The Waitangi flagstaff marks the spot where the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed on 6 February 1840.
The flags that fly today are the three official flags New Zealand has had since 1834 – Te Kara, the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand (from 1834-present), the Union flag (from 1840-1902), and the New Zealand flag (from 1902-present).
The first flagstaff was gifted to James Busby by Ngāpuhi chief Hōne Heke Pōkai. This was later shifted to Kororāreka (now known as the township of Russell, across the bay). In 1934 a flagstaff was erected by the Royal New Zealand Navy, replaced in 1947, and the Navy remains the caretaker of the current flagstaff to this day.
The wood for the flagstaff was donated by the Gisbourne Sheepfarmers’ Company Limited, the Kauri Timber Company Limited and the Lands Department. When it was discovered that the main mast was rotting, the Royal New Zealand Navy replaced the flagstaff in 1947. The kauri to construct the 34-metre tall flagstaff was sourced from the Government Puketi Forest and the new masts were made onsite at the Treaty Grounds under the supervision of Robert Coutts who was working on repopulating the Grounds with native plants. The Navy remains the caretaker of the current flagstaff to this day and is present every year on Waitangi Day.
New Zealand’s first flag was chosen at a meeting of chiefs at Waitangi on 20 March 1834, to ensure that ships built and owned by people in New Zealand would be recognised by other nations. British resident James Busby invited Māori leaders to choose one of three designs for the flag. This flag, known as Te Kara o Te Whakaminenga o Ngā Hapū o Niu Tireni (the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand) now flies on the northern yardarm of the flagstaff. Britain’s acceptance of this flag showed the country was now internationally regarded as an independent nation and allowed New Zealand ships to sail and trade internationally without accusations of piracy.
The flagstaff carries Te Kara to the north, the British Union flag to the south and New Zealand's national flag in the centre. When the Governor-General is present at Waitangi, their standard flies above the New Zealand flag.