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Unas­sum­ingly nes­tled in the beauty of the Bay of Is­lands, are the Wai­tangi Treaty Grounds where New Zealand’s found­ing doc­u­ment, the Treaty of Wai­tangi, was signed in 1840. A doc­u­ment that pro­vided the foun­da­tions for a part­ner­ship be­tween the Bri­tish colonis­ers and the Maori peo­ple, the Treaty of Wai­tangi has its own story to tell, and what bet­ter place to learn about and re­live his­tory, than the Wai­tangi Treaty Grounds.

With just a 25 minute walk, or three minute drive from the clos­est town cen­tre of Pai­hia, Wai­tangi is eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble to travellers. At the en­trance to the Treaty Grounds you are met with friendly staff that stand be­low a giant copy of the Maori trans­la­tion of the treaty, rep­re­sent­ing the ver­sion signed on site in 1840. Your jour­ney starts here.

A va­ri­ety of op­tions are avail­able to make the most of your visit, rang­ing from ba­sic Ad­mis­sion, which al­lows you to take a self-guided ap­proach to wan­der­ing the ex­pan­sive grounds at your leisure, to a com­pre­hen­sive 50 minute Guided Tour, a riv­et­ing 30 minute Cul­tural Per­for­mance or a fun-filled evening Hangi and Con­cert.

The best way to ex­pe­ri­ence the Wai­tangi Treaty Grounds is un­doubt­edly to im­merse your­self in the ac­tiv­i­ties on of­fer, start­ing with a Guided Tour. The en­thu­si­as­tic guide meets you at the en­trance to the John Scott Vis­i­tor Cen­tre where you be­gin your jour­ney back in time. In­ter­pre­tive pan­els through the cen­tre and sto­ries wo­ven by the guide who has an­ces­tral con­nec­tions to the sig­na­to­ries of the Treaty paint an his­toric pic­ture, be­fore you head out­side into a lush na­tive bush set­ting. Bird­song fills the air while an idyl­lic ocean vista pro­vides the back­drop for the im­pres­sive sight of the world’s largest cer­e­mo­nial war ca­noe. The story of the jour­ney of Maori an­ces­tors to New Zealand is re­vealed be­fore you con­tinue along a gen­tly slop­ing track. The sight that is pre­sented to you at the top of the track is one of mag­nif­i­cent beauty. To your right, be­yond the flagstaff which sig­nals the very spot the Treaty was signed, lie panoramic views of the Bay of Is­lands open­ing up into the ex­panse of the Pa­cific Ocean. To your left the colo­nial Treaty House sits among his­toric gar­dens and is com­fort­ably flanked by an im­pres­sive carved meet­ing house. Your Guided Tour ends here with breath tak­ing views and a new ap­pre­ci­a­tion for New Zealand’s story.

If you, like me, love a vis­ual dis­play and good mu­sic, then the Cul­tural Per­for­mance is a must to fol­low on from your Guided Tour. All visi­tors gather out­side the ma­jes­tic carved meet­ing house where a chal­lenge en­sues - tra­di­tion­ally per­formed to de­ter­mine whether visi­tors are com­ing in peace or oth­er­wise. Ar­riv­ing in peace, you are wel­comed within the em­brace of the meet­ing house. Seated in stun­ning carved sur­round­ings

that de­pict his­tory and genealogy, the scene is set for a pas­sion­ate per­for­mance by the lo­cal group Te Pi­towhenua. A high-en­ergy de­liv­ery in­clud­ing poi twirling, stick throw­ing, heav­enly har­monies and a tra­di­tional haka will leave you spell­bound. Fil­ing out of the meet­ing house with smiles still plas­tered on faces young and old, one of the day’s high­lights is meet­ing the per­form­ers and tak­ing pho­tos with them.

Long sum­mer evenings in the Bay of Is­lands lend them­selves per­fectly to a Hangi and Con­cert at the Wai­tangi Treaty Grounds. The three hour Hangi and Con­cert com­bines the best of the day­time ex­pe­ri­ences - a condensed Guided Tour and 45 minute awein­spir­ing Cul­tural Per­for­mance; with a tra­di­tion­ally pre­pared and cooked din­ner buffet. Your night be­gins at the fully li­censed Whare Waka Café within the Treaty Grounds, pro­vid­ing a ca­su­ally charm­ing set­ting to mix and min­gle with a drink while your guide in­tro­duces your evening itin­er­ary. Mak­ing the most of the evening light you then gather around the mod­ern earth oven (hangi) to wit­ness the un­veil­ing of food. Leav­ing the Hangi Chefs to com­plete meal prepa­ra­tions, you head off on your Guided Tour of the grounds and Cul­tural Per­for­mance in the carved meet­ing house, be­fore re­turn­ing to de­vour the hangi buffet. Top­ping the evening off with a sub­stan­tial meal of sal­ads, veg­eta­bles, meats, stuff­ing, tra­di­tional breads and steamed pud­ding for desert, you will leave sat­is­fied af­ter your fun-filled taste (fig­u­ra­tively and quite lit­er­ally), of the Maori cul­ture.

Whether you choose to see the grounds your way or join an or­gan­ised ac­tiv­ity, it is hard to put into words the feel­ing of his­toric im­por­tance, kin­ship, iden­tity, cul­ture, beauty and pride that per­me­ates the ex­pan­sive grounds at Wai­tangi. All I can say is that from the iconic build­ings and unique sto­ries, to the breath tak­ing scenery - all New Zealand jour­neys should be­gin here, at the Wai­tangi Treaty Grounds.

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