Our history: Why a trip to Waitangi should be on everyone’s do-to list
Scouted Trips

Our history: Why a trip to Waitangi should be on everyone’s do-to list

Woman standing in front of waka


The literal translation of the whakataukī above is: “The canoe has everything in it bar nothing.” Today it’s often used as shorthand for “We’re all in this together,” which – for better or worse – Joanna Paul discovers to be true on her journey to Waitangi.

Waitangi is considered, hopefully by us all, as the pito (birthplace) of the nation. It’s a sacred place, in my mind, where we Māori gathered together with the British Empire’s representatives to find a peaceful way to co-exist, and so was birthed Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Although only a three-hour drive from our house in Auckland’s Ponsonby, it’s not a place I get to often – not often enough, as it turns out. Round a final corner and Paihia rushes up at you, and spread before you is the moana, heaving with watercraft of every size and shape, including the sweet old white ferry, numerous fishing-charter vessels, and super yachts.

I had dragged along my BFF hubby, a busy doctor who gratefully tucked away his stethoscope for a few days and followed me like a faithful Labrador donning a camera to document our adventures. We began on the wharf at Paihia – apparently named by Henry Williams, an early missionary and one of the Treaty’s translators. He once commented to his Māori guide that this place was “pai” here, meaning “good” here, and so Paihia it became.

At the very end of the wharf, we headed for the infamous Charlotte’s Kitchen. Charlotte Badger was a convict destined for Australia, having pocketed a guinea fowl and a silk handkerchief in her native UK, but she managed to persuade the crew to mutiny and instead set sail for the hellhole of the Pacific, or Kororareka, now known as Russell. The image of this lusty wench now overlooks the seafood fare with a flair at Paihia. Replete with kai moana – local oysters, sashimi and hapuka steak – we set off for Waitangi.

Today’s arrival is very different to that of my childhood memories. Now there’s a flash gateway and liveried guides. Ours was Rehupo Kara, a font of local knowledge, as one might expect from one whose tīpuna were Treaty signatories. With gusto, she navigated our way through the history of flora and fauna as kai, as rongoā (medicine) and as a haven for native birdlife – so noisy that the first newcomers to this particular shore often preferred to sleep aboard their ships so they could get a good night’s kip!

But it was the waka that took my breath away. The mightiest, Ngātokimatawhaorua, was hewn from three giant kauri trees and takes a hundred warriors to heave into the water.

Ngātokimatawhaorua waka at Waitangi

The mighty Ngātokimatawhaorua.


So artfully conceived is this magnificent vessel that it has been studied by international designers fascinated with its design, buoyancy controls and unique marine construction.

A short stroll took us up to the treaty grounds, where James Busby’s Aussie kitset home sits next to Te Whare Rūnanga.

James Busby’s Treaty House at Waitangi

James Busby’s Treaty House, shipped in pieces from Australia in the 1830s, faces north...


As I stood there listening to the haka and waiata of the local people, I realised the wharenui was facing south, unlike any other I’d seen, which invariably face east to catch the rising sun and wake the people slumbering within. Rehupo explained this was a deliberate placement by the tangata whenua so the two houses could face each other and allow discourse to continue through the ages.

Te Whare Rūnanga at Waitangi

...while Te Whare Rūnanga faces south to keep dialogue open.


Rehupo also shared her version of Waitangi’s origin, and I loved it. Maikuku, the puhi (sacred daughter) of local chief Uenuku was sent to live in a cave called Te Ana o Maikuku on Waitangi’s foreshore. Her father was convinced this was the only solution to save her purity from the heathen whalers, conmen and new immigrants who were gambling, fighting and prostituting in the area. Oral tradition tells us her crying could be heard across the waters, and thus the area was baptised “Waitangi”, meaning “weeping waters”. You’ll have to do the tour to find out what happened to the dear young puhi.

Maori carving at Waitangi


Make sure to visit the two new museums. Te Rau Aroha commemorates the Northern tribes’ efforts as part of the Māori Battalion, and award-winning Te Kōngahu explores New Zealand’s relationship with the treaty from 1840 through to the present day.

It’s worth taking your time here, but for me, Waitangi still very much exudes a feeling of sacredness and friction; a delicate balance between the Crown and the tangata whenua of Aotearoa. It seemed almost comically apt that when we stepped beneath the flagpole, erected on the very site of the signing of the Treaty, New Zealand’s flag was missing.

