I was up at 5.45am. It was still dark of course but everybody was ‘up and at it’, by 6am, for breakfast. It was Waitangi Day, so an early rise was necessary. There were a few people like myself and Jello, who weren’t paddling wakas in the celebrations and we got down to Haruru Falls after the washing up was done.
Well the launch of Nga Toki and the other wakas from Haruru Falls was great. I really enjoyed it and for me, it was the best part of the day. Not everybody gets to see this part of the ceremony. The ladies waka crews sailed off first and that left three of the smaller wakas and Nga Toki to be launched. The kaihautus (leaders) had their korowai (capes) on and they looked great. It was a bright morning and a good day for the Waitangi celebrations.
Nga Toki, had sixty paddlers, a paddler who steers it at the stern and two kaihautus, calling out the salutes. Each of the waka crews said prayers before they launched their wakas into the water. Nga Toki left first, the crew chanting as they paddled and one by one, each waka followed suit, into the water. Jello was lucky enough to be asked to paddle Nga Toki, so he willingly got in and joined the others.
The rest of us got to the car park of the Treaty grounds and walked to the bridge from there. This was where the public were waiting. There were eleven wakas taking part. Because of the wind and the swell in the water, the wakas just sailed around the bay. After this, all the Maori paddlers did a haka on the beach. The ladies, for the first time, were allowed to stand in front of the men and do their haka. Normally they’d be behind or at the side but I think Joe Conrad made a few changes to the kaupapa waka this year.
Nga Toki was paddled back up to the Treaty grounds and everyone waited for it to be put back into the boathouse. While we were waiting, the canon at the Treaty grounds was fired twelve times. There was a big warship docked in the bay and every year, near the flagpole, there is a parade by the navy, along with Maori groups performing songs and dances. Nga Toki was wheeled back up the hill towards the boathouse and after this, we were free until 4pm, when we were expected back at the camp for the final dinner.
There were a lot of food and craft stalls around the Treaty grounds and also a lot of protestors groups. Waitangi Day is always an opportunity for protestors to voice their opinions against things like deep sea drilling etc and today was no different. But there was no trouble. Dinner couldn’t be served until all the wakas were brought up from the beach and back in their right places in the camping site. That’s one of their protocols.