If you’ve never been to the birthplace of New Zealand, Waitangi should be on your bucket list. Whether it’s on the official day of celebrations or at any other time during the year, it’s a great place to visit.
This 506-hectare piece of prime land was purchased by Lord and Lady Bledisloe and donated to New Zealand in 1932 and the breathtaking views of the Bay of Islands from the main lawn are reason enough to go even without the cultural experience.
It’s a shame Waitangi has the stigma of controversy because it really is a place every kiwi can be proud of.
These days you pay $15 (although it used to be free to all New Zealanders. $25 for foreigners). I was impressed with the building and loved the singing that I thought was coming from a choir in the next room, only to find it was the sound system!
Heading first for the gift store, I swooned over the handmade souvenirs, especially the feather cloaks valued at thousands of dollars, then we walked along the wooden walkway through native bush down to the iconic grounds and the sea front where a giant waka is displayed under an open-sided Marae-style roof.
It was the week after Waitangi Day and two hand-carved waka that had been used in the celebrations were still ashore. We walked up the path to the upper Treaty Grounds and took photos of the bay punctuated by a cruise ship on the water.
Taking off our shoes, as requested, we entered the meeting house Te Whare Runanga and slowly viewed the floor to ceiling carvings from every tribe.
Across the grounds is Treaty House, built for British resident James Busby in 1833. It has its own checkered history after the famed Treaty of Waitangi signing here on February 6 1840, as it fell into disrepair and was used by a local farmer as a shearing shed before the Bledisloes bought it restored it in 1932. It is now a museum devoted to the Treaty and to life in these parts since the mid-nineteenth century.
It’s a pilgrimage every kiwi should make at least once in their life.