Thousands head to Wellington waterfront for New Zealand festival's opening

Tens of thousands of people packed out Wellington's waterfront on Friday night to witness the opening of the New Zealand Festival.

The first performance was inspired by legendary explorer Kupe's arrival to New Zealand.

Te Kohe Tuhaka is better known to Shortland Street fans as Kingi Te Waka, but on Friday he performed as Kupe.

The cornerstone of a huge show marked the discovery of Aotearoa, which brought hundreds of performers together and dozens of waka.

"It's really massive for me, was pretty emotional in the show, I was crying before it even started because when we think about the grand scheme of Aotearoa, everyone who's here came from somewhere else," he said.

Although the singing, performance and waka display drew cheers from the crowds, the 1000 strong haka stole the show.

Haka coordinator Kura Moeahu says it was all for the kids, showing that if Kupe can overcome the waves, so can they.

"When I gave them the command I looked at the young ones, the primary school, really started to swell up. Now after, I'm really on a high."