Thousands queue from 3am outside Auckland's Eden Park as Te Matatini festival begins

Thousands of competitors and fans have descended on Auckland's Eden Park to attend the opening day of the Te Matatini Festival.

Described as the "Olympics of kapa haka", the festival has been running since 1972.

Some have been queueing at the venue since 3am to ensure they get the coveted position in front of the stage as the competition gets underway.

Despite a number of teams being severely impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle, 45 of them will perform at the national kapa haka festival which runs from today until Saturday.

Each kapa haka group has 40 onstage performers.

A former kapa haka performer told AM the show has changed over the years, with many competitors now living a healthier lifestyle to ensure they can give their all on stage.

Mataia Keepa, who coached Sonny Bill Williams on how to do the haka, told AM there was months of practice that goes into the event.

"For those of us in Māoridom who pride ourselves on our health, it's a three month shredding programme," Keepa said.

"Once upon a time I don't think there was as much emphasis on water. Some people would tell me that after practice people would go to the bar, tip on a keg, but there's a thing called Mataskinny - I think it started about 10 years ago.

"So I think that's a great incentive for Maoridom to promote themselves and be a bit more proud of how they represent themselves and their whānau on stage."

Watch the video above.