Next year the circle will be bigger, in 10 years the speaker will need a microphone and in 20 years the occasion will require a screen, an early morning Waitangi Day gathering was told.

The day, organised by the Whakawhanake group, began with karakia at the riverside near Pākaitore/Moutoa Gardens, led by kaumātua John Maihi.

The group then gathered by the Pākaitore entrance, for a brief welcome ceremony.

Chairs were set out and people sat in a circle. Maihi gave a fresh karakia and Tupoho Whānau Trust chairman Ken Mair and Whakawhanake member Tamahaia Skinner spoke.

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Mair said he wanted all district decisions to be made under a combined river wellbeing/environment lens and a Treaty of Waitangi lens.

He predicted Waitangi celebrations would grow, and Whanganui become more unified.

Skinner said he and his Whakawhanake fellows all had full-time jobs, but they loved the work of organising this day - their fifth - and he welcomed everyone to it.

Justin Gush leads an Aka exercise session at Pākaitore/Moutoa Gardens on Waitangi Day. Photo / Laurel Stowell
Justin Gush leads an Aka exercise session at Pākaitore/Moutoa Gardens on Waitangi Day. Photo / Laurel Stowell

The group then joined in a session of Aka, a Māori movement discipline similar to tai chi.

At 11am it was time for the main event, Picnic at the Pā. The gardens had a stage and a circle of food stalls, with everything from whitebait fritters to cinnamon scrolls to sample.

The entertainers included Kupe Renata, Grace Penn and dance crew Aotea Empire.

Louis Hodson, 2, shifts a chess piece. Photo / Lewis Gardner
Louis Hodson, 2, shifts a chess piece. Photo / Lewis Gardner

Children had two bouncy castles, face painting, blocks and a chess game to amuse them. The crowd increased, with much meeting and greeting.

Serious stalls included Philip "Bear" Reweti's protest against 1080, 5G, water bottling applications and the plight of the homeless. Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, Community Law Whanganui and others had tents.

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Excellent Tawaroa dances in Picnic at the Pā. Photo / Lewis Gardner
Excellent Tawaroa dances in Picnic at the Pā. Photo / Lewis Gardner

More could have been done to reduce the event's waste going to landfill, Whanganui zero waste event co-ordinator Hadi Gurton said. He would be happy to help.

One special addition was tours of the gardens' history by the chairman of its reserve board, Jay Rerekura.

Across a Somme Pde closed to traffic, Reneti Tapa took people over 65 out on the river paddling a waka.

Stewart Reweti (left) and Reneti Tapa are ready to take over-65s out on the water. Photo / Lewis Gardner
Stewart Reweti (left) and Reneti Tapa are ready to take over-65s out on the water. Photo / Lewis Gardner

"A lot of them haven't been on the awa for a long time, and it's on their bucket list," he said.

The waka was "The Queen", a boat kept after The River Queen film, and strengthened.

It carried Prince Harry upriver on his visit in May 2015, and ferries the dead to Putiki and Te Ao Hou marae. Tapa also uses it in his role as cultural trainer at Whanganui Hospital.

Taking staff out in it gives them a feel for kotahitanga - working with other people, he said.

The Whakawhanake organisers were well pleased with the day - especially the increasing diversity of attendees.