By Jodi Bryant
I'm a little ashamed to admit I'm a born and bred Northlander but, as far as I can remember, had never set foot on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.
That was until I took part in a cultural tour last month.
On our 50-minute tour, we were given head pieces so, within a certain radius, we could hear our tour guide as we walked the grounds. Our guide spoke with passion in his natural story-telling lilt describing how the many tribes within New Zealand have their own dialect, such as pronunciation of 'Wh'. He asked everyone to practise 'rattling' their 'r's' and explained around 4,000 people are currently on a waiting list to get onto free Maori language courses.
"Our language is getting stronger and we continue to practise our culture and keep it alive."
We followed him through the visitor centre and gift shop down a board walk through lush bush, over a bridge past the Whare Waka Café, which hosts a hangi and concert experience during the evenings, to the waka.
This ceremonial war canoe is recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest at 35m long. Built in 1940 to mark the centenary of the treaty signing, it is made from three giant interlocked Kauri trees, requires a minimum of 76 paddlers and has been recorded travelling up to 27 knots.
Up the top of the hill will take your breath away with more than 180-degree views of the bay. In the centre of a large grass expanse is the flagstaff, marking the spot where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed on February 6,1840 and flying three flags: the first official flag of New Zealand - the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand from 1934, the Union Jack and, at the top, the New Zealand flag.
Standing amid the stunning vista, our guide points out a tree that 'Aunty Lizzy' (Queen Elizabeth) planted before explaining the controversy over the treaty and the roles of Hone Heke, Abel Tasmin, Captain Cook and James Busby, whose house – the Treaty House, where the treaty was drawn up - and the fourth oldest in New Zealand, stands behind us.
Next, it's onto the cultural performance, in the carved meeting house, Te Whare Runanga, which stands facing the Treaty House, the two buildings symbolising the partnership between Maori and the British Crown.
Opened in 1940, the meeting house is widely admired for its carved intricate detail and we were welcomed onsite with a powhiri and entertained with a rousing 20-minute spell-binding performance involving poi, rakau sticks and waiata enclosed in this magnificent whare.
After photos with the performers, we were really transported back in time walking through the Treaty House and gardens, where James Busby lived with his wife and six children. We were then left to stroll the beautifully-manicured grounds at leisure, taking in the scenery, before heading back up to the impressively extensive and modern museum, with interactive displays and film documentaries further outlining the momentous events which shaped our nation.
One could easily while away the hours exploring this site, stepping back in time and discovering the birthplace of our nation while walking in the footsteps of the people who changed history.