A looming alert level 2 didn't stop those who loved and respected former Māori Land Court judge Heta Kenneth Hingston giving him the farewell he deserved.

Hingston died on Sunday at his Rotorua home, the day after his 82nd birthday. His funeral service was held today at Rongomaipāpā Marae, at Horohoro, south of Rotorua.

Originally scheduled for 1pm, the service was brought forward to 10am to allow a gathering of more than 100 people to pay their respects.

Heta Kenneth Hingston in 2014. Photo / File
Heta Kenneth Hingston in 2014. Photo / File

New Zealand moved to alert level 2 from midday today while those in Auckland moved to alert level 3, following four people testing positive for Covid-19 from community transmission.

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Despite moving the funeral service forward, those attending were asked to record their names and contact details and sanitise their hands.

Hingston was one of a Māoridom's greatest legal minds and was described as the backbone of the Māori Party.

He was made a Companion of the Queen's Service Order in 2015 in honour of his legal career spanning 40 years, including 15 years as a Māori Land Court judge.

Hingston worked as a judge of the Cook Islands High Court and Court of Appeal and the Chief Justice of the High Court of Niue.

He is most notably recognised as the judge who made the initial decision on Māori ownership of the foreshore and seabed, which was upheld by the Court of Appeal in 2003.

He was one of the many helping Tariana Turia lead the charge for a new political movement known as the Māori Party and he wrote the party's constitution.

Heta Kenneth Hingston's funeral service sheet. Photo / Kelly Makiha
Heta Kenneth Hingston's funeral service sheet. Photo / Kelly Makiha

His funeral service today was led by Pihopa Rahu Katene, and his brother Ben Hingston read his eulogy.

Those speaking talked about him growing up around Rongomaipāpā Marae and his time at St Stephen's College and serving his country twice in Malaya, where he carried the rank of Corporal 1st class.

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Saxophones played as his body was carried from the marae to the waiting hearse.

Good friend Trevor Maxwell told the Rotorua Daily Post at the tangi he was shocked when he was told of Hingston's death.

The pair had known each other for years, but more closely in the past seven years as they served on the New Zealand Community Trust Bay of Plenty/Waikato branch together.

Maxwell, who is also a long-serving Rotorua District councillor, said Hingston always told him how it was and spoke his mind.

"We used to talk a lot in the car on the way to meetings and he would rark me up about council stuff all the time, it was always in good fun."

Maxwell said Hingston was always willing to give free legal advice for Te Arawa and his iwi Ngāti Rangiwewehi.

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"If there was any kind of wrongdoing, we would say 'get Ken to write a letter, that'll fix them'. The pen was his sword. With one piece of paper and his words, he would stop things in their stride."

Maxwell said Hingston was always a generous man. He had a lovely holiday home in Rarotonga and would offer it free of charge for friends and family to stay at.

He is survived by his partner Makoha, his nine children, mokopuna and mokopuna tuarua.

Heta Kenneth Hingston. Photo / Supplied
Heta Kenneth Hingston. Photo / Supplied

Ken (Heta) Hingston

* Born in Rotorua, 1938
* Māori Land Court judge 1984 to 1999
* Legal adviser for the New Zealand Māori Council, the Te Arawa Māori Trust Board and the Tūhoe/Waikaremoana Māori Trust Board
* Made the initial decision on Māori ownership of the foreshore and seabed
* Made a Companion of the Queen's Service Order for services to Māori and the judiciary in 2015
* Died Sunday, August 9, 2020.