Waka of the Tuia 250 voyage flotilla are sailing into Gisborne early this morning, the first landing place of Captain James Cook's Endeavour in New Zealand 250 years ago.
The waka arrival kicks off Tuia 250, a national commemoration acknowledging 250 years since the first onshore encounters between Māori and Pākeha, and celebrating 1000 years of New Zealand’s Pacific and Māori voyaging heritage.
But the planned events have also inspired debate over New Zealand's colonial past, and along with ships, waka and dignataries, protestors have also arrived in Gisborne.
Tina Ngata, Kai Mau, is raising awareness of an alternative program to Tuia 250.
"It's about the fact that we need to actually need to pull these events apart, strip them down, have a look at their components," she told 1 NEWS.
Her event will take a critical look at the history of colonisation, and put James Cook on trial for crimes against indigenous people.
Academics from around the world are attending the commemorations and a documentary is being made.
Tina Ngata said that 251 years ago "we were a free and independent, self-governing people on these lands. And what happened was the birth of colonisation which stripped that. And we have not had that since".
Organisers of Tuia 250 are open to the debate.
"It's not a right or wrong argument here," said Dame Jenny Shipley, Tuia 250 co-chair.
"It's a 'let's listen to the critics, they've got something to say, but let's also listen to people who want to move forward because they've also got something to say.' And that's what Tuia's about," she said.
"Tuia means united and bound together, not the same, but committed to working together."
The flotilla of va’a tipaerua, waka hourua (double-hulled canoes) and sailing ships will voyage together to 14 sites of significance around the country.
The Government says the event celebrates navigational feats.
“Today we celebrate Tangata Whenua, the first people of Aotearoa, and the triumphs of the voyaging tradition that brought our ancestors here from Polynesia 1000 years ago,” Minister for Māori Crown Relations Kelvin Davis said.
“Our tūpuna travelled thousands of kilometres across the Pacific Ocean using their knowledge of the winds and currents and navigating using signs in nature.
“These same techniques were used by the crew of the va’a Fa’afaite to bring our friends here from Tahiti to join the Tuia 250 Voyage flotilla on its journey around New Zealand,” he said.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she looks forward to "attending a wide range of events over the next few days alongside New Zealanders as together we grow our understanding of traditions, people and our history".
Theree voyaging waka are being met by other waka early this morning and shepherded into Gisborne, where the crews will be met by a mass pōwhiri.
Organisiers are hoping for a good turnout form locals and that the event will celebrate Pacific ties.
The arrival of the waka will be broadcast live on TVNZ1 from 10am to 1pm, hosted by John Campbell, Stacey Morrison and Matai Smith.