Hundreds of people have welcomed a flotilla of yachts into Whangaparaoa Bay in the Bay of Plenty today, which are protesting deep sea oil drilling in the Raukumara Basin off the East Cape.

The five yachts were ceremonially welcomed by local iwi, te Whanau a Apanui, about 11am .

The lead flotilla boats left Auckland last Sunday and have since been joined by boats from The Bay of Islands and Whitianga.

One of the yacht's skippers, Daniel Mares, said the message they had been given by supporters against the drilling was clear.

"The government has misguided this call and the people of New Zealand do not want or support deep sea drilling in our waters."

Iwi spokesman Dayle Takitimu said the response from the public had been "overwhelming".

"For us, the organisations that have come on board legitimises that this is a national environmental issue. We're committed to a long term campaign working collectively with like minded organisations.

"The deep sea oil drilling issue is a wave gathering strength that will crash on the shores of Wellington."

Greenpeace New Zealand climate campaigner Steve Abel said the group was unified in their opposition to the drilling.

"Deep sea oil drilling will not happen in New Zealand waters," he said.

- NZPA