From hot breakfast served by the Prime Minister to a waka display bigger than usual - tens of thousands of people enjoyed what Kelvin Davis described as "the Waitangi Day the nation has been waiting for".

Commemorations for the 180th anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi began with the annual dawn service at Te Whare Rūnanga, the carved meeting house at the Upper Treaty Grounds.

READ MORE:
Premium - Simon Wilson: Andrew Little steals the show at Waitangi
Waitangi Day: 'Look after our own' - Brian Tamaki gets stuck into immigrants, China, Ardern
Jacinda Ardern welcomed on to the birth place of the Treaty of Waitangi

About 500 people gathered for the service, which started about 5am - it was an hour of quiet before a crowd of up to 40,000 descended on Waitangi.

Advertisement
The crowd at the Waitangi Day dawn service at Te Whare Rūnanga. Photo / Michael Cunningham
The crowd at the Waitangi Day dawn service at Te Whare Rūnanga. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Early risers were treated to breakfast cooked by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and fellow Members of Parliament.

The barbecue breakfast started in 2018 when Ardern chose to forgo the more traditional Prime Minister's breakfast held at the Copthorne Hotel which was closed off to the public.

Sharyne and Peter Wimsett, who were at the back of the 150m line, said they didn't mind waiting as the line was moving quickly.

Kelvin Davis - Te Tai Tokerau MP and Minister for Corrections, Te Arawhiti and Tourism - said he believed they had served more than 2000 people - well above last year's crowd.

"I think this is the Waitangi Day the nation has been waiting for, for many years. The changes we have made since we came into Government have been designed to create a day New Zealand can be proud of."

Girlie Clarke is served breakfast by Christchurch Central Labour MP Duncan Webb, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Green Party leader James Shaw and Dover Samuels. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Girlie Clarke is served breakfast by Christchurch Central Labour MP Duncan Webb, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Green Party leader James Shaw and Dover Samuels. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Girlie Clarke, who works for Te Hiku Media and hails from Te Kao, was one of the first in line for breakfast and said it was "very nice".

Ngāpuhi kaumatua Dover Samuels, who also helped serve the masses, said the high-flying days of inviting people to a private breakfast with the Prime Minister were over.

"Here we are having a barbecue - Northland style, Kiwi style, Te Tai Tokerau style - and we have a Prime Minister in her apron cooking for the masses - that shows a different relationship."

Advertisement
Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki and about 200 supporters waiting to enter the Upper Treaty Grounds. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki and about 200 supporters waiting to enter the Upper Treaty Grounds. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki took part in the Interdenominational Church Service at Te Whare Rūnanga for the first time this year.

He arrived with about 200 supporters, including his wife Hannah, and spoke for nearly half an hour to the crowd of about 1500 people - this compared to the shorter readings from other speakers.

He got stuck into immigrants, China and the Prime Minister during his wide-ranging sermon.

While his words were followed by cheers and applause from supporters, others in the crowd were seen rolling their eyes and shaking their heads.

Tamaki's followers then erupted into haka as he finished speaking.

Bishop Kiitohi Piikaahu - the MC of the service - explained to NZME that he was upset about the haka Tamaki's followers performed. He called it "inappropriate" for a church service.

The waka display at Tii Beach was larger than usual this year. Photo / John Stone
The waka display at Tii Beach was larger than usual this year. Photo / John Stone

Meanwhile, 15 canoes from as far away as Whakatane took part in this year's waka display, which was bigger than usual due to the 80th birthday of the great waka Ngātokimatawhaorua, launched in 1940 for the Treaty's centennial celebrations.

The fleet's departure from Haruru Falls was delayed slightly when Ngātokimatawhaorua was grounded on the rapidly falling tide but the waka, which weighs 12 tonnes when wet, was freed by muscle power from about 100 paddlers.

After a circuit of the bay the fleet landed at Tii Beach for a series of karakia but skipped the usual mass haka. The sheer number of waka and paddlers and the size of the crowd on the beach – estimated to be about 2000 – meant there just wasn't space.

Paddlers travelled from around the motu as well as from the Netherlands, Hawaii and the United States to take part in the spectacle.

As well as the extra-large fleet this year's waka event was unusual for the presence of women on Ngātokimatawhaorua.

As a waka taua it is normally restricted to men, but women have occasionally been taken on board - including for the 150th Treaty commemorations in 1990 and the visit of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1983.

The group of about 10 women were picked up from Waitangi jetty, paddled to a historic wānanga site on Motumaire island off Paihia, and finally delivered to Hobson's Bay at Waitangi.

A special blessing to remove restrictions on the waka was performed the evening before with another ceremony taking place before Ngātokimatawhaorua was returned to its shelter.

All the women had special connections to kaupapa waka with Gina Harding, for example, representing her late stepfather Sir Hekenukumai Busby.

Waitangi National Trust chief executive Greg McManus put the crowd at between 30,000 and 40,000, well up on last year.

"It's been very peaceful and the stalls have been doing a roaring trade."

"The only issue was traffic, which was backed up all the way to Paihia. Before next Waitangi Day we will have to work with all the agencies to figure out a better way to get people here," he said.

Inspector Al Symonds, of Northland police, said there had been no arrests and no trouble.

The only incidents involved escorting a few people off Waitangi National Trust grounds for wearing gang patches, which they knew was not permitted.

"It's been a great day, as it always is. Traffic has been an issue but people have been understanding and patient."

Regrettably, police did not win the bomb contest from Waitangi Bridge, so they were considering who to enter next year, he quipped.

Buck Cullen leads the hikoi up the hill to the Upper Treaty Grounds. Photo / John Stone
Buck Cullen leads the hikoi up the hill to the Upper Treaty Grounds. Photo / John Stone

Several hundred people took part in the traditional hīkoi from Te Tii Marae to the Treaty Grounds to highlight issues ranging from land loss to 5G to climate change.

Their main focus, however, was the Ihumātao land dispute, with marchers carrying a large banner declaring "Protect Ihumatao". Occupation leaders such as Pania Newton and Buck Cullen took part, as did marchers in a hīkoi which left Cape Reinga on February 1.

Festivities continued well into the evening with a line-up of bands, kapa haka and drumming groups on three stages.

Hundreds of stalls offered kai, crafts and advice in three market zones while Te Tii Marae held a series of lively discussion forums.

The day started off mercifully cool but the sun returned in the afternoon, prompting the reappearance of a time-honoured Waitangi tradition as kids scaled the bridge railing to do bombs into the river