Aucklanders do not know their history very well, though it is all around them. Even an organiser of today's Anniversary Day regatta did not get it quite right in a letter recently when he suggested it began as a celebration of the Treaty of Waitangi. New Zealand's provincial anniversaries were established in an era when, regrettably, the Treaty was barely acknowledged and its anniversaries were not a national holiday.

The founding of Auckland should properly be observed in September but the founders soon decided January 29 would be more pleasant - and who is complaining? Once Waitangi Day became a holiday too, the province happily embraced two Mondays off in succession. This week and next are typically the warmest weeks of New Zealand's whole year, with the most reliable weather for a summer event.

But the weather must have been fine on that September day in 1840 when emissaries of Governor Hobson completed their negotiations with Ngati Whatua for the capital of the new colony to be established on the Waitemata. Chief Apihai Te Kawau had issued the invitation to Hobson at Waitangi in February and the governor sent surveyors south to recommend a suitable site.

They chose the bay that offered the best site for a port, anchoring at a spot near what is now the end of Queens Wharf. They came ashore on a beach that is now Fort Street. They purchased a wedge of land with its apex at Mount Eden and its harbour frontage extending from Parnell to Cox's Creek. The price paid in tools and clothing looks paltry now but the items had immense scarcity value for Maori at that time. Even more valuable for host tribes, though, were the expected economic benefits of European trade.

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When the purchase was agreed, the settlers raised the Union Jack on the headland they soon called Point Britomart and that afternoon, history records, they held a regatta on the Waitemata. Ngati Whatua were invited to take part and waka were among the ship's boats and small craft that took part. That was the beginning of a fine tradition that will be seen again today.

Point Britomart was later bulldozed to provide the fill for reclaiming Commercial Bay but it is still easy to see its original shoreline, as it is for Freemans Bay, reclaimed as Victoria Park, and to the east, Mechanics Bay where the central railway station was built on reclaimed land. All that land is now owned by Ngati Whatua, recognising the supplies they brought to the colonial settlement by canoes from Orakei and sold on the beach that is now Anzac Avenue.

As the settler population grew, so did tensions over its demand for land. Auckland was briefly the capital of a province comprising the entire upper North Island, most of it still in Maori ownership until the military invasion of the Waikato and King Country. Everywhere north of Taupo shares the anniversary today.

For the vast majority it is just a public holiday, slightly delaying the start of the school year. But it is a day for Auckland and its one-time province to mark their beginning and count their blessings.