A hikoi comprised of several different protest groups has made its way to the upper marae at Waitangi.

The march, which involves just over 100 people, is divided into three separate groups.

The largest of the three, the anti-StatOil protest, is rounding out the hikoi.

The group are protesting against the Norwegian-owned company's exploration permits in Northland.

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Chants of "StatOil, go home, leave our seas alone" can be heard as the group loop around the flag pole at the upper Treaty ground.

The hikoi also includes an anti-sovereign protest group, and another group which makes the walk each year on Waitangi Day as part of a spiritual experience. Hone Harawira is among those marching.

Before the hikoi reached the upper Treaty grounds, a small confrontation occurred between the different groups.

The disruption to the march occurred at the bridge which separates the lower marae from the Treaty grounds.

John Key restates case for flag change

Prime Minister John Key has set out his case for changing the flag at his annual Waitangi Day breakfast address this morning - and admitted to a touch of envy over the ease with which Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has made the same decision.

Speaking to a group of iwi leader, business people and politicians Mr Key said he would like to see a new New Zealand flag hoist at the Dawn Service before the 200th anniversary in 2040.

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Mr Key referred to the flag of the United Tribes, chosen by Maori from a choice of three in 1834 in a quick vote.

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"It's kind of the Frank Bainimarama way of changing the flag in Fiji and I have much admiration for it.

"The process this time round will be much more considered but I have every expectation Maori will be closely involved, just as they were in 1834."

Fiji's PM announced this week that Fiji would change its flag to shed 'colonial' symbols such as the Union Jack.

Mr Key by contrast has set up a two-stage referendum process - a rather more lengthy affair.

Afterward Mr Key said Bainimarama had an instant process: "No referendum for him. He's just doing it."

His initial preference was a silver fern on black and he still believes the silver fern is the best image.

However, comparisons of the white on black to the Isis (Islamic State) flag have put him off the black background.

Labour leader Andrew Little has said the flag should wait until a wider constitutional move toward a republic.

Mr Key said he did not agree and described himself as "the biggest constitutional monarchist you'll meet."

"I believe in the Queen as the head of state and I don't think New Zealand having a President does anything for us other than being a very expensive exercise and one that wouldn't work terribly well."

However, he said changing the flag was an important symbol of modern New Zealand.

Mr Key had also raised Treaty settlement in his address. Speaking in front of the leaders of the disputing groups of Ngapuhi - Tuhoronuku chair Sonny Tau and Ngati Hine's Pita Tipene - Mr Key said he would also like all "willing and able iwi" to have settled by 2040.

The settlements have been a focus of this year's commemorations as Ngapuhi, the country's largest iwi, continues to struggle with progress in its Treaty settlement.

He said the Treaty settlement process was not perfect but those who had settled showed what it could mean.

"Settlements may represent a fraction of what was actually lost. But they let iwi move on and make better futures and create more opportunities for their people. New Zealand as a whole is better off for that."

Flag raising ceremony accompanied by Scottish Piper Bain McGregor at the dawn service at the Treaty Grounds on Waitangi Day. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Flag raising ceremony accompanied by Scottish Piper Bain McGregor at the dawn service at the Treaty Grounds on Waitangi Day. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Festivities in full swing at treaty grounds

Festivities to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the signing of Treaty of Waitangi are in full swing at the treaty grounds.

Hundreds of people crowded onto the shore of Te Tii marae to watch 13 waka and crews take to the water.

The flotilla of waka, led by Ngapuhi's 80-seat waka Ngatokimatawhaorua, stopped at the beach in front of the lower marae where paddlers came ashore and gave several rousing rounds of haka.

Onlookers, many using selfie sticks and tablets to film the spectacle, cheered as different waka crew performed their own haka.

Hineira Te Rangi of Tautoro -- which is about 10km south of Kaikohe -- brought her two children Keez, 4, and Honey-Rose, 2, for the weekend festivities.

"I just love it," Ms Te Rangi said.

The trio, who have spent two previous Waitangi Days at Waitangi, left home at 5.30 this morning.

"We're here to celebrate the day, just rejoice with the ceremony," Ms Te Rangi said.

"I want my children to know our culture, our heritage. I'm so grateful that even though our culture has suffered a lot ... we can still do this," she said of today's festivities.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to flock to the treaty grounds today, with a sea of stalls, live music performances and the New Zealand Navy's 21 gun salute at midday adding to the cheerful atmosphere.

Tina Parata, her partner Darryl Rayner and their two sons Owen, 18, and Reuben, 12, were enjoying their first Waitangi Day in Waitangi.

"It's like a tick off the bucket list for me," Ms Parata said.

"It's really exciting."

Waitangi events kick off with dawn service

A dawn church service at the upper treaty grounds has kicked off official celebrations at Waitangi this morning.

The ceremony, held in the meeting house at the upper treaty grounds, was attended by a raft of politicians including Prime Minister John Key, Labour leader Andrew Little and Act's David Seymour.

A full house at the dawn service at the Treaty Grounds on Waitangi Day. Photo / Jason Oxenham
A full house at the dawn service at the Treaty Grounds on Waitangi Day. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Normally a light-hearted affair, Ngapuhi runanga chairman Sonny Tau, who opened and closed the service, joked how this year - the 175th anniversary of the Treaty signing - "politics had crept in".

Hone Harawira was a crowd favourite, drawing laughs when he recalled how he was asked to "join the church" a few years ago by Bishop Kito Pikaahu - who presided over this morning's service - because he thought Mr Harawira would never be made a Government minister.

During his prayer, Mr Harawira asked Ngapuhi to settle differences in the iwi "so that we can come to a measure of unity, kotahitanga, so that as Ngapuhi moves forward, the rest of the country sees the majesty that Ngapuhi can bring".

Mr Key, who addressed the issue of sending troops to Iraq yesterday at Te Tii Marae after it was raised by previous speakers, reflected on loved ones lost during 2014.

John Key leaves the Treaty Grounds with Marina Diamond of the Akarana Maori Wardens after the dawn service at the Treaty Grounds on Waitangi Day. Photo / Jason Oxenham
John Key leaves the Treaty Grounds with Marina Diamond of the Akarana Maori Wardens after the dawn service at the Treaty Grounds on Waitangi Day. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"We give thanks to those who serve our country, particularly the men and women of the armed forces - those who are overseas - our police officers and our firefighters," he said.

Mr Little hoped to make today a day of "celebrating, of commemorating and of looking ahead".

Kevin and Michelle Harris and the couple's three children - Tracey-Maria, 21, Te Miringa, 18, Steve, 12 - left their Hokianga home at 4.30am for the service.

It was the fifth year the family's had travelled to Waitangi for the day, Mr Harris said.

"It actually gets to be a really good day in the end," he said.

"It's also good for the kids - the knowledge of what's been and gone, what's going on and what's going to happen," Mrs Harris said.