An annual gathering of Maori canoes at Waitangi has become the country's premier waka regatta.
Twenty-two waka from the upper North Island attended the 170th Waitangi Day commemorations last Saturday, according to Nga Waka Federation.
Federation chairman and Kawakawa accountant Robert Gabel says the regatta is the most important date on the federation’s calendar and preparation for the event requires year-round planning.
"It is definitely now the premier waka event in Aotearoa that’s one of the reasons it is being supported by the Maori arts group Toi Maori Aotearoa."
Mr Gabel isn’t disappointed the federation didn’t achieve its goal of hosting 25 waka at Waitangi this year, three more than the record 22 canoes that came last year and in 1990.
"The main goal was to celebrate the 70th birthday of the two Ngatokis and the 20th birthdays of the two Mataatua waka and we achieved that in style so we are absolutely rapt," he says.
The federation plans to grow the regatta so that it becomes an annual show- case of waka tikanga.
"Waka isn’t just paddling a canoe. It involves learning appropriate prayers, waiata and haka."
The federation is also keen to give more young people an opportunity to become kaihoe or waka paddlers.
"It gives them a sense of identity and involves a considerable amount of self-discipline which a lot of our young people seem to thrive on when they’re in that environment."
Mr Gabel is confident the waka will remain an important part of Maori culture and Waitangi Day commemorations.
"If it wasn’t for the waka we wouldn’t be here.
"All the waka at Waitangi are symbolic of those journeys our ancestors made."
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