At 2am on Saturday, uri of Ngāpuhi gathered in the early morning darkness at the rūnanga offices in Kaikohe.
After final check-ins, a briefing and karakia the ope piled onto two 50-seater buses to make the long journey from Te Tai Tokerau to Ngaaruawaahia, where the historic hui called by the Kiingitanga was taking place.
By the time they arrived at Tuurangawaewae Marae at 8.30am, it was already hot and muggy. Aunties and uncles, mums and dads, and their whānau descended from the buses, stretching their legs after the long drive.
Hui-aa-motu, called by the Kiingitanga in response to the new government's perceived 'anti-Māori' and 'divisive' policies, drew over 10,000 attendees from across the motu, including representatives from iwi ngā hou e whā. All gathered in the common goal of kotahitanga.
Ngāpuhi wasn't the only iwi to bring a large contingent to hui-aa-motu. Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Kahungunu, Tūwharetoa, Tuhoe, Te Arawa, Ngāti Whātua, and Ngāti Maniapoto were all there in strong numbers too.
But for Ngāpuhi, their attendance in such force was especially significant. It suggests a growing sense of shared purpose in Māoridom. A moment of kotahitanga.
Ngapuhi and the Kiingitanga
Ngāpuhi, from across Te Tai Tokerau, don't traditionally follow the Kiingitanga.
The history is complex and Ngāpuhi's relationship with the Kiingitanga is nuanced. There are shades of difference among other iwi and hapū too.
But when the Kiingitanga movement was established in 1858 with the aim of providing a collective voice in negotiations with the British Crown, Ngāpuhi chose to represent themselves and have their own iwi and hapū motuhake. A firm independence of Ngāpuhi identity and opinion has persisted. They were not obliged to come to Ngaaruawaahia when the invitation of Kiingi Tuuheitia was issued in December last year.
So when Ngāpuhi arrived, it was with a sense of occasion.
It came as no surprise to anyone that Ngāpuhi were very well dressed, adorned in pounamu and bone taonga, iwi branded kākahu, pōtae, and woven wool blankets showcasing intricate Māori designs.
Not all uri of Ngāpuhi had come on the buses. Many had driven down from Tāmaki Makaurau, where it is estimated that some 60 percent of the 165,000 population of Ngāpuhi live.
Their kaikōrero, Hone Sadler, was dressed in a cream suit wielding a carved tokotoko.
Speaking to the crowd on the paepae, Matua Hone Sadler acknowledged Kiingi Tuuheitia and the relationship that the king has to Ngāpuhi.
"E te mokopuna ō Rāhiri, tēnei a Ngāpuhi, kua tae mai i runga i tō tono, nā reira, ka mihi nui atu rā."
("Descendant of Rāhiri, this is Ngāpuhi, who have arrived here at your request. Thank you very much.")
Specifically, he referenced Rāhiri, the tūpuna of Ngāpuhi, to acknowledge Kiingi Tuuheitia's whakapapa links to Ngāpuhi. The comment was met with laughs from many sitting on the pae.
Hone Sadler also spoke of Ngāpuhi's mātauranga (knowledge) of Te Tiriti and He Whakaputanga. It is what the iwi bring to the table in these national conversations, he said.
And Matua Hone is correct. Ngāpuhi are the kaitiaki and first signatories of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. They have consistently maintained that they never ceded sovereignty, a position now supported by the findings of the Waitangi Tribunal, and thousands of pages of evidence.
The stage two tribunal report on their Treaty claim was handed over to Ngāpuhi in December last year. More than 10 years in the making, the report is based on 26 weeks of hearings and more than 500,000 pages of evidence, relating to 415 individual Treaty claims.
Whilst Minister of Treaty Negotiations Paul Goldsmith has said previously that he is committed to settling Ngāpuhi's Treaty claim, a target date has not been set. He is only the latest in a long line of ministers to have made similar commitments to settling with Ngāpuhi.
Kotahitanga without compromise
Hinerangi Himiona, kaimahi mo Ngāpuhi nui tonu, left Te Tai Tokerau the night before the hui, travelling with her daughter, three other wāhine Māori and their whānau. They stayed in Tāmaki Makaurau for the evening before setting off in the morning.
She says the hui was powerful.
"Absolutely amazingly positive and beautiful and full of hope and love."
Whilst many of her whānaunga up north don't recognise the King, her mahi working with iwi across the country has given her a greater appreciation of the Kiingitanga and Waikato Tainui, Himiona says.
She is grateful for the Kiingitanga and the amount of organisation that went into pulling hui-aa-motu together.
"My own personal experience, and certainly my perspective is that Ngāpuhi, at some point, we need to work with other iwi. We need to align, we need to collaborate, to become a unified Māori voice."
What Himiona is talking about is kotahitanga, the main message to emerge from wānanga at hui-aa-motu. A message which was carried through by iwi Māori to Rātana celebrations this week.
Kotahitanga is a well established concept in te ao Māori. Meaning unity, togetherness and collective action, it has been used previously in Māori political movements. The Kiingitanga movement itself was seen as kotahitanga, but more recent examples include the establishment of the Māori Battalion and the Māori Women's Welfare League.
Himiona says coming together as iwi doesn't mean anything needs to change at home.
"We're still going to have our own things, but actually we are much stronger together as ngā iwi o te mōtu."
A wero for the new government
After Hone Sadler finished speaking on the paepae, Ngāpuhi's voices came forward, singing a newly composed waiata specifically for the occasion.
Their voices carried strength and unity. Unbeknownst to the thousands of people watching in-person and online, they'd only had a few rehearsals.
Written by Mutunga Rameka, Himiona says the waiata firstly spoke of Ngāpuhi's response to the Kiingitanga's call for unity, secondly a commitment to "fight the government for the work that they're doing to damage Te Tiriti and He Whakaputanga because we are the kaitiaki." Lastly, the waiata asks for people to come together to Waitangi this year.
"Bring your contribution to our hakaari so we can feast," she says.
For Ngāpuhi, Te Tai Tokerau is their home, holding a place of significance, it is their tūrangawaewae.
Now it's their turn to host iwi from across the country. As the mauri is passed to Waitangi, the echoes of hui-aa-motu linger, and Ngāpuhi and the Kiingitanga will unite in laying down a wero for the new government - kotahitanga in action.