the navy would be welcomed back.

"We would be very receptive. We had always planned to have them back."

He said he would like them back next year or the year after, as soon as it could be organised.

"It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when," he said.

Mr Paraone said he anticipated a full sunset ceremony and guard of honour.

"Those sort of things I remember as a kid and it was part of the attraction of coming to Waitangi."

Yesterday was one of the most peaceful Waitangi Days in years with no protest violence and no arrests.

Opposition leader Don Brash was welcomed onto the lower Te Tii Waitangi Marae two days before Waitangi Day in an attempt to put a time buffer between politics and the commemorations. He also was at the dawn service at the Whare Runanga on the Treaty House grounds which opened the commemorations yesterday.

Prime Minister Helen Clark had a walkabout among the festival stalls but visited neither the lower marae nor the dawn service.

She said she had no plans to change her routine and visit the lower marae again after she was jostled two years ago.

"It's is not on my radar," she said.

She said it was important to support the health groups, meet people on the ground, look at the waka, and host the local leadership to breakfast.

"That works pretty well for me and for everybody."

She also said she would not attend the dawn service.

"It is very rare for me to attend the dawn service.

"I have programmes which try to look after my health and happiness and the dawn service normally isn't on it," she said.

- NZPA