Flag at Waitangi


This is no time to be nicking flags, people – after all, “He waka eke noa”!

After a big day, our refuge that night was the colonial Duke of Marlborough Hotel on Russell’s waterfront, its magnificent kauri staircase and antiques blending with a plethora of artwork by favoured local artist Lester Hall. We could not have asked for a better ending to the day – seated on the verandah, eating outstanding ika mata (a raw fish dish), watching the sun sink behind the treaty grounds across the water as locals skipped stones with their kids on the beach.

Next morning, the hubby set off early to join a Spot X fishing charter, from which he would return with the makings of much more ika mata, courtesy of one of the bay’s best fishermen, Wayne Henderson, who practices conservation techniques with a kind reverence but is not shy to help pull in a 5kg snapper.

Me, I went off to pick up Te Hurihanga Rihari, a Ngā Puhi rangatira, who had agreed to share some of the stories of his tīpuna and whenua.

Tarseal and a hardscrabble road take you 30 minutes out of Kerikeri and around to the 50ha Rangihoua Heritage Park on the Purerua Peninsula.

The Rore Kāhu visitor centre at Rangihoua Heritage Park at Waitangi

The Rore Kāhu visitor centre at Rangihoua Heritage Park.


More than 500 years ago, Te Hurihanga’s iwi, Ngati Torehina, first landed their waka here at Hohi Bay, where a white cross now stands to commemorate Samuel Marsden’s first Christmas service in New Zealand.

White cross at Hohi Bay at Waitangi

The cross at Hohi Bay.


The cross is a sore point for many, me included. Why a symbol of missionary Christianity (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) when the local Māori are not permitted to erect a memory to recognise to their waka landing?

On one hand, I am so very happy we have a treaty and that early colonisers recognised a need to try to develop peacefully alongside each other. But this sacred land is only part of the original 4000ha of iwi land. I always have a tangi when standing on a piece of precious whenua like Rangihoua; I realise how much land has been taken or “sold” or stolen from the tangata whenua and how, even today, we Māori are told what we can or can’t do on our own paepae. It’s the reason I joined the hikoi, the tino rangatiratanga marches, why I learnt te reo (which I was not brought up with) and why I reconnected with my own people.

I’m Ngai Te Rangi, and our rangatira, Tupaea, said no to signing the Treaty. Despite this, we were treated like so many other Māori, with tens of thousands of acres taken from us and our subsequent marginalisation. Our maunga is Mauao (Mt Maunganui), and I love seeing people walking or climbing it, watching it breathe and provide the same comfort to others as it does to me, but we have to share it with almost 10 other entities, including the campground!

These days I believe it should be “in partnership” with the locals , as the Treaty says, not “in consultation with”, but I also believe in “He waka eke noa”.

Te Hurihanga, my gentle, peaceful guide, lives by this creed.

Te Hurihanga Rihari at Waitangi

Te Hurihanga Rihari.


He doesn’t see that white cross when he gazes lovingly across his lands. He sees instead the highest peak, Mataka, where he tells of his ancestors meeting the Atua (the mighty god) with fire in his eyes.

Tree on top of hill at Waitangi


He sees the stream whose waters have a distinctive blue tinge and are known as Te Puna Tane o Waiora – literally the life-giving waters of man.

Bird's eye view of Waitangi shoreline


And finally he sees Rangihoua, the sacred name, not of the whole area, but just the distinctive topknot of the pā site.

For his people, this site represents the place where the heavens and earth meet, and it’s sobering to stand here beside him. The Treaty’s spirit of cooperation and hope may not always have been borne out by the reality, but Te Hurihanga is still grateful to be able to walk in his tīpuna’s footsteps and to share it with so many locals and visitors. He is keeping the waka steady.

Next morning, after experiencing the outstanding manaakitanga at the luxurious have-to-see-it-to-believe-it Donkey Bay Inn, we farewelled the Bay of Islands with a promise not to wait so long before we return – and next time we’ll bring the kids.

Donkey Bay at Waitangi

The beautiful Donkey Bay.


It’s complicated, I know, but I look forward to piling in the waka and paying homage once more to Waitangi, the pito of our nation.

The lowdown


  • Rangihoua Heritage Park
  • Spot X fishing charter
  • Waitangi Treaty Grounds


  • Donkey Bay Inn
  • Duke of Marlborough Hotel
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