Waitangi, Home of the Treaty

4th April, Waitangi, New Zealand

Ian writes:

Having done the Bay of Islands trip out to see the dolphins and 'The Hole in the Rock', we weren't sure how much else there would be to do in the area - the boat trip is the reason to go to this area, by all accounts. Thankfully, there was more to do, and we even surprised ourselves as we ended up spending a whole day in the area without just sitting there twiddling our thumbs or sitting at a beachside café watching the tides roll in or out.

Historic Waitangi

Just up the road from Paihia - literally a 5-minute drive - is Waitangi. This may not mean much to a lot of people, but for New Zealanders this is one of the most important places in the country, more important, even, than the home ground of the All Blacks (actually, some may disagree on that one). Why is this so? When the English started showing up in New Zealand back in the 1800s, some 1,000 years after the Maoris first settled from other Pacific islands, so too did a whole bunch of French and Americans, all of them with a keen eye on the whaling trade and anything else that took their fancy. The English managed to convince Maori tribal leaders that it was best for them to sign up to a treaty that would essentially give New Zealand to the British and in return the British would promise its protection against the French or whomever else was deemed a pest. In my opinion, it was a case of: "Well, we're here, we're staying, and you better accept it or else."

The local Maori chiefs didn't immediately warm to the idea, but in 1840 the deal was done, and New Zealand was officially deemed a British colony. Since then, the Waitangi treaty has essentially become 'the constitution', the document upon which modern day NZ is based. It's a guideline for co-existence which seems to have worked reasonably well, up to a point (apparently there have been rumblings of discontent about just how much the treaty is used in favour of Maoris, for example land claims, but that's just politics that I don't really understand or appreciate).

That's the history lesson over - now we were in Waitangi to take a look around Treaty House (where the British representatives who helped prepare/deliver the treaty on behalf of Queen Victoria lived) and at some other Maori pieces of interest, namely a 30m canoe and a meeting house.

The war canoe was the largest of it's type that I'd seen so far. This was the second one I'd seen, heh! Seriously, though, it is the largest war canoe in the world and was carved out of two huge kauri trees to mark the 1940 centenial celebrations of the treaty's signing. Next to the canoe was one of the kauri tree stumps which showed just how wide these trees can grow.

After looking at the war canoe, we headed over towards Treaty House, which had at one point been allowed to decay quite badly, but had been lovingly restored many years ago.

One of the rooms inside Treaty House had this on display. We weren't hungry, though, so we carried on through ... (PS the pig's not real, before I get angry emails!)

Out in front and to the side of the house is the Maori meeting house with no name. Unlike most meeting houses, this is not linked to one given tribe, hence no name, and its carvings are representative of many different tribes. Not being able to take in these fine details, we amused ourselves by standing next to the carvings and pulling faces at the camera.

Ian doing the Maori tongue sticky-out thing.

Haruru Falls and Russell

Our next stop was just up the road (again) from Waitangi, a place called Haruru falls. Yes, it was another waterfall, and yes, if you have been reading these updates for a while you might know that we've seen a few of these already. Still, no harm in looking at another, eh? See, this is the problem - we see a brown sign at a road junction, signifying that there's a tourist-friendly thing to see - and we have to take a look. While we may have seen lots of falls, what if we did get all blazé about it and decided to give it a miss, and what if it turned out to be the best waterfall in New Zealand? So, we took a look. And no, it wasn't. The lonely planet described it as 'attractive rather than spectacular'.

Haruru Falls - Attractive, not spectacular.

We then doubled back on ourselves, passing through Waitangi and Paihia once more (not a huge distance) and on through to Opua, a place that offers a car ferry service across to Russell. The latter is a place that is now sold as a quiet little getaway (like Paihia is some kind of downtown urban hell, ha, as if!) but it was not always like this. Charles Darwin, who knew a bit about civilisation as I recall, described it in 1835 as being 'full of the refuse of society'. The 'hell hole of the Pacific' was another popular moniker for the town. It's definitely had an upturn in its fortunes though - the bullet holes in the church are easily over a hundred years old. We felt safe enough to stay for some lunch, but bored enough not to want to stay any longer.

We got back in the car, and headed back across the water to Paihia where we ended up just around the corner from the hostel from our previous two nights.