I promised a couple of days ago that I would share some more pictures from my time spent this past week in the far North at Waitangi, for the annual commemoration of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Having left the camera at home, I had to make do with my cellphone, so the results aren’t the best, but they give at least a flavour of time in this special place…
The above is the view from where I was staying – as you can see it was quite lovely. The Waitangi Bridge which can be seen in the photo above, is a one-way bridge between Kerikeri and Paihia (the larger settlements in the Bay of Islands) with the area where the Waitangi Treaty Grounds are located. On one side of the bridge, a local marae (Maori meeting house) is located – “the lower marae” and on the other side, another marae is located, un-originally dubbed “the upper marae”. These two buildings form the focal point of Waitangi Day commemorations. Activities the day before Waitangi Day are focussed on political meetings, between Maori and the Crown, and events hosted by the Governor-General at the Treaty Grounds, with a highlight being the “Beat the Retreat” by the Royal New Zealand Navy Band, during the Ceremonial Sunset Ceremony. The repertoire of songs featured amazing dancing, drumming and performances of New Zealand classics such as Pokare Kare Ana mixed up with contemporary numbers (including one song with an incredible saxophone solo which had everyone cheering!). As the flag is lowered on the Treaty Grounds and the sun sets, most people settle in for an early night with the prospect of an early morning ahead.
On Waitangi Day itself, a dawn service is held – commencing at 5:15am.
Above you can see the upper marae – this is located on the Treaty grounds, which is a stunning spot on the edge of the sea, which looks out into the Bay of Islands. The dawn service is held inside and outside the marae, with the service attended by politicians such as the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, leaders of various faiths and ethnic groups, and anyone who makes the effort to be there at that hour! I was impressed that this included a smattering of travellers from far-flung corners of Europe (many of whom had bundled up in sleeping bags and blankets, cocooning themselves from the chill of the dawn-air!). Surrounded by beautiful old native and foreign trees, the setting is dramatic and a strong sense of occasion hangs in the air. As the service moved to its final stages, the blackness of the night gave way to the pre-dawn with the sky becoming a deep, dark blue. As it became easier to see into the depths of the shadows, I was reminded what an amazing time of day the pre-dawn is, especially in a setting such as this.
Soon enough, set to the sound of a lone bagpiper underneath the mighty flagstaff, we were treated to a beautiful sunrise across the sea, silhouetting the islands scattered across the bay.
As the sunrise gave way to a perfectly still, sunny, clear day, I saw the waka being moved to the waterside and reflected that Waitangi Day spent in Waitangi is an experience I will always remember. In fact I left with the feeling that I would encourage all New Zealanders – of any ethnic background – to experience a Waitangi Day spent at Waitangi at least once. Making the effort to be part of this day in our country’s history at this beautiful spot, and to experience all that goes with the commemorations – even the dawn service – is something absolutely worthwhile, and may even give a new perspective on what for many of us is simply just another public holiday.
Photos by CIA, Waitangi, Bay of Islands, New Zealand, 6 February 2013.