The Waitangi National Trust will re-introduce an entry fee ($15) for New Zealanders who visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds as of this Saturday, but those who live within the Far North District will have a special deal.
They are welcome to collect a Friends of Waitangi card at the Treaty Grounds, in exchange for a small fee to cover the cost of producing the card, which will entitle them to unlimited free admission, guided tours and cultural performances, discounts at the Whare Waka Cafe and in the retail shop, and invitations to special events at the Treaty Grounds.
There will continue to be no charge for children up to the age of 18, who are accompanied by a parent or caregivers, and all New Zealanders will be admitted free over February 5-8.
Mayor John Carter is encouraging Far North residents of the district to buy a Friends of Waitangi Card, and promote the Treaty Grounds to family/whanau and friends.
"Far North residents are fortunate to live in a place that is unique, not just in New Zealand but the world," he said.
"Purchasing a Friends of Waitangi Card shows your desire to protect New Zealand's most famous historic site, and your commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi and the principle of Maori and non-Maori working together."
The trust received no operational funding from the government or any external source, and relied on visitor admissions to be self-sustaining and to cover the considerable cost of caring for and maintaining the Treaty Grounds to the standards expected by New Zealanders, CEO Greg McManus said.
"The trust is in the middle of a major programme to improve the visitor experience at the Treaty Grounds, and to enhance the educational programmes and interpretation available there," he added.
The introduction of admission fees for New Zealanders brought the Treaty Grounds in line with other historic and cultural attractions in the region, such as the Stone Store and Kemp House in Kerikeri, Pompallier in Russell and Te Waimate Mission. The entry for adult international visitors would remain at $25, with children up to the age of 18 free.
"The trust would love to continue offering all New Zealanders free access to New Zealand's most historic site, but with the effects of the global financial crisis still being felt, in terms of fewer international tourists, we can no longer rely on this sector to subsidise free admission for Kiwis," Mr McManus said.
"Most New Zealand heritage sites or places of national significance receive government funding to some extent, but Waitangi does not. To ensure Waitangi is more relevant to more New Zealanders, the trust will invest revenue from admissions in improving the visitor experience and enhancing the curatorial and educational services offered."
Over the last two years the trust had replaced or upgraded signage and interpretative material throughout the grounds, and construction would begin shortly on the new National Museum of Waitangi, which was expected to open in late 2016.
The Treaty Grounds received around 100,000 visitors a year, with another 40,000 on Waitangi Day. The trust aimed to increase those numbers considerably within the next five years, and had joined forces with Westpac in a drive to attract many more New Zealand school children.
New Zealanders were charged an admission fee from 1937 to 2008, when the decision was made to drop the charge in an effort to boost visitor numbers. That had initially been successful, Mr McManus said, but the downturn in international tourism from 2009 meant the trust could no longer rely solely on admissions revenue from overseas visitors.
He believed the new admission fee represented excellent value, especially as it included the choice of a free guided tour or cultural performance.
"We know that most Kiwis already expect to pay something when they visit Waitangi, so I am sure most will understand the need for the trust to be financially sustainable and to maintain the standards of care of the Treaty Grounds and the heritage buildings we are responsible for," he added.