Trangawaewae Regatta, the best waka kopapa racing in Aotearoa

The banks of the Waikato River were humming with activity on Saturday for the 126th anniversary of the Trangawaewae Regatta near Hamilton.
The annual event in Ngruawhia is an opportunity for people to see the best, and oldest, waka kopapa racing in the country, strengthen connections with the Waikato River, and celebrate culture.

Within one hour of the gates opening, the river bank was already lined with thousands of people as whnau and friends began to settle in for the day.

Music, kapa haka, marae tours and food carts kept the atmosphere alive, while laughter and krerorero spread across the dark green water.


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MARK TAYLOR/Stuff
Turangawaewae Regatta, one of the only times people can see Mori war canoes on the river.

But all went silent on the marae grounds when Mori King Te Arikinui Tuheitia, with his dignitaries and guests, entered their private tent.

It was time for the long-anticipated mighty waka tau grand parade the only time of the year people can see the vessels in action.

Four fully manned waka lined the river Te Rangatahi, Tumanako, There Tikitiki and Ttaiora as the royal fleet made its way down the river to then embark on a precise rendition of paddle manoeuvres.

Close to 160 men paused in front of the main stage to salute Tuheitia, before leaning forward to acknowledge ancestors who have passed on.

Further salutes were made to dignitaries before the men returned up the river.

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The Mori King Te Arikinui Tuheitia and his dignitaries and guests at the Trangawaewae Regatta.

Trangawaewae Marae is the headquarters for the Mori King movement and is the official residence and reception centre for Tuheitia.

Tuheitias chief of staff Ngira Simmonds told Stuff the event celebrates Mori connections with the Waikato River, started by Te Puea Hrangi.

Its an opportunity for monarchs of the Kngitanga to invite guests.

Its a celebration of our culture, way of life, and it's an opportunity to strengthen our connection with the river, Simmonds said.

Many of the men on the waka follow in the footsteps of their fathers or grandfathers.

Its a hereditary role.

They are some of the most loyal followers of the Kngitanga, our naval fleet.

MARK TAYLOR/stuff
Taane and Kokiriirangi Te Koi share some love at the annual event.

Each year, close to 8000 people attend the event.

This year, they were expecting lower numbers.

After last year's event was cancelled, due to the Covid-19 lockdown, organising committee anggota Ikimoke Tamaki-Takerei told Stuff the event was only confirmed days ago.

We normally have six months of preparation, but this year we only had 10 days, Tamaki-Takerei said.

The paddlers only had ten days to prepare, and they normally have weeks.

Despite this, people Kaikura and Wellington still made the journey.

To make an event like this happen, for years Trangawaewae has been committed to creating strong relationships with key stakeholders.

We have a partnership with Waikato Tainui and Mercury in and around the water.

In partnership with Mercury, we are able to work with the water levels to ensure that we have enough water to race in and for the waka tau to do there parade.

One year the water was too low that we had to cancel a lot of the activities.

MARK TAYLOR/Stuff
Men and children of the waka tau royal fleet smile after they complete two parades down the Waikato River.

Taking up a spot on the riverside, kaumatua Tom Terimene, watched on from the comfort of his seat some 77 years after he started waka ama at the age of 12.

As one of the oldest paddlers at the event, Terimene, 89, recalls sitting on hay bails in the waka so he could reach over the side and into the water.

I started canoeing when I was 12, he said.

But the last time I was in a waka I was 70.

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