A nice way to approach Waitangi is walking along the beach from Paihia - around a 30 minute stroll, you'll approach the Waitangi Treaty House from the sea
It's February, the kids are on holiday, and the weather is heating up Down Under - another several weeks of baking in the bush or your local busy streets. Or, in the Northern Hemisphere, you're dreaming of summer and cool breezes... Live the dream in the North of New Zealand, in the Bay of Islands. Seemingly endless beaches and islands, blue water, and mountains of cool green mangroves behind you. With southerly breezes gently brushing away the cares and frustrations of the day-to-day grind you've left behind, it's no stretch at all to imagine what drew "outsiders" to this magnificent little part of the world. It's Waitangi, near Bay of Islands in Northland, New Zealand. If you've brought your family to experience history both past and in the making or if you've come to find peaceful respite from the hectic pace of workaday life, you will find it in Waitangi.
The islands of New Zealand have been drawing people to them for centuries. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the very first settlers arrived on the shores of New Zealand, whether they were ancestors of or predecessors to the many tribes that comprise the Maori. The lay of the land - the variety of mountains that guard the shores or guide explorers to them - is personified in many of the tribes' traditional songs.
You can hear stories about the Polynesian explorer named Kupe. The stories of his arrival bear an slight resemblance to the story of Moby Dick, which it pre-dates. However, instead of a whaling vessel and the Great White Whale, Kupe went out in a canoe in search of a giant octopus. Does he catch it? Let's say he fares better than Captain Ahab, but the real treasure is the discovery of the land his wife is credited as naming the "long white cloud" (Ao-tea-roa). While he is not thought to have remained on New Zealand himself, his lineage (or at least a tight connection) is claimed by many of today's tribes.
Your children are probably very used to reading history in books and online, but they will be very interested to learn that Maori tribes passed their legends and traditions down through oral storytelling, song and dance. The Maori culture is richly layered and goes back so far into Polynesian culture that their exact origins are the subject of great debate. What is known is that even through an at times uneasy truce with Europeans for New Zealand to house such vastly different peoples, the local Maori tribes celebrate and keep alive their past with many of the dances and ceremonies which have unified them since before visitors arrived to their piece of the world.
The mountains heralding New Zealand that rise beckoning from the sea also drew the first English and French explorers to New Zealand, although it was in fact the marine commerce which established their first real link to the native tribes people.
In 1840, a treaty was signed between the Maori and the British Empire (represented by William Hobson) to establish governance of New Zealand by the Crown in exchange for the tribes receiving protection. In 1932, the governor general for the Northland area, Lord Bledisloe, and his wife "gifted back" (as it were) the section of land encompassing and including Waitangi and the Treaty House. Preserving and sharing the historical significance and national treasure that is Waitangi have been goals of the Reserve in the years following.
Since welcoming visitors from other parts of the world is what Waitangi and its annual observance are all about, rooming and roaming options abound. After flying into nearby Auckland, connecting flights will bring you to the Bay of Islands airport; from there shuttle buses can transport you to nearby Paihia. It's a short jaunt to Waitangi's main visitor centre where you can obtain information about the history of the area and have a wander through the grounds. There's some interesting walks and coastline around, a gentle walk (an hour or so), inland from the Treaty House car-park, will take you to the thunder of Haruru Falls. On the way you'll pass under beautiful fern trees, through the mangroves, and arrive at the falls. Look out for the black shags (diving birds) - if the water is clear you can see them as they dive around under the water. Also interesting here is the change from the freshwater at the top of the falls to the estuary water at the base - the change from fresh to salty traps freshwater fish that have been washed over the falls, making it an ideal hunting ground for the birds.
February 6, also known as Waitangi Day, is a peak travel time for visitors to historic Waitangi, and it marks the anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi. The treaty is an alliance of sorts which marked the unique combination of Maori and European culture and tradition. There are several activities and shows organised around the Day, including an extremely impressive movement of the traditional carved war canoes (some of the largest in the world) along the coast to Paihia. Along with the natural beauty, it is a most significant part of what makes Waitangi the lively attraction it is today.
While you're there, check out the Waikokpu Cafe, just next to the Treaty House it's a recommended spot for a Sunday brunch!
To fully appreciate the historical significance of Waitangi, you'll certainly want to spend some extra time at the visitor centre and Treaty House as well as the whare runanga (Maori meeting house), which is framed by intricate tribal carvings depicting the stories of the Maori and set against vibrant green foliage. You'll also have access from the centre to tours of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and collections of artifacts.
You'll come to understand the alliance of cultures that has made Waitangi the must-see point of interest in Northland that it is. Centuries of coming together between two peoples in this beautiful paradise are a common theme throughout the Waitangi region. Information and displays detailing this ongoing story are everywhere, year-round.
If you would like to know more first-hand about the history and culture of Waitangi, consider the Maori-guided Embrace Waitangi tour, which over the course of about an hour explains the significance of Maori pieces and of the very grounds on which you will find yourself walking, part of the Treaty Grounds. And, really, a trip to New Zealand at all without the inclusion of Waitangi, the area from which the nation itself was born and carved, would be as amiss as passing by the country itself.
Once you've taken the time to get to know what makes this part of the world so special, try out your golf game with an awe-inspiring view of the bay at the Waitangi Golf Club, Paihia, Bay of Islands, near the Treaty House. Greens overlook distant mountains and cruise ships. Fees are available on a weekly or per round basis, and every hole promises a sporting challenge and a new perspective of the Bay.
Your neighbour to the north of New Zealand, so ancient and yet so alive, awaits your exploration and understanding, and has so very much to offer in unparalleled natural beauty in return. Visit Waitangi, Bay of Islands in New Zealand, and turn your world upside down.