Waitangi Day: Bay of Islands, Northland – a must attend event

Tomorrow is Waitangi Day – 6th February – and all over the New Zealand people will be celebrating and, or, commemorating the day our country began its journey of two nations learning to live together. And, no doubt, for some it will be just a great public holiday.

Waitangi Day Christchurch
Wharewaka and Whairepo Lagoon. Wellington

I will be joining other Wellingtonians on our waterfront at the Wharewaka, beside the Whairepo (stingray) Lagoon – for a hangi: a tasty meal cooked in the traditional Māori way, underground. If you follow my blogs, or Facebook, you will know that’s also where I meet friends every Monday morning to leave for a walk and coffee. I plan on being there in time to take photos of the process and will blog about it in a day or so.

I urge every Kiwi (New Zealander) to attend Waitangi Day AT Waitangi at least once in their life it’s a fabulous event. (Just make sure you book your accommodation – whether it’s a hotel of campsite – early!)

A protest button I wore

I hear some people say it’s all protests and activism: my experience from spending 4 days in the Bay of Islands proved this is a false view that’s perpetuated by lazy, mainstream media. Of course, there are protests – a we are a healthy democracy – and I too have been involved in Treaty protests in the past. The Treaty is a Fraud, and Stop Treaty Celebrations we chanted as we complained that our founding document was not being honoured. Things have changed tremendously over the past years and I now love to celebrate our heritage; have we got it right, do we still have much to do? Absolutely. Are we on the right track? Most certainly.

During my only time at Waitangi, Paihia, on our national day, I saw families, tourists, and kiwi all having a great time. It was a combo of ceremony; navy, politicians, music; opera, jazz, blues, soul, Māori Cultural shows, stalls, sideshows, and of course the gathering of the ceremonial waka.

Some background: the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is the place where Māori chiefs, in 1840, first signed their agreement with the British Crown – Te Tiriti of Waitangi. In the grounds are the historic Treaty House, a carved meeting-house and the world’s largest ceremonial war canoe and of course panoramic views of the Bay of Islands.

Te Whare Runanga

Te Whare Rūnanga (the House of Assembly) is a carved meeting-house facing the Treaty House, the two buildings symbolising the partnership agreed between Māori and the British Crown and the house opened on 6 February 1940 – 100 years after the first signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Te Whare Runanga

Another important feature is the flagstaff which marks the spot where the Treaty was first signed on 6 February 1840. (it then travelled much of New Zealand and many other Chiefs signed on behalf of their Iwi. The flags that fly are the three official flags that New Zealand has had since 1834 – the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand (from 1834), the Union Jack (from 1840) and the New Zealand flag (from 1902).

Here are few photos I took a few years ago – and one day I will go there again for this unique day.

NOTE: For more information about Northland check the official tourism website and to hire a rental car in Auckland I can recommend the company I use: Rental Cars NZ.

Street & travel photography – I learn from Cartier-Bresson

Awaiting to launch the waka again (Waitangi, Northland, NZ)

Street photography & Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson always had his camera with him “even when I don’t plan to take photos” he is reported to have said.  I love authentic street photography – candid, life as it is, interesting,  real.

I know many like to ‘photo-shop’ or  use some other digital technology to manipulate, or enhance their photos in some way to make them more pleasing to their eye. I prefer to show you exactly what I see – including dull skies, power-lines, and other unwanted objects. I want to portray what’s in front of me – as a travel writer I believe that’s my duty: to tell you the truth about what I see and experience so when you go there, you will not be surprised.

So like Cartier-Bresson (but without his skills) I love to ‘walk and shoot.’  This sometimes means I will wait for someone to walk into a frame .. most people don’t know I have taken the photo even though I get as close to the action as possible. When it’s not possible, telephoto lens are wonderful for those candid, unnoticed pics.

So carry your camera, be observant, be patient, and recognise the decisive moment to push the shutter – after all, in photography the smallest thing can be a great subject.  No wonder I’m excited to be traveling to somewhere new soon (Borneo) – where I’ll have lots of new, not posed,  candid subjects to photograph – and no electronic manipulation.

As my tagline says,” real travel, real stories, real photos”

Maori tour ‘tour of a lifetime’ says National Geographic Traveler

Hone Mihaka, of Taia­mai Tours says, “To classify ourselves as New Zealanders denies our cultural identity as Maori. Being Maori is our point of difference.”

Hone, of the Ngapuhi iwi (tribe) is given a lot of “mana” ( respect and prestige) and I was happy to be hosted at his marae in February  as I checked out  what the National Geographic Traveler named as one the 50 Tours of  Lifetime 2011 –pretty  good for a new venture!

Their interactive Waka experience is a unique insight into ancient customs, rituals and traditions: and once a year visitors from around the world not only learn how to paddle the ceremonial waka tau (war canoe) but also become part of the annual national commemorations that acknowledge ( and sometimes protest about) the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi – NZ’s founding document – on the 6th February 1840.

“Great – now let’s try that again then we will head for Pihia and our waka”‘ says Hone

This year there were guests from the USA, France, The Netherlands, Canada, and Germany staying with the  extended Mihaka family at their traditional home near Lake Omapare, and I watched as they went through the last of their training in paddle techniques, waka manoeuvres, chants and haka in preparation for the next days’ celebration – out on the bay with all the other waka.  These photos show some of the day, with more stories to come after they feature in print media.

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As Hone says “I’m Ngapuhi, and I offer my world. Only in Tai Tokerau can you get a unique, authentic Ngapuhi experience.”

Tai Tokerau stretches from the Bay of Islands on Northlands’ east coast over to Hokianga on the west coast – which is where my Ngapuhi husband came from: Ngapuhi is New Zealand’s largest indigenous tribe of 100,000 – made up of over 100 smaller independent Hapu (clans).

If you are unable to take part in the Waitangi Day events, you are still able to paddle a waka with them – up to Haruru Falls .. see their website or find Taiamai Tours on Facebook

In Lonely Planets‘ book “Happy” on  page 105 it says ” Be Proud of your Roots. Embrace your heritage to better understand yourself.” The page is about Maori and their haka and Taiamai Tours embody this ‘secret to happiness’ and offer it to others.

As traveller, I believe  learning about other cultures helps us understand and embrace our own no matter where we’re from.

“This edited extract is from Happy: Secrets to Happiness from the Cultures of the World © Lonely Planet 2011. RRP: $25. lonelyplanet.com.”

Maori waka (war canoes) focus on Waitangi Day

As well as the NZ Navy, ceremonial waka  (war canoes) gather in the harbour every year (6th February) to commemorate the 1840 signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. (NZ’s founding document betweem the Crown and Maori tribes) These waka are often from many parts of New Zealand and the men who carve them are well-respected.

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For a chance to learn to paddle one of these canoes (in the Bay of Islands, Northland) contact Hone Mihaka of Taiamai Heritage Journeys