Official Waitangi Day events began on Sunday at the Treaty Grounds, with a dawn karakia.
Prime Minister John Key and Opposition leader Phil Goff walked into the wharenui together at 5am, leading a number of other politicians, diplomats and Navy personnel.
The service in both te reo Maori and English was a mix of prayer and hymns. However, numbers at the service were down on recent years.
Mr Key spoke of remembering the 29 men who perished in an explosion in the Pike River coal mine on 19 November.
He also took the opportunity to acknowledge all New Zealand servicemen and women serving overseas.
Mr Key gave thanks for the courage of the country's forefathers, both Maori and pakeha, for the Treaty, describing it as the nation's founding document.
Mr Goff said the Treaty helped form one nation from two peoples.
Mr Key is now hosting a breakfast for civic and business leaders. Another church service will be held at 11am, at the waka house on Hobson's beach.
Thousands of people later lined Te Tii beach to watch an impressive launch of waka. Three navy ships were in the bay.
Organisers of the Waitangi festival expect thousands of people will attend the day's events at the Treaty grounds.
The Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand's founding document. It was first signed on 6 February, 1840.
No offence expected to be taken
The Prime Minister says he does not think Maori will take offence at his message the country has to leave issues like Treaty settlements in the past, and focus more on the education of thousands of young Maori.
Mr Key made the comment during his visit to Te Tii marae.
He said the Government is committed to resolving settlements and making progress on the foreshore and seabed, but he wants the emphasis to change from one of grievance, to one that focuses positively on the future.