King Tuheitia's father Whatumoana Paki has died early this morning.

The Herald understands he had been ill for sometime.

However at his son's coronation celebrations last month he checked himself out of hospital to be with the thousands of Kingitanga followers that attend one of Maoridom's biggest events.

Mr Paki's wife Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu died in 2006 after leading the movement for 40 years - the first woman in its history to do so.

This morning close friend Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi said Mr Paki reminisced with her that when Dame Te Ata was appointed Maori Queen in the 1960s, a Tainui kaumatua made it clear to him what his "step behind" position would be.

The message came against the difficulty of many accepting a Dame Te Ata as Kingitanga leader because even though she became one of its most loved heads, in the beginning there was opposition to her appointment.

"He shared with me that a kaumatua told him: 'Just remember that you must leave all the statements to her."

"For a man who had a very strong mind that can't have been easy. Gosh, I know some men who wouldn't have done that for anything. But he did it with panache and he was a tower of strength behind Dame Te Ata."

Dame Iritana said the last five years had been difficult for Mr Paki who continued to live at Waahi Pa in Huntly.

She said her friend shared with her that he'd always wanted a headstone for his wife but kaahui ariki - members of Tainui's royal family - do not have markings. Instead, he planted purple roses named after her around a memorial stone outside their home.

"I know it was a comfort for him.


"Those two did everything together - when you've been stitched at the hip in the way they were, she never went anywhere without him and they were so affectionate together - it's not easy."