Students gleefully took to the stage at the world’s biggest Polynesian festival after a two-year wait.
Shouts of cha-hoooo rang out across south Aucklands Manukau Sports Bowl as people poured into the first full Polyfest in three years.
Even torrential downpours couldnt dampen the spirits of the performers and spectators, who relished the opportunity to showcase their cultures at the biggest Pasifika festival in the world on Wednesday.
They have been waiting a while, with the past two planned ASB Polyfests cancelled. Organisers pulled the plug early in 2019 in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks, and last year the Covid-19 pandemic put a kibosh on the event.
Over the next four days, more than 100,000 people are expected to flood through the gates to watch secondary students performing Cook Islands, Maori, Niue, Samoan and Tonga cultural displays they have been rehearsing for months.
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Yet getting to that point wasn’t a sure thing, said ASB Polyfest director Seiuli Terri Leo-Mauu.
Students were excited to be back on stage after the festival was cancelled last year and cut short in 2019.
The initial date for this years event was set right in the middle of Februarys Papatoetoe Covid-19 outbreak that put Auckland back into an alert level three lockdown.
We were pinching ourselves there at the beginning, but now its on it still feels quite surreal, Leo-Mauu.
There was that mysterious thing that was in the air [in February] that no-one could prepare for.
Im not saying were fully prepared now, but at least we know more about it, and weve put a lot of Covid measures in place for this festival.
Polyfest director Seiuli Terri Leo-Mauu has been crossing her fingers in hope nothing would stop the festival this year.
All festivals attendees are expected to scan in on the Covid Tracer app. A livestream of the festival has also been set up so the more vulnerable members of the community can get involved without putting themselves at risk.
The joy of being able to perform and showcase different cultures was evident and some MCs and performers spoke on stage about how grateful and privileged they felt.
Auckland Girls Grammar School teacher Marina McFarland has been coming to the event for at least 10 years and was very excited to be back after the imposed hiatus.
This years festival will have a diversity stage featuring performances from cultures outside the Pacific.
Her last memory of the event was from 2019, when her girls had been on stage during the mosque shootings, and they only found out later on when they were driving home.
It was so disappointing [to have it cancelled last year] because wed trained and everything, she said.
In the lead up, she had been crossing her fingers they would make it onto the stage this year and nothing would get in the way.
Her group of girls was performing on the Cook Islands stage in the non-competitive section of the festival.
She said that while her charges had been practising a lot, it didnt compare to those who were in the competitive parts of the festival.
The festival routinely draws more than 100,000 people through its gates.
The event ramps up over four days, with Friday and Saturday the biggest days when all the competitive schools take to the stage.
Papakura High School has gone as far as making attendance at school optional on Friday, when their students are pencilled in to perform.
There are also scores of stalls selling Polynesian snacks and trinkets, as well as a diversity stage where other cultures get a chance to showcase their dances.
The festival runs until Saturday, April 17.