Ngapuhi leaders are mourning the loss of one of their people's ''true soldiers'' following the death of Kingi Taurua.

Taurua, aged 80, died on Thursday evening at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland, after a long battle with cancer.

Chairman of the Waitangi National Trust, Pita Tipene said today the loss would be strongly felt by Ngapuhi.

''In terms of another totara that has fallen, Ngapuhi has lost a great one.

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''I just look around here where I'm standing right now at Waitangi and know the ground will be shuddering from the fall of that totara for a long time.''

Taurua had been an advisor to several government ministers. He was also a Vietnam War veteran and member of the elite SAS, a prison officer and an award-winning broadcaster with Radio Waatea.

He was a kaumatua at Te Tii Marae, Waitangi, and a voice of discontent over the slow progress of Ngapuhi's Treaty settlement. At times, Taurua played a double role as both host and protester at Waitangi Day events.

With his distinctive full-face ta moko, smart dress sense, charm and seeming ability to be everywhere at once, Taurua was one of the enduring, public faces of Waitangi.

He was a passionate advocate for Te Reo, tinorangatiratanga (Maori sovereignty), and Whakaputanga (the 1835 northern chiefs Declaration of Independence).

The former soldier once said that when he fought overseas in the New Zealand army, he had yet to realise his fight should be at home, for Ngapuhi, to achieve the promises of the treaty and help bring to young Maori the opportunities settlement of claims would enable.

Tipene described Taurua as ''vociferous and polarising '' about the issues he was passionate about.

''I received some of those barbs myself at times but Kingi was also, always, very friendly, and likeable, and he had a great sense of humour.

''I really enjoyed his company. I think of him as a little like Maui, a bit of a prankster, a real character, brave, determined and likeable.''

Former Labour MP and Northland local body politician Dover Samuels, who was a cousin and close friend, was at the bedside with extended whānau in the minutes before Taurua died.

''He was a good bugger,'' Samuels told the Northern Advocate.

''His last words to me were, 'We're going to catch up later, for sure'.

''The sadness for him was he never achieved his lifelong dream of settlement for Ngapuhi.

''He was a soldier who really fought a lifelong war for his people. He was one of the true radicals in the history of Ngapuhi.''

Kingi Taurua's body will lie in state at Te Tii Marae, Waitangi, for two days before being taken to his Ngati Rehia people's marae at Kerikeri.