The largest fleet of waka (ceremonial Māori canoes) in recorded history will provide a living spectacle on the water at Waitangi in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands for the national Waitangi Day celebrations in February 2010.
The gathering will be the highlight of a series of events to mark 2010 as the Year of the Waka, and organisers are expecting a capacity crowd to witness the rare event.
The traditional Māori canoes will mostly come from Te Tai Tokerau - the northern-most Māori region - and the Waikato, south of Auckland, and is expected to exceed the record number of 23 craft set in 1990 for the 150th anniversary celebrations attended by Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh.
Every year on 6 February, the focus of the nation centres on the Waitangi Treaty grounds to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document.
More than 400,000 people attend the four-day festival which includes an official ceremony, a performance and parade by the Royal New Zealand Navy and local cultural groups, and a variety of sports and cultural events.
With the added significance of the year of the waka, the New Zealand government is spending NZ$300,000 on community events to mark Waitangi Day 2010, and more than a third of the money will go to Waitangi itself to help cater for the large crowds expected.
With up to 30 waka visiting Waitangi for the festival, there will be more than 300 paddlers alone who will require feeding and housing.
2010 was designated the year of the waka to mark the restoration of the big Waitangi war canoe Ngatoki-mata-whao-rua, which holds the Guinness Book of Records title for the largest waka in the world.
The 12-tonne traditional Māori canoe was separated earlier this year into its three giant kauri components and re-lashed, while its launching tracks and foundations were reconstructed.
Waitangi National Trust chief executive Jeanette Richardson says there have also been a number of improvements at the Treaty Grounds including refurbishment and re-roofing of the 40-metre long korowai (cloak) which forms the shelter for Ngatoki-mata-whao-rua.
Waitangi festival entertainment
As well as formal ceremonies, the popular beachfront concerts promise to attract record crowds. One of New Zealand’s best known entertainers, Ray Woolf will front the concerts that will also feature the massed Rodger Fox Big Band and Whirimako.
The 2010 festival programme includes hip-hop, nostalgia, traditional Māori song and dance, colonial and folk music.
Competitive team games, community health promotions and a festival marketplace atmosphere will also add to the celebrations.
The more serious side to the commemorations begins with a dawn karakia (prayer) in the Whare Runanga, the fully carved meeting house on the Treaty Grounds, and an interdenominational service that brings thousands to the bay where Governor Hobson first set foot to negotiate the Treaty.