Prince Charles has acknowledged the wrongs and hurt suffered by Māori in a wide-ranging and much-anticipated speech at Waitangi.

Speaking during the first royal visit to the Treaty Grounds in 25 years, the heir to throne — and the great-great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria, who signed the Treaty almost 180 years ago — praised New Zealanders for the way they had ''faced up to the most painful periods of her past in a way that offers an example to the rest of the world''.

''The Treaty settlements do not, and cannot, right all the wrongs of the past. They can only go so far in easing the pain that has been felt by so many people.''

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The future king's speech was the most serious note in what was a festive day, lifted further by glorious weather — a contrast to the incesant rain of the Auckland leg of the six-day tour by Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

More than 500 people gathered at the Treaty Grounds for a glimpse of the Royal Couple. Photo / John Stone
More than 500 people gathered at the Treaty Grounds for a glimpse of the Royal Couple. Photo / John Stone

More than 500 people waited at the Treaty Grounds for a glimpse of the royals, who were given a formal welcome with three challenges by Ngāpuhi warriors and a spine-tingling haka pōwhiri backed up by students from half a dozen Northland schools.

Prince Charles accepted the last of the challenges, picking up the take or dart offered by Whangārei's Isaiah Apiata, before the couple was seated on the porch of Te Whare Rūnanga (the carved meeting house).

Royal fan Victoria Howells, centre, was just a girl when she gave flowers to Lady Diana at Waitangi in 1983. Photo / John Stone
Royal fan Victoria Howells, centre, was just a girl when she gave flowers to Lady Diana at Waitangi in 1983. Photo / John Stone

Other speakers included Ngāti Hine's Waihoroi Shortland, who self-deprecating tales and memories of past royal visits had Prince Charles wiping tears of laughter from his eyes.

The royals brought with them a fine flax cloak, or korowai, gifted to Queen Victoria by Ngāpuhi chief Reihana Takauwau on a visit to England in 1863. The 2.6m-long cloak will be loaned to the Museum of Waitangi.

Warriors perform a spirited haka powhiri as the Royal Couple arrives at the Treaty Grounds. Photo / John Stone
Warriors perform a spirited haka powhiri as the Royal Couple arrives at the Treaty Grounds. Photo / John Stone

The crowd listened intently throughout the Prince's 13-minute speech, which also touched on the sacrifice made by the Māori Battalion at Monte Cassino in World War II and welcomed a recent government decision to teach New Zealand history in schools.

The Prince also said how pleased he was to be able to bring his wife to a place with such historical significance and where his family had been so warmly welcomed in the past.

Kawakawa Primary School students perform an enthusiastic haka for the Royal Couple. Photo / John Stone
Kawakawa Primary School students perform an enthusiastic haka for the Royal Couple. Photo / John Stone

Earlier Waitangi National Trust chairman Pita Tipene had said he wasn't expecting an apology for wrongs against Māori since 1840, but he was hoping for a statement building on recent ''expressions of regret'' by representatives of the British Crown — including by British High Commissioner Laura Clarke in Gisborne last month.

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Tipene said the Prince's speech referred to a promise, which told Māori how the Prince, and his family, viewed the Treaty.

''He also intimated that the promise has been unfulfilled, and that moves have been made to reconcile the differences since 1840. So I liked what I heard and I think it's a step in the right direction as we head to the 200th anniversary in 2040,'' Tipene said.

Prince Charles shares a hongi with Ngapuhi matriarch Titewhai Harawira while the Duchess of Cornwall shares a chuckle with Dame Naida Glavish of Ngati Whatua. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Prince Charles shares a hongi with Ngapuhi matriarch Titewhai Harawira while the Duchess of Cornwall shares a chuckle with Dame Naida Glavish of Ngati Whatua. Photo / Peter de Graaf

After the formalities the Prince planted a pohutukawa not far from where his mother had planted one in 1953, was shown the under-construction 28th Māori Battalion Museum, checked out the great waka Ngātokimatawhaorua while children from Kawakawa Primary School performed waiata, and visited the Museum of Waitangi.

In particular he wanted to see a christening set given by Queen Victoria to her Māori godson, Albert Victor Pomare.

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, hongis the great waka Ngatokimatawhaorua. Photo / John Stone
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, hongis the great waka Ngatokimatawhaorua. Photo / John Stone

A huge police operation included a helicopter trailing the royal motorcade and a sniffer dog giving the grounds a last-minute check before the couple arrived, but the day passed smoothly — barring the inevitable time over-runs — with no reports of trouble.

Later the Prince visited Queenstown Resort College's Tai Tokerau campus in Paihia, where he mingled with young, mostly Māori entrepreneurs taking part in a Prince's Trust programme aimed at helping young people into business.

Prince Charles has an animated conversation about coffee with young entrepreneur Jessica Nilsson, from Dargaville, at Queenstown Resort College's Tai Tokerau campus in Paihia. Photo / P de Graaf
Prince Charles has an animated conversation about coffee with young entrepreneur Jessica Nilsson, from Dargaville, at Queenstown Resort College's Tai Tokerau campus in Paihia. Photo / P de Graaf

Students he chatted to included Jessica Nilsson of Dargaville, who is planning a mobile food truck offering coffee and crepes in Paihia. The discussion grew quite animated when the Prince asked her about the best variety of coffee.

''He was really chilled, he was amazing to talk to,'' she said.

Prince Charles wrapped up his whirlwind Northland visit with a meet-and-greet in Paihia, where about 200 people had gathered on Selwyn Rd hoping to see him, and a tour of Paihia Fire Station.

Prince Charles chats to volunteers John Ashton, Hayden Barker and Lara Thorne at Paihia Fire Station. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Prince Charles chats to volunteers John Ashton, Hayden Barker and Lara Thorne at Paihia Fire Station. Photo / Peter de Graaf

There volunteer firefighters took him through a series of action stations illustrating the kind of rescues they carry out.

Meanwhile, the Duchess of Cornwall headed to Kerikeri Primary School, about 30 minutes' drive away.

Principal Sarah Brown said hosting the Duchess, who planted a royal gala tree and met the school's environmental leaders, was ''an amazing opportunity''.

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, is taken on a tour of the Kerikeri Primary School garden. Photo / Jenny Ling
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, is taken on a tour of the Kerikeri Primary School garden. Photo / Jenny Ling

Students performed a waiata and gave her a tour of the school gardens.

Earlier this year the school won an Enviroschools bronze award for its recycling programme, pig buckets, and Garden to Table programme in which the children grow their own vegetables and learn how to cook them.

The couple flew out of Kerikeri airport late yesterday. They have a rest day today and will resume their tour in Christchurch on Friday.