About 5000 came out to the Wellington waterfront for the pōwhiri of the biggest kapa haka competition in the country, Te Matatini.
Thousands of kapa haka performers and supporters were greeted with a traditional wero at Waitangi Park.
About 60,000 people are expected to visit the capital during the four-day festival.
Seven warriors armed with taiaha and wearing piupiu, including a wahine, slowly approached them before placing a leaf on the ground.
The gesture was followed by a karanga and a stirring haka, by mana whenua Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Te Ātiawa me ngā iwi o Taranaki Whānui.
Kaumatua Morrie Love said it was their responsibility to leave a lasting impression.
"It's huge because what we need to do is welcome the Māori nation onto our takiwā and that's a big responsibility.
"Not only does it have to be culturally correct, but it's about identity.
"In the end its about making everyone feel welcome here."
The grand welcoming marks the beginning of Te Matatini, with the first performances set to begin tomorrow morning at Westpac Stadium.
Forty six groups from 13 regions across New Zealand and in Australia will fight for a spot in the top nine on Sunday.
Watching from the crowds will be Aiesha Kahui Heke from Te Kura o Nga Ruahine Rangi, who also performed the poi at the pōwhiri today.
"I'm pretty excited to see all the groups coming on, it's gonna be mean.
"I want them all to feel excited and even some people from across the country to come out and check out the amazing things that happen at Te Matatini."
Eugene Ryder, a member of the oldest kapa haka group in the country, Ngāti Poneke, was beaming with excitement.
As a former performer at Te Matatini, he said just thinking about stepping out on stage made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
"It's scary, it's daunting, you feel all your ancestors and all your tūpuna when you get on stage. It's better than probably the Olympics."