Anticipation is building in Whangārei as the town prepares for its biggest sporting event in years: the clash between the British and Irish Lions - and the Provincial Barbarians.
Two years of work by the Whangārei Council and the Northland Rugby Union come to a head tomorrow night at a sold-out Toll Stadium, where 22,000 people will watch the opening match and only provincial game of the Lions' 2017 tour.
At Toll Stadium, the man who's managed the project from the start, Pete Gleeson said Whangārei had fought to host the game, putting in a comprehensive bid early on - and now the city's ready to party.
"There's a real vibrancy around since the Barbarian squad turned up on Monday and had the pōwhiri down at the (Te Kapua Whetu) school in the Town Basin - it just lifted everything - and seeing all the activity around here is adding to the buzz," he said.
All week, work crews have been marking the field, installing big screens, temporary grandstands, security fences and media facilities for the teams of journalists arriving in Whangārei today.
Young unemployed people from a local training centre have been paid to set up the Lions' training ground, to help with the work and to put up tents, signs and barriers at the Lions' training ground off Riverside Drive.
Pete Gleeson said the seven-year-old stadium was ready to host its biggest crowd ever and among them would be the first wave of Lions followers in convoys of buses and campervans.
"We've got seven coach-loads that we know of coming up from Auckland for the day; and at least 40 campervans arriving. So the council's set up special parking areas for them with security guards and, unlike Auckland, we won't be charging them," he said.
The Lions tour tour brings back some good memories for Mr Gleeson.
His father, Jack Gleeson, coached the All Blacks to ultimate victory during their 1977 tour of New Zealand - and as a boy he watched heart-in-mouth as the visitors initially hammered the home team.
"The Lions were smashing the All Blacks in the set piece, so Dad started the three-man scrum phase, which after that series they scrapped - you had to have eight men in the scrum. But it worked - they won," he said.
The Lions match is expected to pump up to $7m into the Whangārei economy and the city's putting out the welcome mat.
Gift shops have created elaborate window displays; the councils putting on free buses for match-goers, and cafes and restaurants will tempt the pre-match crowds with a Late Lunch event downtown with buskers and food stalls featuring the best of English, Welsh, Scots and New Zealand food.
A fan trail from the Town Basin to the stadium is bright with pop-up figures of rugby players created by local schools.
And Craft beer tasting's also on offer in a scheme devised by a Whangārei creative agency - Big Fish.
Director Tristan Tuckey is the architect of the International Rugby Club - to nurture mateship between rugby fans around the world, and give local clubs a badly-needed source of revenue.
The website and a mobile app tells members where they can find billets or clubs that will host their camper vans, open their facilities to the tourists and introduce them to the local legends of rugby.
"Billeting's been a bit slow because the Adopt-a-Lion scheme got in first, but good on them - our scheme's a long term one that'll operate in all the rugby-playing countries and work for New Zealanders going overseas, and we've already got several hundred members," he said.
The mayor, Sheryl Mai, said ticket holders could sample craft beers in town - and leave the car at home.
"There are buses for ticket-holders, free buses running from the suburbs in the afternoon - and with all the food and entertainment we're expecting big crowds in town in the lead-up to the match," she said.
Hotels and motels in Whangārei are full tomorrow night and at least 30 groups of match-goers are being billeted by local rugby fans.
Big crowds are also expected at Waitangi on Sunday morning when the Lions will be given their official welcome to New Zealand at a pōwhiri on the Treaty Grounds, led by hundreds of Māori warriors.
The team is now on its way up from Auckland in a fleet of Landrovers and is expected in Whangārei by mid-afternoon.