Northland: Paihia-Waitangi Treaty

“They came, they went back, they came again.

Then they stayed.”

Hekenukamai Busby

Visit Two Historic Sites Near Paihia

  1. Near Kerikeri, Marsden Track leads to the site of the first Christian mission and a story of two cultures emerges (and a beautiful hike).
  2. Near Paihia, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is a stunning historic landmark that presents the transformation of New Zealand from exclusively Māori to events after the signing of the treaty. Located in Northland, near Paihia, plan on three hours to visit the site and museums.

First Peoples and Key Events

1000 years ago, Polynesian explorers inhabited Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud. Dutch explorers mapped it as Nieu Zeeland in 1642, but they didn’t stick around. 127 years later (1769) British explorer James Cook appeared and over the next 60 years contact between the tribes and Europeans grew.

Until the Europeans arrived the term ‘Māori’ did not exist. It was taken from “tangata māori – “ordinary person” to distinguish themselves from fair-skinned European settlers – ‘Pakeha.’

The First European Settlement – Marsden Mission

Hike to the site where in 1814 Reverend Samuel Marsden began constructing a mission on 80 hectares that belonged to two chiefs. When told he must pay for its use, a “Transfer of Use” deed was signed, Marsden’s payment being 12 axes. The definition of “ownership” differed, ultimately leading to conflict and large-scale land confiscations.

European View: Land is property to buy and sell. Purchase means ownership.

Māori View: Land is not a tradable commodity, one can only agree to “transfer of land’s use”. Land cannot be transferred to others without Māori say-so.

Marsden Mission – Site of NZ’s first Christian Service, December 25, 1814.

The Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi)

In 1835, a Declaration of Independence of the UNITED TRIBES OF NEW ZEALAND was recognized by King William IV as the Constitution for the Sovereign Māori State of New Zealand.

This opened the door for the British to negotiate a treaty with the new nation. The treaty was drawn up in English, translated into Māori. Differences between the English- and Māori-language versions of the Treaty (see link) are controversial

Despite warnings from Nantucket, Massachusetts whalers,against a British alliance the treaty was signed in 1840.

After the signing, many of the rights guaranteed to Māori in the Treaty of Waitangi were ignored. The British government asserted rules that restricted Māori life and imposed taxes, and replaced the Tribal flag (Te Kara) with the Union Jack.

  • The Treaty of Waitangi was intended to govern and protect the rights of Māori and Pakeha
    1. Māori have the right to organize themselves, protect their way of life, and control the resources they own.
    2. The Government must act reasonably and in good faith towards Māori.
    3. The Government is responsible for helping to address grievances.
    4. Established equality and the principle that all New Zealanders are equal under the law.

The Carved Māori Meeting House, built in 1940, commemorates the signing.


A 37.5m ceremonial war canoe (waka) carries up to 150 paddlers, carved in 1949 from three giant kauri trees.

Then and Now

Because of translation problems, successive governments believed the Treaty enabled complete sovereignty over Māori, their lands and resources. Māori believed that they were merely giving permission for the British to use their land.  Disputes over ownership involved violent conflicts between 1840-1860.

The Waitangi Tribunal, set up in 1975, has ruled on a number of claims brought by Māori iwi and in many cases, granted compensation.

References:; NZhistory.govt

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4 thoughts on “Northland: Paihia-Waitangi Treaty

  1. Thank you for this important perspective of NZ’s history through the eyes of your poignant pictures and words. Really moving. xo

  2. An excellent synopsis of a long and complicated history. The photos add an important visual perspective. I’m so glad you went!

  3. Great history lesson. Thanks for sharing!

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