56. Waitangi – Where the Treaty Began

Opua, Paihia and Waitangi are all within a short drive of each other, across the harbour from Russell. We visited all three but the highlight was Waitangi.

Waitangi is where the Treaty of Waitangi was drafted and many signatures gained in 1840, creating a formal agreement between the indigenous Maori people and the Pakeha people who were arriving on New Zealand shores in ever increasing numbers, and would move to form a government within a few more short years.

We paid $25 to get in (non NZ residents are charged $50) and that gave us entry for two days. Waitangi receives no government funding so depends on the entry fees in order to keep running. Back in the early 1930s the governor general and his wife, Lord and Lady Bledisloe, tried to gain government backing to buy the Treaty grounds as they realised it was going to have huge historical value. No government members were interested, so they ended up purchasing the 1000 acres themselves; officially donating it to the people of New Zealand in February 1934 to be run via a trust – which they stayed involved in all their lives. They were fabulous people by all accounts and were acknowledged by both our tour guides in the first moments of their talk.

On the actual day of annual Waitangi celebrations, February 6th, entry is free and anyone is welcome to be there and celebrate – apparently it’s packed out and a fantastic day, very social. The huge sea going waka is paddled out in the harbour, and anyone left at the end of the day is roped into helping haul it back into the shed.

Our first activity was to spend about an hour reading our way through the visitors centre, where written information was succinct and easy to follow and focussed around the relationship and history between Maori and Pakeha. There were many original documents on display – behind glass – with the lighting dimmed for their preservation.

We took a guided tour – actually we did one on each of our days which worked well as each guide shared quite different information. We had earpieces to hear the guides which meant we could stray and take photos and still hear everything that was said – perfect! Even though it’s winter, there were a lot of people present – each of our tour groups had about 50 people.

The buildings and grounds are beautifully maintained and there’s a cafe on site with small eels in the pond. There was a lovely bit of native forest in the grounds and some of the plants and trees were labelled so you could learn a bit more about them. There was also an art gallery upstairs, above the visitors centre.

There’s a heap more information I could give – stories, facts, learning, quite interesting and challenging discussions we had, but it would take a lot of writing, so just go for yourselves if you get the chance.

On our way to Waitangi, we drove through Opua, where there’s a car ferry to Russell.
The English-style buildings were just as apparent in Opua as they had been in Russell.
The wharf in Opua.
Leaving Opua, we quickly arrived in Paihia. The squall we drove through didn’t last long – typical of what we are experiencing so far in Northland and the Far North – the squalls don’t last long but they hit regularly.
Love the sand on both sides of this harbour, such a rich red-brown. And the islands, which lie everywhere along the coastline.
There’s Waitangi in the distance, where we’re headed.
This is some of our tour group looking at the two sea-going waka which are housed beneath a roof to help protect them from the elements when they are not in use. The information we heard about these waka, and waka in general, was fascinating.
This is the kauri (not pronounced cowrie, but koh-ree with the r rolling) which was used to make the largest of the waka here at Waitangi. This waka is named Ngatokimatawhaorua, named after Kupe’s waka Matawhaorua in which he was sailing when he found New Zealand.
And here is the waka itself…
The lawn here is immaculate! That’s Russell across the harbour, where we were a couple of days ago.
The famous flagpole.
The New Zealand flag, the Union Jack and the United Tribes of New Zealand flag (which enabled Maori to trade in ports throughout the world in the 1800’s) all fly here – all three are still legal flags in New Zealand. Other flags are flown here also, such as the unamended United Tribes flag…that’s another story.
The marae – meeting house – is tucked in behind the totara trees. We headed there for the cultural experience…
…where we were welcomed and greeted and got to see different forms and props for dance and music. Kevin volunteered to be the chief for us, the manuhiri/visitors. He picked up the branch that was laid on the ground by the man calling the greeting, to show his friendly intentions.
Hongi – touching noses is better than kissing as fewer bugs get spread around!
This is the Busbys’ house, which was built well before the Bledisoes bought this land. James Busby was instrumental in drafting up the Declaration of Independence (1835: in part it prevented any chance of the French trying to claim NZ) and the Treaty of Waitangi (1840).
The house has been beautifully restored and is kept so clean it almost sparkles.
The gardens around the Busbys’ house were created after the English style. They go all around the house and are very attractive.
One of the bedrooms rooms in the Busbys’ house.

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