Steeped in history and draped in colourful stories, a trip to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds was the only thing I had my heart set on seeing when we visited New Zealand. I was excited for our whole adventure, but Waitangi Treaty Grounds at the Bay of Islands was the one place I had wanted to visit for as long as I can remember wanting to visit New Zealand.
Moored off of the undulating, island speckled coast, Royal Caribbean tendered us ashore to a small dock at Te Ti Bay. Stepping onto dry land right between Waitangi and Pahia, we were welcomed ashore by smiling locals. Coaches waited to take people on tours and ferry excited holiday-makers into town. Adding to the holiday atmosphere, small market stalls were set up for friendly residents to purvey handmade goods, giving the whole moment an almost festive feel.
Making our way down the dock, we were handed a flyer for the Treaty Grounds with a 20% off voucher on it and given directions to get there. I would have paid fistfuls of our hard earned cash for this experience, but a discount was much welcomed. The girls, being under 18, received entry; and our voucher took the entry price down from $40 for each adult to $32.
A short, well signposted, five-minute ramble along the stunning coastline and we were standing at the entrance to the Waitiangi Treaty Grounds. If I’m honest, there is a part of me that couldn’t believe I was actually standing there. Years previously I had seen Billy Connolly explore this area on his World Tour of New Zealand and I had been so taken with it that I had dreamed of visiting ever since. What I hadn’t know at the time was that our relaxed, ‘whatever happens, happens’ attitude would serve me well in not planning this trip by booking a shore tour months in advance. If we had booked a shore tour through the cruise line,
Daily schedule of performances and tours in hand, we decided to head to the museum to immerse ourselves in the history of the area and the coming together of the two peoples before heading to the Meeting House to watch the cultural performance that was included as part of our ticket price.
Comprehensive, visually stimulating and interactive, the Museum of Waitangi was a feast for the eyes as well as the mind. Of all the things that struck me whilst there, it was the inclusive and non-judgemental language used. Coming from a culture that has deep rooted anger and simmering racism at every turn, it was uplifting to see a nation working towards relationship with each other.
Welcome to Waitangi, Te Pitowhenua, the birthplace of our nation, New Zealand.
Here we tell the relationship between two peoples, Mãori and British, who came together to found a nation, and of Waitangi’s special place in that story.
The story continues to unfold. It is a story for everybody – for all who call Aotearoa New Zealand home, for all who visit.
Come and share in it.
It was with a new appreciation for the land we were standing on and the history of the country we were visiting that we moved from the Museum to the Meeting House.
Gathered outside the intricately carved building, a member of the assembled group of tourists was appointed our ‘chief’ and the performance began. After being invited inside the Meeting House, a symbol of unity of Mãori throughout Aotearoa, we were treated to a demonstration of traditional skills and melodic storytelling. Entertaining as well as informative, the performers clearly enjoyed sharing their culture with the enthusiastic spectators.
With Husband in tow, I joined our little band of vagabonds in marking the occasion by taking part in the free photo op with the performers outside the Meeting House. (Not pictured due to aforementioned Husband’s aversion to his photo being taken at all, let alone published on the internet.) Photos taken, shoes back on and socks-impressed-off, we were off back down the hill to meet our guide for a laughter inducing 50 minute guided walk of the grounds.
Regaling us with fascinating stories and droll anecdotes, our guide kept everyone’s attention as he took us on a journey through times gone by. The crowning glory of the tour was the impressive Ceremonial War Canoe. This six tonne, 35 metre long requires at least 76 people to guide it safely on the water.
Souvenirs purchased at the gift shop and our appetite for history sated, it was time to satiate the grumbling in our stomachs we were all beginning to feel after hours walking around the expansive Treaty Grounds. Nestled amongst lush fernery and native trees, the <a href=”http://www.waitangi.org.nz/plan-your-visit/whare-waka-cafe” target=”_blank”>Whare Waka Café</a> was the perfect place to stop and order lunch, have a drink and an ice cream before heading back to tender aboard the Explorer of the Seas.
Now, I’m not particularly proud of this, but I ordered fish and chips. And yes, I did it just so I could hear a Kiwi say fush and chups. But despite my childish joy in all of this (which I kept on the inside because I’m only culturally insensitive in private), I can say it was the best fish and chips I had had in ages. If you visit Waitangi Treaty Grounds and are not averse to paying for food while on shore, the Whare Waka Café offers superb views, a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and lovely food.
Every second of my day lived up to my expectations and as I watched boats under sail glide past from the padded comfort of the tender returning us to the ship, I knew revisiting the Bay of Islands was high on my list of things to do when we returned to New Zealand in the future.
- Location: 2km from Paihia or a 5 minute walk from the Te Ti Bay dock.
- Open every day except Christmas and the buildings are closed on February 6th for the free Waitangi Day festival.
- Entry Fees: Day Pass – $40 for adults, free for under 18’s.
- Day Pass includes:
- Admission to the treaty grounds
- Entry to theMuseum of Waitangi
- Twenty-two minute educational film, The Waitangi
- Guided tour
- Cultural Performance
- Full access to the grounds