Sonny Alesana prepares the hāngi pit at Whakatū Marae on Monday. Photo: Kate Russell.

Feeding 400 people at Kai Fest


Sonny Alesana is no stranger to preparing a hāngi feast.

It’s a hot Monday afternoon at Whakatū Marae, and he is digging out the hāngi pit for the annual Kai Festival.

The kitchen is humming with helpers, preparing the 40kg of spuds and 30kg of kumara that’s needed for the day.

Sonny says he once fed 1800 people a hāngi from just one hole, so preparing an estimated 400 meals should be breeze for him this year.

“It’s the easiest way to feed multitudes of people.”

Although this year’s hāngi is a big fundraiser for local kapa haka groups, Sonny says he’s doing it to support Waitangi Day.

“For me, it’s about making sure there is a hāngi for the visitors.”

Out of the 400 meals that were on offer on Wednesday, 250 were pre-sold.

After the days of preparation, Sonny gets up 4.30am to light the fire and then at 6.45am the food goes into baskets then into the ground.

Along with the masses of spuds and kumara, there was eight large pumpkins, 10 cabbages, a stuffing made with 50 loaves of bread, and 1200 pieces of meat.

“Mum’s clean sheets and sacks go over the top, then a tarpaulin. It’s a little bit like a microwave,” Sonny says.

“We bury it for four-and-a-half to five hours, then it comes up about midday.”

Hosted by Whakatū Marae and Founders Heritage Park, the annual Kai Festival is now in it’s 11th year and featured more than 70 kai and craft stalls.