A grove of young native trees on the stark summit of One Tree Hill could mark the push to finalise Treaty claims by 2014.

Yesterday at Waitangi, Key vowed to settle all the nation's Treaty claims, focusing this year on the one-fifth of them within the Auckland region.

And the first sign the ambitious task is on schedule will be replanting on One Tree Hill - left bare since 2001.

That was when the lone pine atop the Auckland volcanic cone had to be removed, after Maori activist Mike Smith took a chainsaw to it. The hill had been made world-famous by Irish superband U2, who wrote a song in its honour.

"While we've been waiting for the issue to be resolved, we've had a situation where no new tree could be planted on One Tree Hill," Key told invited guests at a breakfast near the Treaty Grounds yesterday.

"In 2010 the opportunity exists for concluding just and durable settlements throughout the Auckland region, something that a few years ago would have been regarded as a pipe dream.

"Iwi are keen to get on with the business, the Crown is keen, and everyone agrees that public access can never be compromised."

But, he warned, the only way to meet the 2014 deadline was by ending the settlement "gravy train" of lawyers and negotiators.

"This Waitangi Day, I think we can all agree it's time to consign the grievance mentality to the history books."

Auckland mayor John Banks yesterday called for the Government to settle as many claims as possible before the new Auckland council comes into being on November 1.

"Auckland will not become a Supercity until we've settled the Treaty claims," he said.

"Ngati Whatua have been extraordinarily patient, and the time has arrived in 2010 for the claim to be settled."

A collective deal proposed would see title for Auckland's volcanic cones transferred to Tamaki Makaurau iwi and a shared management process established. That would be followed by individual settlements with the iwi.

Banks said signing the collective deal on the volcanoes would "open the door to discussion" on planting.

But One Tree Hill won't gain just one tree: the summit will get a small grove of natives.

The council has been nurturing nine trees from seedlings for the past six years - six pohutukawa and three totara, now up to 4m tall.

It's likely seven would be planted on the site to give a greater chance of at least one becoming established.

Banks said he had mixed feelings about replacing the tree, because historically it hadn't always been present, but it was important to Aucklanders.

Celebrations at Waitangi yesterday passed largely without incident, with large crowds enjoying a carnival atmosphere.

Maori Party MP Hone Harawira led a group of about 100 protesters from Te Tii marae, by the waterfront, up to the Treaty Grounds.

They gathered peacefully at the flagpole, which was circled by police and Maori wardens.

Harawira said he was relaxed that the Tino Rangatiratanga flag - a symbol of Maori independence that the Government has embraced - was not flying at Waitangi.

Its presence alongside the New Zealand flag on the Auckland Harbour Bridge and Premier House was "a victory".

"I'm disappointed, but its time will come," he said. "I want this flag to come in its own time, in its own way, and in its own mana."

The protesters made no attempt to break the police cordon and climb the flagpole with their own Maori independence standard, as they had done in previous years.

Key was also supporting the Tino Rangatiratanga flag, wearing a lapel pin of overlapping New Zealand and Tino Rangatiratanga flags.

He said the pin, a "Waitangi present", reflected the role both flags were playing in official commemorations. "I'm very proud that they're there, and I think New Zealanders will enjoy it, by and large."

Key and Labour leader Phil Goff were among those to offer prayers at a dawn karakia service at the Whare Runanga, on the Treaty Grounds.

The only interruption to the service came when heavy rain forced many spectators outside to run for cover.