Waitangi museum ready for opening

By Peter de Graaf -
A look inside the new Waitangi museum.
A look inside the new Waitangi museum.

The finishing touches are being applied to the new Museum of Waitangi ahead of its opening by Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae tomorrow.

The museum, the cornerstone of a $14 million redevelopment of the Treaty Grounds, will be blessed at dawn then formally opened by Sir Jerry at 3pm. Its Maori name will be revealed during the opening ceremony. Prime Minister John Key is also expected to attend.

Waitangi National Trust chief executive Greg McManus said going from concept plan to completed museum in less than two years was a remarkable achievement.

"Everything's coming together and it'll all be ready for the governor-general on Friday. It's looking fantastic and we'd encourage everyone to come and see it over the next few weeks."

The museum was built by Kaikohe firm Henwood Builders and designed by HB Architecture of Whangarei.

Architect Grant Harris' aim was for the two-storey building to become part of the landscape.

Pre-cast concrete panels forming its external walls carry shapes and textures based on the shadows cast by surrounding trees; the entrance columns are topped by bronze sculptures by Maori artist Carin Wilson.

The museum's long-term exhibition, Ko Waitangi Tenei/This is Waitangi, explores the relationship between Maori chiefs and the British Crown leading up to the Treaty and following the 1840 signing.

Many of the taonga on show are on loan from private collections and museums around New Zealand and as far away as London. They include a carved self-portrait by Hongi Hika from 1814, a christening set from Queen Victoria to her Ngapuhi godson, Goldie's portrait of Tamati Waka Nene, a copy of the first bilingual publication of the Treaty from 1844, and an engraved silver medal presented to Chief Te Pahi by the governor of Australia in 1806.

One thing visitors won't see is the original Treaty of Waitangi, which is stored at the National Archive in Wellington and is too fragile to be moved.

The latest addition to the museum is a pounamu touchstone which has been mounted near the entrance. A gift from South Island iwi Ngai Tahu, the 74kg greenstone boulder was found in a West Coast river and handed over by tribal elders last week.

Ngai Tahu kaumatua Kukupa Tirikatane said the kohatu was intended to help unite Aotearoa and the thousands of overseas visitors who would visit the new museum. Mr McManus hoped the exhibition would break down some of the pre-conceptions around Waitangi, most of which were formed by a few minutes of TV coverage each year as politicians arrived at Te Tii Marae.

"The point is to arm people with a little more knowledge. I want people to leave Waitangi as better New Zealanders," he said.

The museum will open to the public on Sunday.

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