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Occupying a headland draped in lawns and bush, this is NZ's most significant historic site. Here, on 6 February 1840, after much discussion, the first 43 Māori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi with the British Crown; eventually, over 500 chiefs would sign it. Admission incorporates a guided tour and spirited cultural performance, and entry to the Museum of Waitangi, the Whare Rūnanga (carved meeting house) and the historic Treaty House.
Opened in 2016, Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi is a modern and comprehensive showcase of the role of the treaty in the past, present and future of Aotearoa New Zealand. It provides a warts-and-all look at the early interactions between Māori and Europeans, the events leading up to the treaty's signing, the long litany of treaty breaches by the Crown, the wars and land confiscations that followed, and the protest movement that led to the current process of redress for historic injustices. Many taonga (treasures) associated with Waitangi were previously scattered around NZ, and this excellent museum is now a repository for a number of key historical items. One room is devoted to facsimiles of all the key documents, while another screens a fascinating short film dramatising the events of the initial treaty signing.
The Treaty House was shipped over as a kit-set from Australia and erected in 1834 as the four-room home of the official British Resident James Busby. It's now preserved as a memorial and museum containing displays about the house and the people who lived here. Just across the lawn, the magnificently detailed Whare Rūnanga was completed in 1940 to mark the centenary of the treaty. The fine carvings represent the major Māori tribes. It's here that the cultural performances take place, starting with a haka pōwhiri (challenge and welcome) and then heading inside for waiata (songs) and spine-tingling haka (war dances).
Near the cove is the 35m, 6-tonne waka taua (war canoe) Ngātokimatawhaorua, also built for the centenary. A photographic exhibit details how it was fashioned from gigantic kauri logs. There's also an excellent gift shop selling Māori art and design, with a carving studio attached.
Tours leave on the hour from 10am to 3pm. Admission is discounted to $25 for NZ residents upon presentation of a passport or driver's licence.