Waitangi Treaty Grounds – The Complete Guide

Wednesday, August 7th, 2019

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Recently declared the country’s first official ‘National Historic Landmark’ thanks to Heritage New Zealand, a visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a simply must-do when visiting the Auckland, Bay of Islands or the Northland regions.

Situated just north of Paihia, the Treaty Grounds are a very scenic 3 hours’ drive from Auckland and just 1 hour from Whangarei, Northlands largest city. On these stunning, park-like grounds now preserved as a national reserve, overlooking the beautiful waters of the Bay of Islands the historic Treaty of Waitangi was formally signed back in 1840.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds In Paihia Northland

What Is The Treaty Of Waitangi?

In a fairly simplified explanation, the Treaty of Waitangi was a document produced by representatives of the British Crown with the intention of claiming British Sovereignty over New Zealand and establishing it as a British Colony.

History suggests these representatives were called upon to curb the growing lawlessness among British settlers and traders at the time (British sovereignty would mean these settlers were able to be held accountable under existing British laws). There was also a concern at the time that the French were preparing to stake their claim.

For some Maori the document represented an attempt to preserve their way of life, protection, possible employment opportunities and also to gain some form of control and support over the sale and settlement of their lands – with the view to avoiding further inter-tribal warfare.

However there was reportedly strong opposition to signing the document by many local Maori who had great reservations about what this would mean for them and their authority over the land. Many Maori people saw no valid reason for signing the document and wished to retain full control over their affairs, settling disputes in their own way as they had always done.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds Aerial View

What Is All The Controversy Around The Treaty Signing?

Aside from the fact that not all Maori tribal leaders signed the document, the controversy around the Treaty of Waitangi largely stems from the translation of the document from English into Maori. There is some debate as to which version is the correct one and whether the differences were just due to the limitations of the Maori language at the time.

However it came about, the Maori version (the one the majority of Maori actually signed) contains several key differences to the English version. According to Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Maori who signed the document believed they were agreeing to:

  • Governance over the land, not the rights and powers of complete sovereignty. With the key difference between the two being the right to continue to retain authority within their own tribal areas – it is thought Maori believed they were agreeing to some sort of power sharing arrangement.
  • Retaining the right to practice and carry out “chieftainship” over their lands, villages and treasured things (for Maori this could be interpreted to cover a range of things from waterways, burial sites, mountains and various other landmarks through to various cultural rituals and rights to existing natural resources). The English version clearly stated the right to “exclusive and undisturbed possession of their lands and estates, forests, fisheries and other properties” – subtle yet arguably quite substantial differences and perhaps a little too open to interpretation.
  • Allow the Crown the right to purchase land (if offered) and engage in land transactions. While the English version stated “exclusive rights” to purchase the land, in other words they were not able to sell the land to anyone but the Crown.

Due to the differences created by the two versions of the Treaty there have been many disagreements over the years regarding its true meaning and interpretation. However it is now considered the ‘spirit of the Treaty’ is what matters and staying true to the principles of the treaty is what matters moving forward as a country.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Why Is The Treaty Of Waitangi So Important?

Back in 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi firmly cemented British rule, setting New Zealand on its path to becoming a predominantly British colonised country. The Treaty formed the basis for the relationship between the British and Maori settlers, and provided Maori people the “rights and privileges of British Subjects” effectively stating all New Zealander’s are equal.

The Waitangi Treaty marked a significant turning point in New Zealand’s short history, and was one of the first forms of official documentation – now considered NZ’s founding document.

Why Was The Treaty Signed In Waitangi?

The Treaty was originally drafted by a man named William Hobson with help from his assistant James Freeman. James Busby (who was holding the post of ‘British Resident’ in NZ at the time) also made contributions.

James Busby lived at Waitangi in the house now known as the ‘Treaty House’ so this is where the meeting with local Maori Chiefs was held and the Treaty was eventually signed in its grounds on 6 February 1840.

Waitangi Day In New Zealand

Each year New Zealanders celebrate the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi with a national holiday known as Waitangi Day. This day (usually the 6th February) is a chance to reflect on and celebrate this multicultural country as a whole – all people as one.

Commemorative services including cultural performances and speeches are held across the country each year but perhaps the most significant services are held at the site where the original Treaty was first penned and signed – at Waitangi, next door to Paihia the gateway to the Bay of Islands.

