More than 50,000 invaded Baypark over three days to enjoy one of Maoridom's largest events _ Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Festival 2009.
The top prize _ the Duncan McIntyre Trophy _ was won by Te Waka Huia from Auckland. Whangara Mai Tawhiti, from near Gisborne, was second and Te Kapa Haka o Te Whanau a Apanui, eastern Bay of Plenty, third.
Organisers predicted crowds of about 40,000 or 10,000 a day at the festival which was set to run from February 19-22.
But despite a wash-out on day two _ Friday's performances were cancelled _ about 51,000 turned out over the four days.
Finals which were meant to take place yesterday, were culled to accommodate teams which were set to perform on Friday.
Each of 36 teams of about 40 performers from 13 regions, including two from Australia, had just 30 minutes to impress judges.
About 10,000 people attended the festival on Thursday _ the same number were sent home on Friday _ and Saturday drew a crowd of about 16,000. Yesterday about 25,000 people were at the festival which went longer than expected due to the added per formances with prize-giving held about 7.30pm.
The festival was largely deemed a success although some said Baypark was a poor venue choice. It is the first time the event has been held in Tauranga Moana _ which hosted the event on behalf of Mataatua _ since it started in its current form in 1972.
Complaints were that it was too difficult to see the stage from the stands, there wasn't enough grass area in front of the stage, the screens were too small and the judges tents blocked viewing.
Many were disappointed that Friday's cancellation had seen the finals culled.
Despite these drawbacks, all were impressed by the powerful, energetic performances by the teams who proudly represented their rohe (area). The sound of waiata (song) and slapping of hands on heated skin echoed around the stadium.
As each team finished, thousands of onlookers were on their feet clapping and whistling appreciation. Not only was the festival celebrating kapa haka, it also brought people together.
Old friends could be seen greet ing each other with a handshake, a kiss or a hongi, kids played together or sang on the karaoke machine near the many kai, craft and information stalls.
Whanau and friends lay on blankets enjoy ing food or lazing in the sun.
Festival chairman Selwyn Parata said Mataatua had made a ``phenomenal effort'.
On-looker Mama Tai, who has been to ``many' festivals, said yes terday was the most people she had seen at the event.
``I've been impressed [by the performances],' the 83-year-old told the Bay of Plenty Times.
Mrs Tai had come over from Opotiki on the East Coast to watch Opotiki-Mai-Tawhiti of Mataatua _ the last team to perform.
Mrs Tai's only complaint about the festival was that she was finding it difficult to see because there were too many people.
In other years there had been more room, she said.
Judea's Keahi Kohu, 14, also said seating was a problem and proposed the judges' tent, which sat about 50 metres in front of the stage, could be moved elsewhere or sited further back in future.
That was, she said, if Tauranga Moana hosted the event again.
``I'm from here so I shouldn't be saying this but I don't think it should come here again for a while,' she said.
She proposed waiting until a different venue be made available in the area _ one that would allow better viewing of the stage and cope with bad weather.
``But it's been mean,' Keahi, who had been at the event the entire three days, said. ``It's mean seeing so many Maori and other cultures come together.'
International visitors were also at the festival with people coming in from the UK, USA and Australia.
Among them was Paul and Ann O'Brien from Brisbane who had come to the festival as part of a month long trip around New Zealand.
It was there second time to the festival _ they attended the 2005 nationals in Palmerston North.
``It's excellent, really authentic,' Mrs O'Brien said.
``It's very high energy. You wouldn't see something like this if you went and paid to watch it at a tourist spot in Rotorua. It's inter esting seeing so many types of haka. We thought there was just the one that the All Blacks do.'
The event, expected to inject about $6.7m into the local economy, showed of Tauranga Moana to both nationally and inter nationally through media.
About 10 international media, from Germany, USA, UK and Aus tralia were present and Maori Television and One News covered the event. The location of the next festival held in 2011 will be an nounced in June.
Any spectators with queries regarding a refund for the cancelled performance on Friday should email the festival office, (04) 499-6158 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.