My Waitangi Day experience began unexpectedly on Wednesday night when I was walking near the shoreline and heard a faint waiata from out at sea. Before long a large waka came around the point and into the bay.
Two others followed, the crew chanting and paddling in unison. It may have been practice for the main event which was thwarted yesterday by wind and rain.
I was drawn to Waitangi this year for the first time as I'm about to move overseas, and one of the few things I wanted to experience before I left was Waitangi Day in the Far North. I was later asked to share some of my reflections from the day.
Remarking on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds' historical significance might sound like a truism, but being flanked by Busby's house on one side and the flagpole bearing (among others) the 1835 flag of the United Tribes on the other made me reflect on the formative events of nationhood that have gone down at Waitangi.
I was surprised to learn that this year is the bicentennial of the Christian faith in New Zealand.
The karakia at the dawn service acknowledged the instrumental role that the CMS (Church Missionary Society) played from the early contact period, through to translating the Treaty and travelling further afield to collect signatures.
The most surprising part of the day was the variety of activities on offer: everything from learning how to weave a flax ki, to live music and kapa haka, and a lively marketplace with food and local wares. I was heartened by the variety of people from different walks of life braving the weather to get among the activities in and around the Treaty Grounds. Perhaps the weather might have made this a more subdued occasion than in previous years, but my overall impression was that the political fanfare is just a fragment of what Waitangi Day is about.
The hui and ceremonial events that take place outside of that arena create a sense of occasion, accompanied by a mood of goodwill and togetherness. Celebrating what is unique to Aotearoa New Zealand has been a fitting farewell to this country and an experience I strongly endorse.