Waitangi Day is a public holiday held on 6 February every year to commemorate the signing of New Zealand’s founding document – the Treaty of Waitangi – in 1840.
The national holiday was first declared in 1974, and since then has grown in significance for all New Zealanders through the Māori renaissance that has fostered better understanding of the Treaty’s ramifications.
Official celebrations are held at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in the Bay of Islands, Northland, but there are also many other events throughout the country.
Māori cultural performances, speeches from Māori and Pakeha (European) dignitaries, and a naval salute are all part of the annual activities at Waitangi.
The Ngatokimatawhaorua, one of the world’s largest Māori ceremonial waka (war canoe), sits on the grounds at Waitangi. The 70-year-old waka was refurbished and re-launched for the 2010 celebrations. The enormous wooden vessel, with room for 80 paddlers and 55 passengers, is an impressive sight on the water.
Waitangi also hosts a three-day festival that includes music, dance, food and traditional Māori customs.
In Auckland – New Zealand’s largest city – the national day is celebrated at the city’s birthplace, Okahu Bay Domain. It was there, in 1841, that Auckland Māori chiefs invited Governor Hobson to create the city. On Waitangi Day, classic sailing yachts, waka and contemporary boats arrive at Okahu Bay to a traditional Māori haka powhiri / welcome ceremony.
Wellington – the nation’s capital – holds an event that celebrates Waitangi Day by recognising New Zealand’s cultural diversity. At Waitangi Park on the city’s waterfront, different cultures celebrate their nationhood with a mix of entertainment, arts and crafts, and food.
In geothermal Rotorua, Waitangi Day is commemorated at Whakarewarewa – a living Māori village – with an event known as ‘Whakanuia’. This Māori word means ‘to acknowledge, promote and celebrate’, and the day’s activities centre on learning about Māori cultural activities, including indigenous kai / food, crafts, Māori medicine, local legends and history.
Elsewhere, Waitangi Day celebrations cover all sorts of occasions from major sporting events to rodeos, and even a ‘cheese-rolling’ competition.