The schoolkids of Te Kāpehu Whetū were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime experience today when national icons Steven Adams and Willie Apiata came to visit.

The pair arrived at the Whangārei-based kura at about midday to a rousing reception from over 60 students and staff as Adams, Apiata and their travelling party were welcomed on to the premises.

Adams, who plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the United States' NBA, is in town for two basketball camps tomorrow at ASB Stadium. Apiata, a former corporal in the New Zealand Special Air Service and recipient of the Victoria Cross, came as a friend of the Adams family.

Steven Adams (centre) and Victoria Cross recipient Willie Apiata (left) listen during speeches by members of the school. Photo / John Stone
Steven Adams (centre) and Victoria Cross recipient Willie Apiata (left) listen during speeches by members of the school. Photo / John Stone

As a decorated man of service, Apiata's presence was particularly significant for the school which formed a tribute to the 28th Māori Battalion, called the Leadership Academy of A Company, as a way to foster young Māori leadership.

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After the visitors were officially welcomed, Apiata spoke to the students about the values young Māori should embody while he referenced the importance of Northland in his own life. Apiata lived in Waima for some of his early childhood and said this visit was his furthermost trip north in about 12 years.

Adams then introduced himself to the crowd of students and staff and described his family life, growing up with a British father and Tongan mother. While he acknowledged he was not Māori, Adams explained how being raised in Rotorua made him feel part of New Zealand.

Students of Te Kāpehu Whetū gave both Adams and Apiata a rousing welcome to the school. Photo / John Stone
Students of Te Kāpehu Whetū gave both Adams and Apiata a rousing welcome to the school. Photo / John Stone

"Growing up there, it did make me realise, it made me part of the Māori people and I wanted to say that I understand that I'm Tongan but I do really feel like a Kiwi, like one of the people so I really hope that I represent it when I'm over [in the United States]," he said.

Te Kāpehu Whetū head girl Tasha Perrett, 17, said she felt privileged to have the pair visit and the school had been buzzing all week in anticipation.

"It's a good opportunity especially for our kura, and having our [young kids] here was awesome to see older rangitahi thriving, not just in New Zealand but in the world," she said.

Urutai Davis (centre) leads his school mates in an emphatic welcome to their acclaimed guests. Photo / Adam Pearse
Urutai Davis (centre) leads his school mates in an emphatic welcome to their acclaimed guests. Photo / Adam Pearse

Te Kāpehu Whetū principal Raewyn Tipene said the school invited Apiata to visit 10 years ago and was ecstatic to see him make the trip.

"We invited him because he had just got his Victoria Cross at the time as he was probably the most recognised male figure in the north or the country," she said.

"It's absolutely cool for him to be here and then for the kids, Steven Adams, you could see as soon as he was released from the formalities the kids just swamped him so it's awesome."

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Willie Apiata stands with members of the Leadership Academy of A Company, a tribute to the 28th Māori Battalion which was founded to foster young Māori leadership. Photo / John Stone
Willie Apiata stands with members of the Leadership Academy of A Company, a tribute to the 28th Māori Battalion which was founded to foster young Māori leadership. Photo / John Stone

Tipene said her students would come to realise the significance of having two national icons at the school and hoped they would learn valuable lessons from the experience.

"It's continually reminding them of the values we stand for and how [Adams and Apiata] are part of that and for a school like this to see these guys is really rare so hopefully the lessons will sink in over time."