On an average day at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, the crowd seems to mostly consist of international tourists, keen to tick off a cultural experience during their stay in New Zealand.

I'd imagine that most of them have little knowledge of Aotearoa's history and the controversy over the founding of our country.

However, aside from the occasional history lessons in school, I'd wager that most Kiwis are still in the dark when it comes to the history of the Treaty of Waitangi.

On my first trip to Waitangi three years ago, I was blown away by the then brand-new museum at the Treaty Grounds. There was so much information I had missed or was never taught during the dry history lessons of my youth.


So when I was given the chance to visit again with my girlfriend last year, I jumped at the opportunity.

On our visit, we took a private tour of the Waitangi treaty grounds with Dane Busby, a local guide and longtime Northland resident – and learned even more.

As we approached the former residence of James Busby, the man appointed by King William to draft the Treaty of Waitangi, I couldn't help but wonder about our guide's name.

"I'm five generations to this man, depending on which uncle you believe," he tells us.

"We tend to believe my dad's older brother, Uncle Hector the waka builder – he would say that we've got no blood relation to this man James Busby."

He says his ancestor was baptized under the name Puhipi – a transliteration of Busby – which was already in the family before James Busby came along.

However, another uncle tells a story of a pregnant housemaid, exiled by her iwi and told to raise her child with its father's name.

Dane says the name Puhipi remained in his father's lineage until his grandparents brought back the Busby name.


"My dad's name is James Busby," he says.

"So I tell everyone – here's my colonial side, here's my native side. I'm a pedigree mongrel and proud of it."

As we walk through what's now known as the Treaty House, our guide is approached by some domestic tourists with a few questions – and I think further about how little the average New Zealander knows about this place.

Back in the 1930s, the former Governor General Lord Bledisloe was approached to see if the land could be purchased for the nation.

Busby's house was rundown and dilapidated at this point and the treaty grounds were being used for farming.

In 1932, the treaty grounds were gifted to the nation in trust by Lord and Lady Bledisloe – known as the Bledisloe gift.

The pōwhiri at Te Whare Rūnanga to welcome MPs and dignitaries to this year's Waitangi Day celebrations. Photo / Michael Craig
The pōwhiri at Te Whare Rūnanga to welcome MPs and dignitaries to this year's Waitangi Day celebrations. Photo / Michael Craig

Big celebrations were held and in 1934, construction began on Te Whare Rūnanga, the carved meeting house and marae that was the brainchild of Sir Āpirana Ngata.

It has a few differences compared to others around the country. Rather than facing east, towards the ancestral lands of Hawaiki, it was purposefully built facing south, to speak to the government. The carvings on the outside and inside represent major iwi from all over Aotearoa.

Wandering around the grounds on a sunny day, with the songs of tui in the air, I feel especially grateful for this gift - and you should too.

All New Zealanders should make at least one visit to Waitangi – whether it's on February 6 or on any other day of the year. There's nothing to lose and everything to gain when you learn more about our country.