The body of Sir Paul Reeves arrived at an Auckland Church with a police escort for the start of his tangi today.

Sir Paul, an Anglican archbishop who became New Zealand's first Maori Governor-General in 1985, died yesterday of cancer at age 78.

Mourners are gathering outside of the Holy Church of the Sepulchre in Khyber Pass Road, where church leaders had expected some 5000 people to pay their respects during the tangi.

Among those gathered is former All Black Michael Jones, who he had worked with at the Auckland University of Technology, a large contingent of his Taranaki iwi, police and whanau members.

Advertisement

Drums began to beat as he was driven into the church grounds.

Waiting inside the church to receive his body are members of Ngati Whatua and a contingent from AUT, where he was chancellor.

Earlier today the Prime Minister confirmed a state funeral for former Governor-General Sir Paul Reeves, will be held in Auckland on Thursday.

John Key announced a state funeral will be held at Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Parnell.

Mr Key said he would attend, along with ministers and MPs from across parliament.

The cortege carrying Sir Paul's body would travel through Auckland Domain on its journey from the Holy Sepulchre Church to Holy Trinity Cathedral, he said.

Defence personnel would accompany on the final segment of the journey from the edge of the domain to the cathedral entrance.

Thousands expected at tangi today

Advertisement

Sir Paul's tangi today has the status of a state funeral.

Yesterday, family members including Lady Beverley spent private time at home in Remuera before what is expected to be one of the largest tangi in Auckland since Sir Hugh Kawharu died in 2006.

The former Archbishop of New Zealand chose the headquarters of the Maori mission for people to mourn him and a small army of workers is readying the church, which will act as a wharenui to hold Sir Paul's body.

Professor Sir Ngatata Love attended Wellington College and shared close Taranaki and Te Ati Awa links with Sir Paul. When his friend became the first Maori Governor-General in 1985, it was a proud moment and one he made sure was shared with his tribe.

"I well recall he invited his Taranaki whanui [people], who were a really big grouping, to come and visit him at Government House.

"Well, it ended up with mattresses on the floor and people staying there. That'll be the first time [the house] had seen an iwi sleepover," Sir Ngatata joked.

Humble beginnings

Sir Paul was the son of a tram driver in the working-class Wellington suburb of Newtown. Although he did not grow up around things Maori, that did not stop him from making a contribution later in life.

He was a foundation member of the team that completed the $25 million Port Nicholson Block Treaty settlement in Wellington.

When Parliament approved it in 2009, the Crown apologised, but Sir Paul replied with a statement of forgiveness, the first of its kind made by tribes that had settled.

Sir Ngatata said that gesture said much about Sir Paul's faith and character. "The way he thought was if someone you know humbles themselves, then people must be dignified and say, 'We now move on'."

A political activist, Sir Paul threw his weight behind the Citizens for Rowling campaign which unsuccessfully sought to get Prime Minister Bill Rowling re-elected in 1975, and he opposed the 1981 Springbok tour.

In 1987, he criticised Labour for the effects of Rogernomics, reforms which he believed were making society more stratified.

Famously, he struck up a correspondence with the Queen's private secretary during his tenure as the monarch's representative.

He told National Radio: "I used to write to the Queen and express my opinion about this and that going on in the country and I wouldn't get a direct reply from her but I would always get a lengthy reply from her private secretary, which I took was expressing her viewpoint. I had a little sense of being left alone and felt that I needed to be taken into the loop more, or be taken seriously."

In 2004, he said renouncing his knighthood would be worth a New Zealand republic.

Another knight, Sir Tamati Reedy, remembers Sir Paul as a man who knew how to be ordinary with ordinary people. He visited Ruatoria in the 1980s as Governor-General but knew the people after serving as a bishop on the east coast a decade previously.

"He took time to visit his Ngati Porou flock.

"We were a bit fitness mad in those days and I remember us going for a run. We ran from Mangahanea to Hiruharama Marae, which is about seven miles [12km], turned around and came back. All this before breakfast in the morning. Those are precious memories for me."

Sir Paul was Anglican observer at the UN, observed elections in Ghana and South Africa, helped write constitutions for Fiji and Guyana and chaired the Nelson Mandela Trust.

At home, he chaired the Queen Elizabeth II Trust and the Bioethics Council and helped to select judges for the new Supreme Court.

He held our highest royal honour, membership of the Order of NZ.

Prime Minister John Key said the country had lost one of its greatest statesmen. Sir Paul's life was "one spent giving ... His contribution was enormous and New Zealand is a poorer place for his passing".