There was passion overflowing from the stage at the Secondary Schools Regional Kapa Haka 2021 - Te Whakataetae Kapa Haka Kura Tuarua o Te Arawa 2021.
It was tough competition with nine schools/groups within the Te Arawa region taking part, and it was Raukura who came out on top this year.
The top four groups go on to represent Te Arawa in the nationals next year.
Raukura is made up of students from Rotorua Girls' and Rotorua Boys' High schools.
Rotorua Girls' High School student and Raukura member Te Aowheoro Hohepa-Gardiner, 17, says taking out first place was a blessing and a way for the Year 13 members to leave the school with a bang.
She says they went into the competition with a lot of new members, and it was great seeing all the different skills within the group.
Raukura's Hope Waaka, 18, from Rotorua Girls' High School, says winning the competition was humbling and quite emotional for the Year 13s in the group.
"It was our final year performing with Raukura and there are members that have been with the group since Year 9."
She says if it wasn't for the tutors, Raukura wouldn't be where it was today.
"I think the older members of the group also pushed a lot of the younger members to have that hunger to achieve and succeed again."
They both said they enjoyed seeing the other groups perform and admired them.
"We had to fight for our award and position."
They said practice in the lead-up had been intense, with before school, lunchtime, after school and weekend practices, and they thanked everyone who had supported them.
Rotorua Boys' High director of Māori Performing Arts Jamus Webster says Raukura has all year levels, from Year 9-13, in the kapa haka group. The group leaders were Raukura Ruha-Hiraka and Henare Eilers.
He says their haka members had a busy schedule in term two.
"They commit two months to our Raukura kapa haka campaign, which they do on top of their other commitments.
"Our students are also involved in the Super 8 Boys' High Cultural competition, as well as other activities/competitions such basketball, rugby, netball, the Big Sing Choir competition, Tūhourangi Ahurei, Battle of the Bands and our students play lead roles in the combined schools' production Once on this Island."
Jamus says the kapa haka group's key theme this year was Celebrate Matariki.
"If you were to listen to the dialogue of our male leader Henare Eilers, we dedicated each item to a Matariki star.
"For me, the highlight of the performance was the choral item where we were able to showcase all of our performers' singing abilities.
"There were some raw notes we didn't rehearse but all of our students performed with confidence."
Jamus says for him the highlight of the competition was to see Tūwharetoa present.
"I would like to encourage more kura to be involved."
He says the Year 9-12 students are ecstatic about attending nationals next year, and the Year 13 students are happy they leave Raukura with a great memory and the knowledge they achieved their goal of helping Raukura qualify for nationals.
Raukura has won the nationals twice.
Raukura tutor Laurelle Tamati says because of Covid last year, there had been an entire year without intense training at a competitive level.
"These kids are like sponges. They were ready for this and they were hungry for the stage."
She says she is always proud of seeing the kids in the final performance and their courage getting up in front of the entire iwi to perform, especially of this calibre.
"For them to get up there and do what they love under pressure at a competitive level is awesome.
"The adrenaline that goes through you makes all those weekends worthwhile."
Aramoana Mohi-Maxwell, Rotorua Girls' High School deputy principal and one of the event organisers, says because of the break with Covid everyone was excited and hungry for the event.
"Everyone was excited to be there to support their children and whānau."
She says there was quite a few weeks of organisation that went in to the event, by teachers of te reo across the Te Arawa region who come together.
Aramoana says they were really eager to bring it all together and it was amazing to see how much passion was among the kids and whānau there.
"There was a really broad range of messages that came out in the items ... and on the day it was great seeing all the different generations there to support. "
She wanted to give acknowledgment to the students and tutors of the schools, who they could see had put in hours of work.
"We wish every competing team the best and are proud of who will represent us going forward."
- For full results and videos of performances check out the Te Arawa Facebook page.
Top four groups
2. Te Wharekura o Ngāti Rongomai
3. Te Kapa Haka o Te Koutu
4. NKKM o Te Puku o Te Ika a Māui