The birthplace of NZ (as opposed to Aotearoa), Waitangi inhabits a special but somewhat complex place in the national psyche – aptly demonstrated by the mixture of celebration, commemoration, protest and apathy that accompanies the nation’s birthday (Waitangi Day, 6 February).
It was here that the long-neglected and much-contested Treaty of Waitangi was first signed between Māori chiefs and the British Crown, establishing British sovereignty or something a bit like it, depending on whether you’re reading the English or Māori version of the document. If you’re interested in getting to grips with NZ’s history and race relations, this is the place to start.
Joined to Waitangi by a bridge, Paihia would be a fairly nondescript coastal town if it wasn’t the main entry point to the Bay of Islands. If you're not on a tight budget, catch a ferry to Russell, which is prettier but much quieter.