By the time Tainui roopu Te Iti Kahurangi took the stage at Te Matatini Ki Te Ao at 10.31am today, they’d already been up for six hours.
The 4.30am start was necessary for the 40-strong group to prepare their voices, their bodies, their spirits and their kākahu for the 25-minute performance on stage at Westpac Stadium in front of thousands of enthusiastic supporters.
In the early hours of the morning at a motel north of Porirua – which they’re sharing with Northland roopu Te Puu Ao - the members of Te Iti Kahurangi mingle in small groups as they apply tā moko stencils to their bodies and adorn their faces with intricate hand-drawn moko.
On a chair outside one unit, Te Wānanga o Aotearoa online and web developer Kiley Diamond is having the two distinctive feathers the men of Te Iti Kahurangi wear attached to his hair.
Just hours before their performance, he says they’re trying not to think too much about what’s ahead of them.
“We try and treat it like just another day and not think about the people watching at the stadium or on TV.”
They warm up their vocals, practice their movements and adjust their outfits.
Shirtless men wearing lavalava and sunnies, wahine in robes or the distinctive blue uniform of Te Iti Kahurangi hug and grab last-minute photos with each other and their support team before one last karakia and it’s time to board the bus which will take them to the stadium and, hopefully, kapa haka glory.
Leader Kingi Kiriona reminds them not to forget anything.
“Have you got your feathers, your poi, your piupiu?”
Their performance is the culmination of about six months solid training and the closer the time comes for them to board the bus, the team draws closer together and, as Kiley says, tries not to overthink things.
“It’s just like another day at Rukumoana.”