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Waitangi: History in the Bay of Islands

2 Jul 2015

Waitangi Treaty Grounds, Bay of Islands, New Zealand

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is New Zealand’s premier historic site, where in 1840 New Zealand’s most significant document was signed by the British Crown and Maori Chiefs: the Treaty of Waitangi. 

Take an enlightening journey through history at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, surrounded by the beauty of the Bay of Islands. Stand on the spot where New Zealand’s founding document – the Treaty of Waitangi or Te Tiriti o Waitangi – was signed on 6 February 1840, and find out more about how this document has forged the unique land that we now call Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Just a 25-minute stroll along the waterfront, or a 3-minute drive from Paihia, Waitangi is easily accessible to all travellers. You can pre-book your experience or just wander in and the friendly staff will help you.

There are a number of ways to experience Waitangi, but to make the most of your time in this incredible place, the Ultimate Combo pass comes highly recommended. Included in this pass is a guided tour with one of the knowledgeable guides as well as a traditional welcome and cultural performance from resident group Te Pitowhenua.

With the Ultimate Combo, you are met by a guide at the entrance to the John Scott Visitor Centre, where the journey starts underneath a giant copy of the Treaty. Interpretive panels begin the story, and with ancestral connections to the signatories of the Treaty, the guide weaves a story, making history come alive.

Experience nature

Stepping outside takes you along a lush native boardwalk down to the sparkling waters of the bay, where you’ll discover Ngatokimatawhaorua, the world’s largest ceremonial war canoe. Soak up the beauty of this picturesque setting while listening to the story of the Maori ancestors’ journey to New Zealand.

The tour continues up a gently sloping track to the flagstaff – the perfect vantage point to take in the incredible vista that is the Bay of Islands. All  tours now come complete with guided earpieces, so you are free to wander and take in the sights and you won’t miss any of the history the guides impart.

Underneath the flagstaff is the very spot in which the Treaty was signed, magnificent in its beauty, it is also steeped in history and significance. To hear the history of New Zealand told in the exact spot where it unfolded is a moving and meaningful experience.

Step back in time

Explore the grounds and the Treaty House, officially ‘The British Residency’ and one of the oldest wooden buildings in New Zealand. Expertly refurbished, it’s a step back in time to wander the rooms and gardens, including the room where the Treaty of Waitangi was drawn up in 1840.

Outside the majestic carved meeting house, Te Pitowhenua (the resident Maori Cultural group), will issue their challenge - a traditional welcome which determines whether visitors come in peace. Assuming you ‘come in peace’ and accept the challenge (which is highly recommended!) you are then welcomed into the meeting house to witness a high-energy performance of traditional Maori dance, singing, poi twirling, stick throwing and haka.

See Te Pitowhenua perform

Sitting amongst the stunning carved surroundings that depict history and genealogy, the performance by Te Pitowhenua will leave you breathless. You are transported back in time, first through song and dance, and then, up close as the Maori warriors demonstrate their agility with traditional weapons. If you are lucky enough to sit in the front row the demonstration is very personal, you can easily imagine the reality as the patu dances before your eyes and the taiaha literally whistles past your ear.

The majesty of the poi and the speed and skill of the traditional stick games are an experience in themselves. At the conclusion of the performance you are welcome take away a memory of your day with a photo with the performers.

Dine at Waitangi

Waitangi also boasts an evening experience with a traditional Maori Hangi and Concert. Beginning at the fully licensed Whare Waka Café, the modern earth oven cooks a contemporary hangi, producing mouth-watering meals of vegetables, meats, stuffing, traditional breads and steamed puddings.

Your host starts the evening here and while you mix and mingle, the hangi is unearthed giving you a tantalising taster of the dinner to come. Then it’s onto the themed Cultural Performance in Te Whare Runanga.

Meanwhile, the hangi chefs have completed the meal and you return across the grounds to enjoy a delicious buffet dinner - the ultimate immersion in Maori culture.

Waitangi Museum

A new addition to Waitangi, opening in February 2016, is the museum and education centre. Right on site, this state-of-the-art building will greatly enhance your Waitangi experience. The new museum will reveal the stories and origins of Waitangi in greater depth through high quality exhibitions and learning spaces, making use of a wide range of media and visuals. Significant taonga (treasures) associated with Waitangi are currently scattered throughout New Zealand, and the new state of the art, secure, climate controlled building will ensure a safe haven for their return home.

However you choose to experience Waitangi, this, the birthplace of a nation, will take you back in time on a journey you won’t easily forget. From the breath taking scenery to the spine-tingling performances, all New Zealand journeys should begin here.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

1 Tau Henare Drive

Waitangi, Bay of Islands