Anti-mining sentiment is running high in the Eastern Bay of Plenty where a five-vessel flotilla has been protesting against oil exploration in the area.

More than 600 people turned out at Whangaparoa Bay, 78km north of Opotiki, on Saturday to greet the protesters, who had been at sea since leaving Auckland on Monday.

They came ashore to a haka performed by about 100 people from Te Whanau a Apanui tribe, which is leading opposition to exploration in the Raukumara Basin by Brazilian company Petrobras.

Daniel Mares, skipper of the veteran protest vessel Vega, said it was an honour to stand with Apanui on their own land.

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

Vega was used to oppose French nuclear testing in the Pacific during the 1980s and nuclear-fuel shipments through the Tasman Sea.

Last year, the New Zealand Government gave Petrobras the first deep-sea exploration permit for the basin.

At the weekend, sentiment ran high, with hundreds of signs alongside State Highway 35 displaying statements such as "Stop the Drilling" and "F*** off Petrobitch".

Former Waihau Bay resident Moana Waititi said he was concerned about the possible impact drilling could have, citing the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year.

"They say it's safe but what guarantees do they have? You can't guarantee anything," he said.

"If we don't do something about this now, it's our next generation that's going to suffer."

Te Whanau a Apanui spokeswoman Dayle Takitimu said the measure of support for the protest 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."

Greenpeace climate campaigner Steve Abel said oil drilling in the area would cause pollution and harm even if there was no serious accident.

The flotilla travelled to Gisborne yesterday and heads for home today.