Te Matatini hailed as more than an entertainment event

The biggest Maori performing arts festival, Te Matatini, is being hailed as more than just an entertainment event.

The national biennial competition judges excellence in kapa haka disciplines - including haka, poi, singing, traditional weaponry and choreography.

The competitions started on Thursday at the Rotorua International Stadium.

Forty-one teams have qualified and are showcasing their talents over the next four days.

Jillian Butler, a member of Wellington competing team Nga Taonga Mai Tawhiti, says kapa haka changes people's lives.

Ms Butler describes Maori performing arts as a lifestyle which transforms members and gives them the opportunity to learn about who they are.

She says it's not really about entertainment but about being Maori.

Prime Minister John Key visited Te Matatini on Thursday and said he sees it is a great way to promote New Zealand.

He noted the large mahau (porch front carving) framing the stage, saying it's a fantastic asset for the event which can also be used at other locations around the world.

The 26-tonne mahau is the largest carving ever made in New Zealand, at more than 13 metres in height, spanning 30 metres.

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