Waitangi means ‘weeping (or noisy) waters’ in Māori. This seaside spot is also New Zealand’s most important historical site: on these stunning, park-like grounds overlooking the Bay of Islands, the historic Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. The Treaty is generally considered the founding document of New Zealand as a nation, and a symbol of the coming together of two diverse cultures – Māori and Pakeha.
In 1833 James Busby was sent to Paihia in the post of British Resident, in response to a request from Māori to the King of England for protection. Many rangatira (chieftains) were worried by rumoured plans by the French to declare sovereignty over New Zealand – and by the bad behaviour of some British settlers.
Busby drafted the Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand, which he and many northern Māori chiefs signed at Waitangi on 28 October 1835. By 1839, 52 chiefs had signed – however, the Colonial Office in Britain were displeased and decided a new agreement between Māori and British subjects was needed.
Captain William Hobson was appointed Lieutenant Governor of New Zealand and charged with formally establishing it as a British colony. He and Busby wrote the Treaty document together and had it hastily translated into Māori.
The Treaty of Waitangi was initially signed outside Busby’s house at Waitangi on February 6, 1840 by representatives of the British Crown, and Māori tribal leaders. Copies were taken around the country to be signed by Māori chiefs who could not make the journey. Not all chiefs chose to sign the Treaty, and to this day controversy over its interpretation and execution is a significant topic for New Zealanders.
A visit to the Waitangi Treaty House and grounds is the best way to gain an understanding of Māori culture and the beginning of New Zealand as we know it today. Wander the grounds, view the beautifully carved Te Whare Runanga, and meet Ngatokimatawhaorua, one of the world’s largest Māori ceremonial war canoes.
Guided tours and cultural performances take place regularly throughout the day. Take part in the spine-tingling challenge from fearsome Māori warriors, followed by waiata (singing), poi dancing, and the famous haka.
A Waitangi Treaty Grounds day pass includes a guided tour, cultural performance and entry to the brand new museum.
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