Waitangi Treaty Grounds. © David Kirkland

Tohu Whenua: Waitangi Treaty Grounds


Often called the ‘Birthplace of our Nation,’ Waitangi Treaty Grounds is Aotearoa New Zealand’s most important historic site and an absolute must-visit when you’re in the Bay of Islands. 

Here, on 6 February 1840, after much discussion, 43 Māori chiefs and the British Crown signed our nation’s founding document the Treaty of Waitangi Te Tiriti o Waitangi before copies were taken around the country for signing.

Located on a picturesque headland covered in lush native forest and lawn, Waitangi is packed with experiences.

Start with a one-hour guided tour that takes in several of Waitangi’s highlights and culminates in a high-energy cultural performance featuring an outdoor haka pōwhiri followed by waiata and haka inside the beautifully carved meeting house Te Whare Rūnanga. 

Begin your explorations at the nearby Treaty House, which was the base of New Zealand’s British government from 1833 to 1840 and the site where the Declaration of Independence was drafted and the first flag of the nation was chosen. There are two new contemporary museums, Te Rau Aroha which honours Māori who fought in conflicts in New Zealand and overseas, and Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi which provides a frank look at the early interactions between Māori and Europeans, the events leading up to the treaty's signing, the long litany of treaty breaches by the Crown; the wars and land confiscations that followed and the protest movement that led to the current process of redress for historic injustices. 

Then head to the waka house Te Korowai ō Maikuku near Hobson’s Beach to marvel at the sheer size of Ngātokimatawhaorua, a ceremonial waka taua that was built to mark the centenary of the treaty signing. It’s the world’s largest vessel of its type and requires a crew of 76 to sail it! 

There's also an excellent gift shop selling Māori art and design, an interactive carving studio and plenty of games such as an age-appropriate scavenger hunt and cricket set to keep the whole whānau entertained. 

Every year on 6 February (Waitangi Day) the Waitangi Treaty Grounds hosts a free festival which starts at 5am with a Dawn Service followed by all-day entertainment for everyone to enjoy.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds is recognised as a Tohu Whenua, one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s best heritage experiences. 

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