After a five-year absence from Waitangi celebrations, the grand dame of waka, Ngatokimatawhaorua, will celebrate its 70th anniversary this year on the water.

The waka will play a major part in ceremonies for the 170th commemorations of the signing of the Treaty. Organisers are expecting the largest flotilla of waka - up to 23 are attending, bringing 1000 paddlers.

During the weekend Ngatoki, as the waka is known, was taken out for a test run at the Bay of Islands to see how extensive remedial work over the winter stood up.

Captain Joe Conrad said the 35.7m waka, the largest of its kind, which can double in weight while on the water, handled beautifully.

Built in three sections, the waka was relashed using more than 1km of rope, something which hadn't been done in about 15 years.

"She's lashed so tight now it's like playing the violin, she sings to us," Mr Conrad said.

In 1940 Ngatoki was commissioned by Princess Te Puea to mark the 100th year of the signing of the Treaty.

Selections for the final 80 kaihoe or paddlers had not yet been made but many understood that it would be a special honour to get onboard this year, Mr Conrad said.

"The waka is a living thing, it has its own wairua [spirit], and you know when you're sitting on it you're sitting with your tupuna [ancestors].

"We're looking for the right fulla for the job. Just because you're big, tough, ugly and got big muscles and can do your hakas doesn't mean you'll get on, you've got to have the right feeling in your heart for waka."

Four other craft arrived at the Treaty Grounds over the weekend.

Waitangi National Trust chief executive Jeanette Richardson was looking forward to February 6.

"It is a family event, and a historic birthday celebration to which the whole nation is invited."