Let’s be honest, on a scale of February public holiday to history buff expert, how much do you actually know about the Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi)?
The thing is, we’ve all had different experiences when it comes to learning about the founding of Aotearoa and how the treaty came to be. Maybe you had a brief history lesson decades ago in primary school, maybe you visited the Waitangi Treaty Grounds on a childhood roadie with your parents, maybe you’ve had stories passed down from your tīpuna (grandparents), or maybe you’re new to New Zealand and are yet to discover this piece of our rich and complex cultural history that makes us who we are today.
No matter where you are on your journey to understanding, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that there’s always room for growth. And with international travel off the cards for the foreseeable future, what a good excuse to book a trip up to the Bay of Islands, broaden your knowledge of our hītōria (history) and back our own backyard. Cue the roadie, here’s why you need to visit Waitangi as an adult.
The Exhibitions Are Seriously Impressive
You could quite easily spend the entire day strolling through the immersive and mesmerising exhibitions across the grounds. Near the entrance, you’ll encounter Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi, which originally opened in 2016. Here you’re greeted by a digital karanga (call of welcome) and taken through New Zealand’s history, from pre-treaty up until the present day. A balance of key historical voices are showcased throughout the museum, and you’re encouraged to reflect on how the treaty has evolved, what it means for us today and personally for you.
If you haven’t visited Waitangi this year, you’ll also be treated to a brand new museum—Te Rau Aroha—which opened in February 2020. Te Rau Aroha is a term of respect given to people who embody courage and service, so it’s a fitting name for a museum dedicated to carrying on the stories and legacy of Māori who served our armed forces throughout history. The museum’s main exhibition is titled the Price of Citizenship and respectfully balances contemporary and engaging exhibition elements with sensitive storytelling, as expressed through the display of the soldiers’ personal effects and taonga (treasure).
Get Lost In The Picturesque Grounds
We highly recommend hitting up Waitangi on a good day to make the most of everything the grounds have to offer. Head down to the shore of Hobson’s Beach and you’ll discover the intricate and impressive Ngātokimatawhaorua, the largest ceremonial war canoe of its type in the world—this one took three massive Northland kauri trees to construct. Next, head up the Nias Track which will take you to the expansive lawn overlooking an enviable view of the Bay of Islands. Here you’ll find the Flagstaff, which marks the spot where the Tiriti o Waitangi was first signed. Towards the back of the green you’ll find the new Te Rau Aroha building, the Te Whare Rūnanga meeting house as well as the Treaty House. Our advice? Lace-up your walking shoes and prepare to get lost, between the tree-covered trails and the endless pockets of nature, there’s plenty to discover.
An Epic Calendar Of Events Awaits
On the reg, Waitangi offers up a slew of daily experiences to help you make the most of your visit. Grab an Experience Pass and you’ll score a guided tour around the grounds, as well as a cultural performance in the Te Whare Rūnanga meeting house. Beyond this, there’s also a host of activities on the go and we’re pretty pumped for what’s going down this spring. Go behind the art and meaning of a pōwhiri ceremony with a workshop hosted by the super knowledgeable Pou tikanga Māori (Cultural Manager) Mori Rapana. Get hands on with a series of carving classes popping up across spring—the on-site kaiwhakairo (carvers) Richard and Arama will teach you the tricks and stories of the trade. And finally, foodies will be well catered for (literally) at the Māori cuisine night in September—consider your kai (food) sorted.
It’s A Welcoming Introduction To Te Reo
Beyond the well-known terms like mōrena (good morning), kia ora (hello) and here at the Urban List, kakato (delicious), a visit to Waitangi will certainly help expand your te reo Māori vocabulary. You’ll meet passionate staff like Dan Busby, a tour guide, who fluidly switches between English and te reo, explaining meanings along the way and in the context of what you’re experiencing. You’ll also see the handiwork of Pou tikanga Māori Mori Rapana around the site, whose advocation for the language now sees every sign presented in both English and te reo, from simple directions to complex exhibition plaques. Even the kids get a go as the discovery trail around Waitangi will now be available in both te reo and English.
Whare Waka Café Dishes Out Delicious Kai
We’d be remiss not to mention the mouth-watering eats available to devour at the Whare Waka, the on-site café. Sporting ample outdoor seating with seaside views, it’s the ideal place to pull up for a midday break. Order up a steaming cup of coffee—Coffee Supreme is on the rotation here—and a freshly baked bite to match. Should you be after something more substantial, the unfussy menu delivers tasty treats like your classic eggs bene through to a hearty beef burger with manuka smoked bacon and fries. However for a taste of local flavour, we can’t go past the mussel fritters with poached eggs and tartar sauce—seriously, what more could you want?
Your History Lesson Doesn’t End There
The beauty about a trip to the Bay of Islands is that each town offers up its own role in the history of the region, and it doesn’t stop at Waitangi. Once you’ve wrapped a day of discovery, we recommend checking jumping on the ferry—there’s a passenger ferry from Paihia and a car ferry from Opua—and making your way to Russell for the night. Fun fact: Russell was historically home to the rascals and ex-convicts of the Pacific, but these days boasts much more leisurely waterfront holiday vibes. Check into The Duke of Marlborough for the evening and experience a taste of this historic gem that’s been operating since 1827. The luxurious 4.5-star digs are situated overlooking the water and boasts modern renovated rooms, a gym and even a tennis court. The premises are also home to The Duke Restaurant which is the ideal spot to scout out a Bay of Islands sunset on the deck, cocktail in hand of course.
Editor's Note: The author of this article was hosted by the Bay of Islands Marketing Group, please see www.visitboi.co.nz for more information.
Image credit: Waitangi Treaty Ground