Now referred to as the ‘Waitangi Treaty Grounds’, the approximately 18.5 hectare reserve is a sweeping estate with recreational areas, a tidal estuary, open coastline and native New Zealand forests as well as the award winning national attraction showcasing the history of the site.

Visiting The Waitangi Treaty Grounds

A visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is a must for all New Zealanders and tourists who want to learn about The Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s history and its Maori culture. Here are all the details you need to know when planning your visit to the Treaty Grounds. 

Getting There

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are located in the sunny Bay of Islands, 2 kilometres north of Paihia. The drive from Auckland is around 3 hours without stops, and takes the very scenic route on State Highway 1 up the East Coast, passing by Warkworth, Bream Bay, Whangarei and Paihia. There is free parking available on site at the Treaty Grounds; mobility support is available upon request.

Opening Hours

The Grounds and Museum are open every day from 9 am to 5 pm (1st March to 24 December), with extended hours in summer from 9am to 6pm from 26 December to 29 February.

Entry Prices

There are a couple of options for visitors entering the Treaty Grounds, but its always good to look out for discounts and deals online.

Waitangi Day Pass. Tickets cost $50 per adult, free for children under 18, NZ residents $25

Day entry includes a guided tour, the cultural performance, informative introductory film, museum entry and access to the beautiful grounds and heritage buildings. It does pay to note that the tours and performances are at set times so a little bit of planning in advance is best to get the most out of your visit. See here for suggested itineraries and timing details.

Hangi And Concert Evening. Tickets cost $120 per adult, $55 per child (up to 18 years old)

Arriving in Paihia late in the day or having enjoyed a leisurely day exploring the Treaty Grounds and want more? The Hangi and Concert experience is the best choice. Enjoy 2.5 hours of culture, food and performances. The Hangi and Concert evening is only held on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, booking in advance is highly recommended as numbers are limited.

How Long To Visit The Waitangi Treaty Grounds?

Want to know how much time to allow at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds? We recommend allowing at least 3 to 4 hours for your visit, and here is why:

  • The Guided Tour takes approximately 50 minutes
  • The Maori Cultural Performance takes 30 minutes
  • The Introductory Film takes 22 minutes
  • Exploring the grounds and making your way around the Treaty house, Museum, Waka and Carving Studio can take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours depending on how long you wish to spend enjoying the stunning views!

Traditional Maori War Canoe In Waitangi

Top 5 Things To Do At The Waitangi Treaty Grounds

There is plenty to see and do at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds for all ages, check out our list of the top 5 things to do!

1. Guided Tours

Guided tours depart every 30 minutes across December, January and February between the hours of 10am and 4:30pm. For all other months tours depart on the hour between 10 am and 4 pm.

The tour comes highly recommended if you want to get the most out of your visit, some of the guides are said to be direct descendants of the Chiefs who signed the Treaty back in 1840. Their insight and local knowledge is great for picking up on those little details you would otherwise miss.

2. Māori Cultural Performance

Cultural Performances are held at set times through the day, these include 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2.30pm, 3.30pm and 4.30pm across December, January and February, and just 11am, 1pm and 3pm for the rest of the year.

Held inside the authentic Maori Meeting House or Whare, the full cultural performance includes waiata or songs, poi demonstrations, wero or challenge and the haka or war dance. After the show get your photo taken with the performers and feel free to ask questions.

3. Te Kōngahu Museum Of Waitangi

Learn about the history of the Treaty of Waitangi, see relics, drawings and displays that provide a glimpse into New Zealand’s early days. The museum is open from 9am to 6pm December, January and February and from 9am to 5pm for the rest of the year.

4. Māori Carving Studio

Learn about the traditions of Maori Carving and its use throughout Maori culture as artistic expression and storytelling. Meet the carvers, ask questions and see live demonstrations. See on site for carvers hours and break times.

5. The Treaty House

Home to the first ‘British Resident’ which is the name of an official posting or job for British government’s representatives, The Treaty House was home to James Busby and his family from 1833 to 1840. See inside this historic house and what life was like back in those days.

Don’t miss the world’s largest ceremonial war canoe on display, the Carved Meeting House, the Hobson Memorial and the gift shop for that perfect souvenir after your day of exploring the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Traveling throughout Northland and need some ideas on where to go and what to see? Check out our Road Trip Guide to Northland here.

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