In the 1830s British Resident James Busby believed a national flag would solve shipping problems, unite Māori and encourage collective government. Twenty-five northern chiefs met at Waitangi in 1834 and chose a flag. The flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand, as it was known, was an important recognition of New Zealand’s status as a nation before it became a British colony.
Welcome to the Treaty Grounds
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is the place where Māori chiefs first signed their accord with the British Crown – the Treaty of Waitangi – Te Tiriti of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document.
The Treaty Grounds feature the historic Treaty House, the magnificently carved meeting house and the world’s largest ceremonial war canoe. Enjoy strolling through one of New Zealand’s great beauty spots with its panoramic views of the Bay of Islands.Download a map of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds
The Treaty House
The Treaty House was originally known as ‘the Residency’. It is where James Busby conducted much of his official business as the British government’s representative in New Zealand from 1833 to 1840. It was also home for James and his wife Agnes and their six children.
The original house was pre-cut in Sydney of Australian hardwood and shipped to New Zealand for assembly on site in 1834. In 1840 it consisted of a parlour, or living room, one large bedroom, a central hall and a small dressing room. A separate building housed the kitchen, store room and servants’ room. Busby added three bedrooms at the back in 1841.
The house and its associated farm remained in the family’s possession until 1882, when the estate was sold. Over the next 50 years the house was neglected and became almost derelict. After the Bledisloe purchase in 1932 it underwent major restoration work, first in 1933, when it was named the Treaty House, and again in 1990.
Today you can see the original bedroom and parlour as they might have looked in 1840. In other rooms, an exhibition features everyday life in the Busby household, on the farm and around the Bay of Islands in the 1830s and 40s. Other displays tell the story of the gift of the Waitangi estate to the nation and the restoration of the house.
The Carved Meeting House
Te Whare Rūnanga (the House of Assembly) is a carved meeting house in traditional form but is a unique expression of its purpose. It stands facing the Treaty House, the two buildings together symbolising the partnership agreed between Māori and the British Crown, on which today’s Aotearoa New Zealand is founded.
The concept was proposed by Māori Member of Parliament for the north, Tau Henare, and Sir Apirana Ngata, then Minister of Maori Affairs, as a Māori contribution to the centenary celebrations. Carving began at Tau Henare’s home community of Motatau in 1934, and the house was opened on 6 February 1940 – 100 years after the first signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.
Meeting houses are symbols of tribal prestige and many embody a tribal ancestor. The head at the roof apex is the ancestor’s head, the ridgepole the backbone, the bargeboards the arms with the lower ends divided to represent fingers. Inside the rafters represent ribs, and the interior is the ancestor’s chest and belly.
Te Whare Rūnanga follows this form, but is not identified with any tribal ancestor. Rather, it represents the unity of Māori throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. This is emphasised by the main carving styles of iwi across the land being brought together – creating a remarkable gallery of Māori art, as well as a spectacular example of a central part of Māori social and cultural life.
The Ceremonial War Canoe
The waka house near Te Ana o Maikuku | Hobson Beach shelters the iwi Ngāpuhi’s ceremonial war canoe Ngātokimatawhaorua, the world’s largest. The 35-metre-long canoe needs a minimum of 76 paddlers to handle it safely on the water. It weighs 6 tonnes when dry and 12 tonnes when saturated.
The waka was built as part of Ngāpuhi’s contribution to mark the centenary of the Treaty of Waitangi’s signing. Work on the canoe began in 1937 and Ngātokimatawhaorua was launched in 1940. It was then laid up for 34 years in a canoe shelter alongside Te Whare Rūnanga.
In 1974, the waka was renovated for the Queen’s visit to Waitangi, and the shelter, Te Korowai o Maikuku, was built to house it near to shore. After the Queen’s voyage on Ngātokimatawhaorua, she designated it ‘Her Majesty’s Ship’, which makes the waka part of her Royal Navy.
The waka is launched every year on 6 February as part of Waitangi Day celebrations.
The flagstaff marks the spot where the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed on 6 February 1840. It was erected by the Royal New Zealand Navy in 1934 and replaced in 1946. The mast is 34 metres high. The navy is still responsible for its maintenance.
The flags flying are the three official flags that New Zealand has had since 1834 – the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand (the earliest), the Union Jack (from 1840) and the New Zealand flag (from 1902).
Te Ana o Maikuku | Hobson’s Beach
The original name for the beach in front of the waka house is Te Ana o Maikuku (Maikuku’s cave). Maikuku is a female ancestor of the area. The name Hobson Beach came from its being the landing site for Captain William Hobson, the British representative responsible for negotiations with Māori and for organising the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Today, the beach is used to launch the ceremonial war canoe every Waitangi Day.
Nias Track is the short trail leading from Te Ana o Maikuku | Hobson’s Beach up to the flagstaff lawn in front of the Treaty House and Te Whare Rūnanga. This was the route William Hobson and his party took when they landed at Waitangi and made their way to where the Treaty participants were assembled in 1840.
The track gets its name from Captain (later Admiral Sir) Joseph Nias, the commander of the Herald, the ship that brought Hobson to the Bay of Islands.
Whare Rūnanga: Meeting house.
Iwi: Extended kinship group, tribe, nation, people, nationality, race - often refers to a large group of people descended from a common ancestor.
Te Ana o Maikuku: The cave of Maikuku, the guardian of the waters of Waitangi.
Ngātokimatawhaorua: Ceremonial War Canoe.
Waka: Canoe, vehicle, conveyance, spirit medium, medium (of an atua).