The freshly named All Blacks squad were welcomed to Whakatāne with tamariki chanting a haka, birds warbling, a soft sea breeze and the faint smell of fish and chips on the nearby wharf.
The pōwhiri at Te Mānuka Tūtahi marae marked the start of the rugby team's three-day visit to the eastern Bay of Plenty town.
To acknowledge the significance of last year's Whakaari eruption, New Zealand Rugby also invited victims and their whānau to the occasion.
Te Kura o Te Pāroa's award-winning performers made the most of the sports stars' visit, getting signatures and photos with team members.
Reporoa-raised captain Sam Cane said players got "so much out of" getting out of the city.
"I know personally that some of the smallest areas in New Zealand have the heartiest rugby fans."
He recalled "good battles" with the team from nearby Ōpōtiki College when playing for Reporoa College in his teens - some of their "toughest games".
All Blacks teammate TJ Perenara (Ngāti Rangitihi), whose marae is just 15 minutes away in Matatā, said training in Whakatāne was "very special" for him and his whānau.
"The connections - I am feeling more - with my home now learning te reo Māori," he said.
He said he was "falling more in love with the language".
Ian Foster, who is just beginning his stint as head coach, said he wanted to "get the guys grounded in a community that has gone through a heck of a lot of hardship".
"We can't solve any problems ... but we can show some support," he said when asked about meeting the Whakaari victims.
Whakatāne mayor Judy Turner was "thrilled" the team were in town.
She said generations of whānau played rugby throughout the rohe.
"We have about 14 junior clubs in the eastern Bay with nearly 500 registered players ... For many, it might be the only opportunity they get to see the All Blacks, ever."
Turner wanted to celebrate the community's resilience in recent months.
"We cannot think of a better way to do this," she said.
Whakatāne rugby stalwart and former Māori All Blacks coach Matt Te Pou said: "Anybody in any area would be rapt to have the All Blacks on their back doorstep."
He said it was particularly significant for young athletes in the area.
"They dream that they can play at an elite level in a code and when they see their heroes out there ... They get caught up in it."
Bay of Plenty Rugby community relations manager Neil Alton said the visit was "hugely exciting".
It was the first time, he could remember, that a full All Blacks team had visited Whakatāne.
"The All Blacks are so popular it's hard for them to spread themselves out across the whole country."
Alton said the public training session that community members could watch tomorrow "would create a lot of cool memories" for families.
"Having a free event like that in the neighbourhood, it takes out the cost burden and the hurdle of buying tickets to test matches."
Whakatāne Stirling Sports owner Asa Scholtens said rugby was "really popular" in the community.
"We sell a lot of rugby boots and gear.
"It's a really good them to have them [the All Blacks] here and we want them to come back," she said.
Fans are invited to a public training session at 9.45am tomorrow at Rugby Park in Whakatāne, before the squad leaves on Wednesday.
The All Blacks will also hold a camp in Hamilton the following week before assembling on October 5 in Wellington to prepare for the first Bledisloe Cup Test on October 11.
They play the second test against the Wallabies at Eden Park on October 18.