The Rugby World Cup-bound All Blacks have made a top-secret visit to the sacred Mt Hikurangi on the East Coast.
The Kieran Read-captained team travelled to the mountain early this morning, where they were welcomed by Ngāti Porou elders and watched the sun rise.
While at the highly spiritual site – which the Department of Conservation says is "recognised and accepted as the first point on the mainland to greet the morning sun" – the team performed the Ka Mate and Kapa O Pango haka.
The men in black also mingled with excited locals, including signing rugby balls and other gear for fans.
Earlier in the week several members of the World Cup squad – which was named on Wednesday – visited nearby Gisborne as part of a scheme that sent team members to several locations around New Zealand.
The events were well-publicised, but today's Mt Hikurangi visit was left off any media advisories. But the Herald has been told of their movements today.
The Herald understands hooker Dane Coles, who has Ngāti Porou heritage, gave a speech on behalf of the team to say thanks to locals on the mountain.
In a post on Facebook, the Ngāti Porou East Coast Rugby Union described the All Blacks' activities as a "surprise visit".
It thanked everyone involved in hosting the side, including schools and those who helped transport the team around the East Coast and the mountain.
The contingent that made a visit to Gisborne on Thursday included Dane Coles, Ardie Savea, Beauden Barrett and TJ Perenara.
In Māori mythology, Mt Hikurangi was the first part of the North Island to emerge when Māui pulled it from the sea. It also states that his waka, which was stranded, now lies near the mountain's summit.
Mt Hikurangi is about 25km from Ruatoria.
DoC says of it on its website: "Mt Hikurangi is an alpine environment (1752m). The weather is unpredictable and can change rapidly. Expect rain, fog, cloud, strong winds, snow and extreme cold at any time of the year. Be prepared to turn back if weather conditions deteriorate.
"This track is designed for walking during daylight hours only and is not safe to attempt in poor visibility.
"The last 400m is a scree slope. It's steep with unstable footing - extreme care is required."
The All Blacks will play Tonga in Hamilton next Saturday night, before travelling to Japan to finish preparations for the World Cup two days later.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has indicated he expects to name a near full-strength side to play in the final test before the World Cup.