For Matty Fletcher watching a buried waka being unearthed at Muriwai Beach yesterday meant knowing his father's stories from the 1920s might well be true.

The 72-year-old was all but ready to head up the coast for a day of fishing when he heard the news that a seven-metre long waka tiwai - a craft once common on rivers and used for fishing - had been found partly buried near Okiritoto Stream.

Mr Fletcher's father, Burt, once owned a farm that ran alongside the beach and he'd told his son that as a young man in the roaring 20s he'd seen a waka wash up. However, when he'd gone back to look for it on horseback the sand dunes had claimed it.

Mr Fletcher had a big smile on his face as he watched Auckland Regional Council rangers and locals move it carefully out of the sand and then truck it down to a temporary home at the ARC depot.

"Nothing had stabilised, the sands shifted quickly and I think that's why he never saw it again. We grew up on this story that the waka was there," Mr Fletcher said. "Over the years I came out here sat at the creek, cracked a can of beer and had a look around. My father would have liked to have seen this."

A member of the public saw the craft sticking out of the sand on Friday but it took a couple of days for a plan to come together to dig down 1.5m without compromising it.

Dilys Johns, director of Auckland University's conservation laboratory in the anthropology department, carefully hosed down the waka yesterday. It had to be kept cool as the risk was that if it dried out, the wood would split. The canoe had already been damaged by a tree root growing into it.

"It's quite degraded but what's special about this is that often we get a prow or a stern of a waka, this one we're lucky enough to have its whole length. It has some quite nice adze marks inside, and it'll be nice to get that cleaned out and have a proper look."

Although Ms Johns thought it was made of kauri she planned to take samples to confirm that, but a more challenging task would be to date it.

Archeological hints such as middens weren't in the area and there weren't many other clues.

ARC heritage specialist Robert Brassey said this year the beach had also given up parts of a steamer that was shipwrecked.

Mr Brassey said the canoe may have come from the Manukau Harbour. "It's a longshore drift so you tend to get things coming from south to north, we're speculating that the waka came from further south."

Te Kawarau a Maki tribal member Eru Thompson made sure there was a karakia before the waka tiwai was moved on to its temporary home.

ARC staff plan to build a tank to house the waka before further decisions are made with iwi about its future.