Mid North marae are again doing battle for the honour of being named the district's best host.
Inspired by the TV series MasterChef, Marae Master Cookoff is organised by Maori health provider Te Hau Ora o Kaikohe to promote healthy eating and give the area's kuia and kaumatua a fun day out.
Each of the marae taking part has to prepare a three-course lunch for pensioners enrolled with Te Hau Ora's AgeWell programme. The lunch must be nutritious, suitable for the elderly, include fruit and vegetables and have a traditional Maori element.
The marae are judged by the kuia and kaumatua, who rate each on a scale of one to five on taste, presentation, healthiness, the standard of entertainment and other criteria.
This week the newly opened Kohewhata Marae near Kaikohe pulled out the stops in a bid to be crowned Marae Master 2012.
The 31 kuia and kaumatua taking part were shown around the fully carved wharenui Puhimoanaariki and taught a poi action song to warm them up on a chilly winter's day.
They were then ushered into the wharekai for soup, prawn fried rice, Ecuadorian meats, ratatouille, apricot chicken, sushi, baked potatoes and mussel fritters. Dessert was a choice of citrus sago, rhubarb and apple sponge or lemon mousse, while an entertainer played old favourites on guitar.
Noeline Perry, 86, said lunch "couldn't be faulted".
"I enjoy these outings very, very much," she said.
Cindy Whiu said the kai, presentation and entertainment were "wonderful" as was the chance to catch up with old friends, some of whom she hadn't seen in years.
Head cook Betty Wihongi said the marae took part in the contest to tautoko (support) the elderly of Kaikohe, and to give younger members a chance to learn about catering for big groups.
The aim of the competition is to promote the AgeWell principles of healthy eating and activity, while giving the elderly an opportunity to socialise and bringing the area's marae together.
Te Hau Ora AgeWell coordinator Ngaro Poa said Kohewhata Marae's effort on Wednesday would be hard to beat: "The hospitality was outstanding. The way they were welcomed, the way they were brought blankets and given poi exercises to keep them warm."
Okaihau College Marae kicked off this year's cookoff; next up is Parawhenua Marae at Ohaeawai. The winner receives $1500 to spend on any marae-related project.
Last year's winner was Te Huruhi Marae in Awarua.
Kohewhata Marae, about 3km south of Kaikohe, is a new marae which opened on April 7 and boasts one of just a handful of fully carved wharenui in Northland. Its principal hapu are Te Uri o Hua, Takotoke and Ngati Kura.