Big crowds gathered at the Prime Minister's Waitangi Day breakfast despite Northland's recent COVID-19 scare after a peaceful dawn service, aside from a lone woman protester who lashed out at "inequality".
To celebrate 181 years since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, crowds gathered from 5am at Te Whare Runanga, the upper marae, where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, National leader Judith Collins, and other politicians delivered prayers.
"Blessed are our people, Māori, Pākehā, and everyone who calls our country home - hardy, practical creative, and working towards a common purpose," Ardern said in her prayer.
"Blessed are our languages - te reo Māori, English, New Zealand sign language and other languages spoken on this whenua. Through conversation, may we achieve understanding and knowledge.
"Today we mark the Treaty of Waitangi, Te Titiri o Waitangi. We acknowledge our partnership, constantly learning, striving for better with hope for the future."
Collins, who earlier this week was not allowed to speak at the upper marae during the parliamentary pōwhiri, prayed that New Zealanders learn from our history - and never forget it.
"Let us pray for our nation and for our people. Let us learn and remember to always be thankful for our many blessings from this most wonderful land at the bottom of the world," Collins said.
"Let us be thankful for each other, for the lessons we have learnt from history, from our ancestors, and let us learn from their mistakes. Let us also remember our history, be brave, and never allow it to limit us. Let us always look to our people."
Collins' predecessor Simon Bridges was criticised last year for not showing up to the dawn service. In contrast, Collins had a win earlier this week by getting a promise from Ngāpuhi that women will be able to speak next year - not just the Prime Minister.
ACT leader David Seymour reflected on the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi and how it has acted as a guiding document that strives for equal rights for New Zealanders.
"As the sun rises over the beautiful Bay of Islands on the 181st year of the Treaty of Waitangi, we're reminded that each day grants new hope and great hope for our small nation where we're committed to an open and honest debate in the search for truth, based on the understanding of a guaranteed set of rights and freedoms, that respects the dignity of each and every individual person," Seymour said.
"I think with all of these great blessings we can be a beacon of light with each sunrise from the bottom of a troubled world."
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster touched on the hardships facing New Zealand and the tough year that's been, with COVID-19 changing the fabric of society.
"Father, we thank you for your great blessings on this place. In the last year as the world has grappled with disease, with disunity, Father you blessed us with peace," Coster said.
"We bring before you communities that are struggling and we recognise that not all are as well off as we are and we pray for provision for those people.
"We pray for peace and unity in our communities. We thank you for the relative peace and safety we enjoy in this nation and we pray that it will extend to all places."
Others who delivered prayers included Green MP Elizabeth Kerekere, Labour MPs Naisi Chen, Marja Lubeck, Priyanca Radhakrishnan and Tangi Utikere, and Chief Justice Dame Helen Winkelmann.
The dawn service wrapped up with a spark of controversy, when a lone protester called Moana Davey, lashed out at "inequality" and "people who own 20 houses".
"Do not speak about God when there is no equality in the people," she said. "Our mokopuna deserve better! No houses, no jobs, no education - inequality not equality."
The woman, who also spoke out against abortion rights, appeared to be known to the Māori wardens, who embraced her, as she told them "it had to be said".
As the dawn service wrapped up, the attention turned to the Prime Minister's traditional breakfast served on the Treaty Grounds, where hoards of people flocked to get a glimpse of her.
Ardern was joined by her partner Clarke Gayford, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson, Greens co-leaders Marama Davidson and James Shaw, and a host of other MPs who dished out sausages, bacon and eggs to attendees.
Huge crowds queued up for the breakfast and a chance to get a selfie with Ardern, despite the recent COVID-19 scare in Northland, which spooked the Māori Party enough to cancel their participation at Waitangi this year.
"I had every expectation that we might perhaps see fewer numbers for instance here at the dawn service, but while I don't have a head-count, I can tell you that certainly in terms of the breakfast, already 2500 breakfasts have already gone out - that's an increase on last year," Ardern told reporters.
"So, perhaps at this stage we're still seeing people in high numbers here."
Ardern said she was pleased to see so many Kiwis turn out at Waitangi this year to celebrate our national day.
"In terms of just the enthusiasm from New Zealanders who have come to experience Waitangi Day, in some cases for the first time, here on the Grounds - a fantastic environment and I think increasingly the lead-up to Waitangi is being used as a chance for good, robust debate and discussion, and that's as it should be," she said.
"I think every Waitangi Day is a chance to reflect on what has happened in the last year, how we're progressing our partnership, but also constantly looking forward with hope. You know, there are things that we need to do better but I do absolutely believe that you do get a sense of optimism about what can be achieved together."