A bouquet of daffodils next to the new statue of Sir Colin Meads in Te Kuiti was the first sign that the pine tree had fallen. Flowers are beginning to pile up at the foot of the hero as news of his death filters through the King Country town.

Abi Rawles, co-owner of Stoked Eatery, said even before the news hit, she had an inkling of what had occurred when she saw the bright flowers at the statue in the centre of town.

Passers-by are stopping to take photos, a mark of the great man's importance to locals and outsiders alike.

With the news of Sir Colin Meads passing away many people have visited his statue in Te Kuiti to pay their respects including Kevin Wi and his grandson Kingston. Photo / Mike Scott
With the news of Sir Colin Meads passing away many people have visited his statue in Te Kuiti to pay their respects including Kevin Wi and his grandson Kingston. Photo / Mike Scott

Several hundred people passed through Te Kuiti today to pay their respects, a few leaving flowers and cards.

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One left a rugby ball bearing the message "rest peacefully Sir Colin. Forever a legend."

Around 20 people gathered at the Waitete Rugby Football Club to remember Pinetree since the news began to filter out at 1pm. By 6pm the atmosphere was rowdy, but as the news started there was a hush as Sir Colin was remembered on national television. A round of applause followed the segment.

"It is real, real tragic news," said Neil Macrae, secretary of the club, forever associated with the name of its local hero.

"He was just a real, true, loyal man to our club, right up to the end when he was too sick to come down any more."

Waitete club president Jason Cook said it had been a sad day for the club and people are still coming to grips with Sir Colin's passing.

"The hardest thing is we're a rural club, so we've lost a club stalwart. He's a life member but to a lot of people he's more than that, he's a friend."

Several generations are gathered at the club, testament to the impact Sir Colin had on the community.

"He was always someone that the young fellas can relate to," Church said.

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"He sometimes would have been too straight a shooter for some of them, but they'd go and talk to him to get advice on how they'd played that day."

The realisation that next time they played they would look up in the stands and see a space where Sir Colin used to be left many in the club feeling "hollow", he said.

"It's a really weird feeling."

Church said Sir Colin's impact on the club had been huge. He had been involved at every level and had "done wonders for the club".

"He brought all that experience back to our club. He didn't have to come back - he could have easily just left Te Kuiti but he didn't."

King Country Rugby Union chairman Ivan Haines worked with Sir Colin in various rugby roles since the 1990s.

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He said the man's humility meant the New Zealand public never heard about much of the work Sir Colin did, especially for charity, including his work with IHC and the Rugby Foundation.

"He was really passionate about it. He was always thinking about the kids and growing rugby, growing the game - it was his whole life.

"But he was humble about his impact.

"That's why you don't hear about it. He'd be embarrassed. He was a bloody good bloke.

"I'd pin him up beside Hillary as an icon of New Zealand. He may not have scaled Everest but he's knocked a few mountains off."

Legendary sheep shearer Sir David Fagan was at the club to pay his respects.

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The world champion shearer grew up in Te Kuiti watching Colin Meads playing rugby for the All Blacks but only got to know him in later years, as Fagan's son and Sir Colin's grandson have been best mates since kindergarten.

As a farmer, shearing was in Sir Colin's blood, and he attended all the local shearing events, sometimes riding the quad bike as part of the show.

"Whenever we needed Colin as a guest or celebrity he would be there. I think he had a lot of respect for the shearing side."

After Sir David was knighted in 2016 the pair had "a bit of a giggle" over their titles, Sir David said.

"Because both of us have the same attitude - we don't feel any different because of it ... He's just a good bugger. But he thoroughly deserved the knighthood."

Waitomo District mayor Brian Hanna said there would undoubtedly be a large farewell for Sir Colin, once the news had sunk in.

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"Our district is in a state of numbness," he said.

"He was the most famous New Zealander alive, not only for his rugby but for his fundraising for the area and New Zealand in general. The things he's done since he's hung up his rugby boots have been phenomenal."

Hanna said he was grateful everyone had had the chance to celebrate Sir Colin while he was still alive, with the unveiling of the statue on June 19, attended by Sir Colin himself.

Auckland artist Natalie Stamilla, creator of the 2.9m bronze sculpture, said she was saddened to hear of his death, but was touched to learn that people were placing tributes at the statue.

Meads was a regular at the local Waitomo Club, where members began raising a glass and reminiscing as they heard of his passing this morning.

"People gave him stick - he was just one of the regulars, you know," said a staff member.

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Neighbours said he would always stop to talk and share a drink, and often spoke to children at the local school.

Neighbour Melissa Davis said her eldest daughter, 8, was particularly heartbroken as Meads and his wife Verna would let her swim in their pool.

"He was just an all-round nice bloke," Davis said.

"He had a veggie garden out front and he was always giving us cabbages and caulis. I remember one Christmas, my husband spent the evening trying to put up our trampoline, and Colin stood over the fence laughing."

While some locals had yet to receive the news, Rawles said that the mood was "sombre" as people heard.

"I didn't really know him, as I've only been here a few years, but he's really special to Te Kuiti, and you take it quite personally, when it's one of your own."

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Te Kuiti local Jean Hitchen had fond memories of Sir Colin, who she had known since childhood.

His usual greeting was "Gidday girl - how's it going."

"He was just so human. He was a natural. No matter your walk of life - he was an average small-town guy who treated everybody with respect."