A hand-picked group of Northland youth are heading to Italy next week to showcase Maori culture at a festival expected to draw up to 200,000 people.

The roughly 20 rangatahi aged 11-24 and seven adults, from every corner of the Far North, have been invited to take part in the 38th Artevento International Kite Festival on the beach at Cervia in northern Italy from April 20-May 1.

Every year festival organisers choose one or two "cultures of honour" with this year's event focusing on Thai and Maori.

The official festival poster promotes Maori and Thai as this year's
The official festival poster promotes Maori and Thai as this year's "cultures of honour". Image/ Supplied

During the 10-day festival the youth will perform kapa haka and waiata, demonstrate flax weaving and teach traditional games such as ki-o-rahi, a fast-paced, full-contact ball game played on a circular pitch. They will also make and fly traditional manu tukutuku (kites).


The group is led by Maori games expert Harko Brown of Puketona, whose connection with European kite festivals started with a chance meeting at a kite-making workshop in Ngaruawahia more than 10 years ago.

Also attending will be Wiremu Sarich, a games and taonga puoro (traditional instruments) expert from Taipa, and te reo teachers from Taipa and Kerikeri.

Most group members are flying to Europe this weekend; all will assemble in Bologna on April 19 before taking a bus to Cervia.

Highlights for the Northland group are expected to include taking part in an Anzac Day service at a war cemetery in Ravenna where soldiers of the 28th Maori Battalion are buried.

Mr Brown said the Maori Battalion was revered in that part of Italy ever since 14 soldiers lost their lives heroically resisting a German attack so several hundred villagers could flee to safety.

The group will also receive a civic welcome at nearby San Marino, one of the world's smallest countries.

Festival organisers are expecting at least 170,000 spectators and 20,000 participants from 35 countries.