The Waitangi Treaty Grounds has been declared the most significant cultural and historic site in New Zealand.

Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Grant Robertson announced, at Waitangi yesterday, it is the country's first Te Pitowhenu, National Historic Landmark.

At a ceremony in the beautiful, carved and woven-panelled wharenui in the Treaty Grounds, it was also revealed the same organisations which had worked together to elevate the historic site to the highest status in the land, were now working toward seeing it declared a Unesco World Heritage site.

Waitangi National Trust chairman Pita Tipene told the gathering "that is the next step".

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"It would be fantastic if our Prime Minister could announce the Waitangi Treaty Grounds had achieved the status of Unesco World Heritage Site when she's here on February 6 next year," Tipene said.

Meanwhile, the National Historic Landmark title was "a huge deal for the Waitangi Trust, the Bay of Islands, Northland and our whole nation."

Tipene also said the new Landmark status was further recognition that the Treaty of Waitangi was "a living document through which all New Zealanders could express themselves and which contained the essence of what a bi-cultural future could look like".

Tipene said that while the Treaty was a symbol of enduring nationhood, Waitangi's role in the creation of the new country began before that historic signing — with the Declaration of the Independence signed by a number of Māori chiefs in 1835.

The programme to establish National Historic Landmarks was introduced by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, to help protect the country's defining moments in time and the special places that are the cornerstones of national identity.

Robertson said there was a list of other important sites that might also one day be given National Historic Landmark status, but no other place was as significant a cornerstone of the nation than the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

"Today we're making history again, one more time at Waitangi."

He said Waitangi, and other sites to be considered in the future, were often at the heart of important and sometimes challenging discussions and events that have shaped the country's past and will influence its future.

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Kuia Billie Taituha and Government minister Grant Robertson hongi.
Kuia Billie Taituha and Government minister Grant Robertson hongi.

Chief executive of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, Andrew Coleman said that as a nation New Zealand was beholden to offer the greatest protection to its most important sites.

Representatives of Bay of Islands hapu, the Government, Waitangi National Trust and Treaty Grounds staff, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga and its Māori Council had worked together to see it become the first National Historic Landmark.

Minister for Māori Development Nanaia Mahuta said places such as Waitangi have deep significance to New Zealanders and needed the highest level of safeguarding.

A key objective of National Historic Landmarks was to help prioritise the Government's heritage conservation efforts, including developing long-term risk planning and management to protect them.

Following discussions with site owners, iwi and the community, further Landmarks will be identified and added to the programme, Mahuta said.