Waitangi Day commemorations begin under the starlight
As the sun rose over the Bay of Islands on Waitangi Day's morn, the smell of bacon wafted over crowds keen to be served breakfast by the Prime Minister.
Last year, hundreds turned for the barbecue breakfast of sausages, eggs and bacon after the dawn ceremony on the treaty grounds at Waitangi – this year that number appears to have increased significantly.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern served hundreds of people breakfast alongside other ministers and Government MPs. A phalanx of media followed every interaction.
Ardern assured media more food has been purchased this time, as the food had run out early last year. Even this would not be enough, she predicted.
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"I hope that New Zealanders have a chance at least once in their lifetime to be here for the commemorations," Ardern said.
"It's a different experience than what you might see from time to time in the public domain."
Family of four Darren, Fleur, Asher and Nate from Wellington had no idea the Prime Minister would be serving them breakfast and were pleasantly surprised.
"We turned up and suddenly she was serving us food," Darren said.
"It was a little bit hard with all the media around."
Waitangi Day commemorations kicked off earlier under the starlight at Waitangi's upper marae with a prayer from the Prime Ministers of both New Zealand and Samoa.
Hundreds gathered at the upper treaty grounds before dawn, including the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and many other MPs.
People flowed into the upper marae where the Prime Minister led a prayer as part of the service, while others sat in overflow seating in the early-morning air.
"God of southern seas, and of these sparkling islands, of Māori and Pākehā, of all who call Aotearoa New Zealand home," Ardern said.
"We say thanks for this our beautiful country and perfect stillness of this moment."
Ardern quoted Dame Whina Cooper: "Take care of our children. Take care of what they hear. Take care of what they see. Take care for what they feel. For how the children grow so will be the shape of Aotearoa."
"We pray for the poor, the lonely, and those on the margins of our society. You remind us every day that we are our brother's keeper."
Speakers inside the ornately carved marae were beamed onto large screens outside for the masses to watch.
The audience sat in chairs and on blankets spread beneath pohutukawa.
Wrapped in a fluffy blanket, 78-year-old Wanairangi Nopera said she had "heard it all before".
"It's a pity that a lot of what they're talking about wasn't activated 20 years ago," she said.
"Each new government has a lot of fine words, but it's been a long time since the Treaty was signed and we do not have equality. We must always have hope and we know Rome wasn't built in a day - but come on, hurry it up."
Nopera, a great grandmother to 49, boarded a bus just after midnight in Auckland to make it to the dawn service and would be heading back this afternoon.
She travelled with five generations of her family, and said she worried about Māori in today's world.
"People are homeless and living in their cars, when that happens you get sickness, both mental and physical," she said.
"The children's schooling suffers, and this disproportionately affect Māori."
Being at Waitangi gave her a "wellspring of hope, however," she said.
"Here I do feel good. Here on Waitangi I feel hope for my grandchildren, that they have a better shot."
Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin and Labour MPs Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki and Marja Lubeck also led prayers at the service.
Ngāpuhi leader Sonny Tau lightly mocked the Prime Minister in his speech, asking that all Government ministers learn the articles of the Treaty by next year. Ardern could not describe the articles in detail when asked on the spot by media earlier this week.
Like last year, Ardern is expected to serve breakfast to the public later on in the morning.
A 10am Anglican Service, with a sermon from NZ First MP Shane Jones, will happen at the same time as Destiny Church's Brian Tamaki's rival sermon at the lower Te Tii Marae.
Waitangi Day commemorates the day the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840.
The upper marae where the service is being held was built on 1940 close to the site of the signing.
Lines for the toilet rivalled lines for hot coffee (coffee is longer), as the national anthem was sung. People used their phone torches to make their way along a bush track to the bathrooms.
Māori Warden Rebecca Heti, from Whangarei, flanked the throngs moving into the Upper Marae - behind Prime Minister Jacinda Arden and assorted dignitaries. They would listen to prayers said inside.
"I've been coming to Waitangi Day here for 20 solid years," said Heti.
"These days it's so much better. More peaceful. There's no one down at the flagpole, protesting ... I don't feel that's befitting."
The one way bridge linking Waitangi's upper and lower marae - closer to Paihia - was closed to vehicles but open to foot traffic until 6pm on Wednesday evening.
Groups marching under suicide awareness banners, German tourists bewildered at the activity of what they'd believed to be a sleepy seaside town, and families here for Waitangi Day but who'd opted for sleep-ins over the dawn service thronged the bridge.
Cousins Kara Pawa, 16, Destinee Pawa, 17, and Laney Pene, 16 were heading across "to find some kai".
"We come here every year for a whanau day, just to chill," said Kara.
The mood at the lower marae, Te Tii, was festive. Stalls set up selling soaps and spreading positive messages dotted the grounds and roadsides, while naked toddlers frolicked with dogs on the beach.