Over 30 international waka paddlers taking part in Waitangi Day celebrations

More than 30 waka paddlers from around the world will be taking part in this year's Waitangi Day celebrations.

A handful are regulars, but for most it will be their first time.

For more than 40 years, Joe Conrad has been involved with Ngātokimatawhaorua, a waka built in 1940 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi.

He said sharing our culture with the world and connection to the ocean means everything.

"It's important that the world sees te ao Māori in its full capacity. And to have international guests like the Dutch, the French, the first nations of the people of America that look at the same sea that we do," Conrad said.

For the past 12 years, the paddlers from the Netherlands have been coming to Waitangi to honour a deal made with the late Sir Hekenukumai Busby, also known as 'Hec'. He would build a waka for their museum if they taught local students how to paddle it.

"So to make sure we bring people up every year is our highest importance, to really connect, to carry that kaupapa together, carry it forward," said Koos Wabeke, who is Dutch.

Twenty-five Dutch paddlers are in New Zealand to keep the kaupapa alive this year.

"It was a life-changer for a lot of people and it still is and it's really, really good but it comes from here, it comes from this kaupapa, from Ngātoki," Wabeke said.

Over 30 international waka paddlers taking part in Waitangi Day celebrations
Photo credit: Newshub.

Ngātokimatawhaorua is one of up to 12 waka expected to take to the water for the celebrations. It is something Waitangi Day newbie Laure Overmeire has wanted to be a part of since learning how to paddle five years ago.

"They taught me more about paddling. I went and tried it and I got hooked and now I'm here," Overmeire said.

It will be a first for Vanessa Castle too, who is one of five first nations people from America involved.

"I grew up in a canoe-going society in northwest Washington and it's amazing to see the connections we have with other ocean-going people and how we paddle the same from our heart with good intentions," said Castle, who is part of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe from Port Angeles, Washington. "And so it's an honour to be part of Waitangi Day and the celebrations here."

Around 500 paddlers will be part of the waka flotilla on Waitangi Day.

Over 30 international waka paddlers taking part in Waitangi Day celebrations