A Northland tourist attraction and historic site has won one of New Zealand's most prestigious tourism awards.

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds won the Visitor Experience Award in the 2017 New Zealand Tourism Awards, beating two much bigger finalists - Skyline Rotorua and NZ Rentals - in the same category.

The Treaty Grounds took home the Maori Tourism Award at the 2016 event but the latest win is another step up and one of the highest accolades available in the $35-billion-a-year industry.

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It comes five years after chief executive Greg McManus, former head of Rotorua Museum, took the helm and steered the Treaty Grounds in a new direction.

Since then the Museum of Waitangi has opened, the visitors centre has been rebuilt, a carving centre has opened, and improved cultural performances have shifted to Te Whare Runanga (the carved meeting house). Currently the displays inside the Treaty House are undergoing a major revamp.

Mr McManus said he was delighted with the recognition from the industry.

"I'm especially pleased for all our staff who come to work each day with the goal of delivering a fantastic experience for our visitors. We have a lot of new ideas in the pipeline so we'll keep going with confidence towards our goal of being a world-class visitor destination," he said.

The winners were announced at a black-tie dinner in Christchurch on Thursday night. Dive! Tutukaka was a finalist in the Business Excellence Award for companies with turnover of less than $6 million, a category won by Auckland Seaplanes. Auckland-based Haka Tourism Group won this year's supreme award.