The country's biggest primary school kapa haka competition, Te Mana Kuratahi, is under way in Whakatū Nelson.
It is the first time the event has been held in the South Island, bringing 45 teams from Kawakawa to Ōtautahi, to Nelson to battle it out before 26 judges for the top honours during the four-day competition.
Nelson's own Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Tuia te Matangi were the first to take the stage on Monday.
Waimarie Apiata, 12, and Kararaina Haruru, 11, said they had been practising for the last six months and were both nervous before taking to the stage to face the biggest crowd they had performed in front of.
"I was scared, but it was really cool, I liked it," Haruru said. "We'll be the judges now," Apiata said, after their performance.
Te Kahu Kopua Sergent, 12, from Kāiti School in Te Tairāwhiti said they had a 4am start to travel to the event and being under the bright lights on stage felt like something else.
"Probably performing, that's my favourite. I've been doing it since I was four or five, and just giving back to my mum, who has been there a lot."
Hevani Ola Toupili, 11 said she loved being on stage with her team, performing kapa haka.
"It's been in my family for like generations and generations and my sisters are all kaitātaki wahine, so I am just there to make my family proud and finally know what it feels like."
Te Tauihu o te Waka a Maui Māori Cultural Council chair Sonny Alesana said the eight iwi across the top of the south are hosting the 40-odd out of town teams across Marlborough, Nelson, Tasman and Golden Bay.
"Twenty-three years this event has been going, first time in Nelson and first time in the South Island, so it has just been an amazing event to be part of and just to see so many children at the pōwhiri yesterday, 1600 young children being welcomed on.
"It's about our children getting up there and showing what they can do, six months of work and lots of fundraising, it costs tens of thousands of dollars to get to these events."
Te Mana Kuratahi chairman Jack Te Moana said the event had been four years in the making and he was proud to see it all come together.
"It's an important event to showcase Māori culture and you don't have to be Māori to perform, at a national level or at any level.
Te Moana said it gave tamariki a chance to showcase who they are.
"They know this is the start of performing arts at this age and we hope they continue their pathway to perform at the highest level. The pinnacle is Te Matatini.
"For our tamariki that love haka, this is the stepping stone towards getting on the big stage."
Te Mana Kuratahi is the first of several kapa haka events lined up for Te Tauihu, with the national secondary school competition to be held in Nelson next year, followed by Te Matatini in 2027.