Te Kapa Haka o Te Pāroa were welcomed home on Monday with haka and song. Past and present students, parents, grand-parents and great grand-parents flocked to Pāroa school on the outskirts of Whakatāne to bring home their national champions.
Head tutor of twenty six years, Ripeka Koia says the experience has been humbling. "We're happy for Te Pāroa, we're happy for Ngāti Awa and the whole of the Mātaatua region."
"Wow! I say wow because my grandchild is in the group," says Hera Wahapango-Kingi.
"It's very moving because we are both attended this school." Ngārangikāhiwa Wynyard said of the emotional welcome.
Thousands of tamariki from 61 schools across the country took part in the Te Mana Kuratahi competition in Hamilton.
The week long event saw schools from 17 regions across the country compete for the national title.
In addition to the championship, Te Kura o Te Pāroa took home awards for best female leader, first equal in mōteatea, action song and te reo. But Teia Herewini who has tutored the group for thirteen years says their mission is to breed leaders passionate about their culture.
"The aim is for our tamariki to stand proudly on stage. For them to return to their own marae and practice their ancient and contemporary songs. That's what it's really about, not really the competition."
Te Pāroa has competed at every Mana Kuratahi national competition since its inception in 2000. But, they've brought home the championship for the first time.
Today they paid homage to the past performers who paved the way for this crop.
Haupai Williams who performed in the 2000 era says it's rewarding for all, while admiring the evolution of their group.
"In our time, we performed like robots. But these kids are polished in their actions and haka."
Former student, Ngārangikahiwa Wynyard, in her seventies now, remembers the days when they were discouraged from doing kapa haka, "Sixty years ago, we had no kapa haka until a Māori teacher arrived. But to see the level that our grandchildren have reached is amazing."
It's an achievement they will celebrate for some time. But the challenge laid down today was to remain at this level for years to come.