Thousands of hours' practice all comes down to next weekend when five of Te Arawa's top kapa haka groups go head-to-head with the rest of the country.

Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Festival will be held at Hawke's Bay Sports Park next week.

A total of 47 teams will perform for 30 minutes each in front of the judges from Thursday to Saturday and nine top groups will be chosen for the finals on Sunday.

A winner will be announced on February 26 from 3.20pm.

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The national festival is held every two years, following regional competitions the year before.

Te Arawa teams are never far from the top placings with previous national champions Te Matarae I Orehu being named second equal last year with Mataatua's Opotiki Mai Tawhiti. Last year's first place went to Te Kapa Haka o Te Whanau a Apanui, also from Mataatua.

Te Arawa's top five teams were picked last March from a pool of 18 teams. They are Te Matarae I Orehu, Ngati Rangiwewehi, Tuhourangi Ngati Wahiao, Te Piki Kotuku o Rongomai and Te Hikuwai.

Hosted in a different city every two years, the festival draws thousands of people who come to witness the best of the best. This year's festival is being hosted by Ngati Kahungunu.

The first event started in Rotorua in 1972 and was won by Waihirere. It was also held in Rotorua in 1973 with Mawai Hakona winning the award.

Te Arawa's Ngati Rangiwewehi has won first place twice, in 1983 in Hastings and 1996 in Rotorua, and Te Matarae I Orehu has also won first place twice, in 2000 in Ngaruawahia and 2013 in Te Tairawhiti.

The festival boasts an impressive array of taonga (trophies) that are handed to the winners, each with a special meaning.

From Te Arawa, the winner of the kaitataki wahine award (best female leader) from the pool rounds is presented with Manukura Wahine: Te Taonga a Atareta Maxwell. Mrs Maxwell, who died in 2007, was a leader and tutor of Ngati Rangiwewehi.

The pounamu taonga depicts the late Atareta Maxwell's hand, stretched out in a gesture of love and assistance to those many people she shared her wealth of knowledge with over the years.

The small koru snuggled safely in the palm of the hand represents the ones she has nurtured and helped grow into fine performers and capable adults.

TE ARAWA'S PROGRAMME:
February 23

Ngati Rangiwewehi: 11.21am-11.51am
Te Pikikotuku o Ngati Rongomai: 1.12pm-1.42pm
Te Matarae I Orehu: 6.22-6.52pm
February 24
Te Hikuwai: 2.27pm-2.57pm
February 25
Tuhourangi: Ngati Wahiao - 11.21am-11.51am
February 26
Top 9 groups perform: 8.40am-2.57pm
Prizegiving: 3.20pm