Experiencing Culture and History at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The Bay of Islands is not just a place to enjoy beaches and island-hopping. A lot of New Zealand’s significant history occurred here, as we already discovered at the Kerikeri Mission House. It’s the place where New Zealand became a nation with the signing of The Treaty of Waitangi. Maori chiefs and British generals signed the treaty to create the nation of New Zealand – that’s the short story at least. To find out more about the combining of the two cultures and what happened on that historic day, we head to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

An action-packed day pass

Just a five-minute drive up the coast from Paihia, we reach Waitangi with its grand entrance of wooden architecture. We get our day pass stickers, which really give you bang for your buck ($40 for non-residents): museum entry, admission to a short film, a guided tour, a Maori cultural performance, full access to the grounds inc. the Treaty House, waka, bush walks, flagstaff and more! Not only could you spend half a day here, but there’s variety too!

The Museum of Waitangi

For us, we head straight to the Museum of Waitangi. The bottom floor of this huge museum surrounded by native bush holds a permanent museum, while upstairs has temporary exhibitions and artwork. We start at the bottom and enter to a large screen playing the dance of a Maori warrior, as if to challenge us into the museum itself! Then a corridor lies ahead of us. Blue water effects light the floor up, while the walls tell the discovery stories of New Zealand from both the European culture and the Maori culture. One wall shows the early Polynesian explorer, Kupe and a grand ocean-going waka (canoe), while the other side shows the likes of Captain James Cook and his sailing ship. At the end of the corridor, a Maori horn and a British trumpet are on display before we move onto the second part of the New Zealand story: settling in Aotearoa.

An awesome entrance to the Museum of Waitangi An awesome entrance to the Museum of Waitangi
Watching the reenactment of the treaty signing Watching the reenactment of the treaty signing
The Waitangi documents that sealed the nation of New Zealand The Waitangi documents that sealed the nation of New Zealand
Watching the carver at work Watching the carver at work

A combining of cultures

The history of the cultures coming together, through the good and the bad, are told in this room of painting, artifacts, static information panels, interactive information panels, and a huge projected board telling stories through a map of the Bay of the Islands. We get to see weapons and carvings from tribal leaders and muskets and armour brought by the European.

Continuing through the story of New Zealand’s first flag, we reach a room shaped like a small hut complete with a roof to watch a 13-minute movie showing an reenactment of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Ok, reenactment videos displayed in museums are not exactly renowned for being “good” but the short film put together by Warner Bros New Zealand and TVNZ is actually well-made!

The Treaty of Waitangi documents

After the show, we move into the Documents Room. Here, there are copies of signatures gathered for the Treaty of Waitangi. One very distinct-looking document seemingly stapled together in a long incoherent shape is one we have seen photos of across New Zealand is other museums, as it is such a significant document.

Checking out all the stunning artifacts of the Museum of Waitangi

Live Maori wood carving

More interactive touch screen displays and Maori artifacts lie around the next corner, until we reach a spectacular gift shop full of luxurious Maori items and a door leading out into the bush. By now, the rain is thrashing down but luckily the walkway is undercover. We notice a guy in a side room carving away at a piece of macrocarpa. He tells us he is in the early stages of carving a bird feeder. We can see the intricate designs sketched onto the wood.

Stunning views from the Waitangi Treaty grounds

After a further quick walk in the native bush, we emerge at a large grassy area with a flagstaff in the middle. Ahead, the grounds overlook the ocean and bright orange beaches. This place is stunning in itself, never mind historic!

A cultural performance at the carved meeting house

The time has almost come for the 11am performance, taking place in the carved meeting house across the grounds. The performance would usually start with a powhiri outside – welcoming ceremony to see if we are friend or foe. However, no one wants to stand in the rain, so the ceremony takes place under the cover of the carved meeting house. A leader to represent our tribe is voluntarily pushed forward by his grandson and leads us visitors into the meeting house where a group wearing traditional tribal clothes chant and sing. A warrior pulling all the faces that should be hilarious yet they are extremely intimidating presents a token on the ground for our tribe leader to pick up – indicating that we come in peace. Once the powhiri is complete, we sit on benches in the meeting house and the show begins!

A compelling cultural show A compelling cultural show
Checking out the Treaty House Checking out the Treaty House
The mighty waka of Waitangi! The mighty waka of Waitangi!

a compelling high-energy performance!

A performer welcomes us in the Maori language then translates into English, before the group break into high-energy acapella! The “traditional” acoustic guitar is introduced to vamp things more. The room is booming with traditional Maori songs which is compelling to watch! The group dance pulling faces, making sudden jerking movements, and shaking their hands.

We watch a mix of up-lifting songs, wind-down love songs, games of throwing sticks, and ending with the all-famous Haka! Wow!

At the end of the 30-minute performance, we are invited to take photos with the team (and we take a pretty mean 360 with the guys), as well as encouraged to ask any questions.

The Treaty House

After that performance, maybe looking around the Treaty House where the British Government’s representative during 1833 to 1840 lived doesn’t seem so exciting. This well-maintained residence is like a mini museum in itself with rooms showing what colonial house looked like back in the day, as well as museum-like exhibitions show what every-day life was like in the Bay of Islands back in the 1830s.

the world’s largest ceremonial canoe

We have one more place to check out before we hit the road back to Whangarei Hospital where Robin is getting his cast changed: the Waka House. Here lies the largest ceremonial war canoe in the world (and thankfully under more shelter from the rain). It’s an impressive sight, the 35m long waka carved to perfection looking out across the bay. A platform with more information panels and touch screen displays provide an excellent perspective of the waka for some last photos before making tracks to Whangarei Hospital and back.

A quick trip to hospital and back

Robin is gutted to find out that although his broken arm is healing, it is too soon to change to a more practical fiberglass cast. He does, however, get a sexy new sling. One small victory for three hours of driving, we guess! Another victory because it turns out that Robin’s Orbit Protect travel insurance came in handy! Oh yeah, and if you want to find out how Robin got in this state, check out our story about climbing (and tumbling down) Mt Manaia.

Until next time (which is tomorrow), we’ll be chilling in our accommodation at the Base Backpackers. See you tomorrow!

Laura and Robin

The awesome Waitangi Treaty Grounds performers!
The awesome Waitangi Treaty Grounds performers! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Have you read yesterday’s post about cruising to the Hole in the Rock? How about these articles?

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See you tomorrow!

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