Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae has performed his last official duty at Waitangi by opening a multimillion-dollar museum that tells the story of the Treaty.
The Museum of Waitangi, the cornerstone of a $14 million redevelopment of the Treaty Grounds, was blessed at dawn yesterday followed by a 3pm opening attended by more than 200 guests and dignitaries.
Two of the exhibits stood out for Sir Jerry - one was a reproduction of the Treaty on which he was able to find the name of his ancestor, Te Hapuku, who signed the Treaty in Hawke's Bay 176 years earlier; the other was a 3.5m-high painting of Queen Victoria which used to hang at his official residence in Wellington.
Sir Jerry admitted he had been reluctant to see the painting go but was "absolutely delighted" it was now in its rightful place. It was originally donated to the Treaty Grounds by Queen Elizabeth II but at the time there was no building big enough to take it.
Sir Jerry said whatever disappointment and trouble had followed the signing of the Treaty, Waitangi was still the place where the partnership began and where the Treaty's future would continue.
"My hope is that this will become a place every New Zealander, whatever their origins, sets out to visit," he said.
At the dawn blessing, the museum was given the name Te Kongahu, a Ngapuhi word for an unborn child and a metaphor for a nation conceived at Waitangi.
Other exhibits include a carved self-portrait by Hongi Hika from 1814, a christening set from Queen Victoria to her Ngapuhi godson, and an engraved silver medal presented to Chief Te Pahi by the governor of Australia in 1806.
The trust tried to get the original Treaty but its minders at the National Archive said it was too fragile to move.
Waitangi National Trust chairman Pita Paraone said going from concept to completed museum in two years was "no mean feat". He paid tribute to the locals who had designed and built it - Grant Harris of HB Architecture in Whangarei and Henwood Builders of Kaikohe - and the "world-class" exhibition created by Wellington firm Workshop E.
The new museum would contribute to the Bay of Islands' economy by providing a badly needed wet-weather attraction and employing local people.
Northland Inc boss David Wilson said the museum would become one of the country's most important cultural and heritage tourism magnets.
The opening came just a day after the Government pledged $4 million for Whangarei's Hundertwasser Art Centre, which he said showed the kind of change that was happening in Northland.
Prime Minister John Key was to have attended the opening but he was replaced by Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce.
Also at the opening were Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Maggie Barry, Labour leader Andrew Little, Chief of Defence Force Tim Keating, master waka-builder Hekenukumai Busby and Ngapuhi scholar Patu Hohepa.
The museum will open to the public from Sunday. Sir Jerry's five-year term ends later this year so this was his last visit to Waitangi as Governor-General.
The bulk of the $14 million came from funders such as Lottery Grants Board and Foundation North, with contributions from the Government and the trust's own reserves.