New Zealand’s National Day recognises the signing of the Waitangi Treaty in 1840 by representatives of the Crown and a confederation of northern chiefs at the original home of James Bushby (Treaty House), at Waitangi, Bay of Islands in Aotearoa and is considered the founding day of New Zealand.
To commemorate the day, formal events are held at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, including re-enactments of the famous signing and of both politicians and Maori people debating issues of the day. There are also Maori cultural performances and an official naval salute. Waitangi then holds a three-day festival with dance, food, music and traditional Maori customs.
It’s seen as a public holiday for all but for many people, especially Maori, it’s a chance to reflect on the Treaty itself and acknowledge the past more than the here and now.
Elsewhere in New Zealand, festivals and concerts take place. Most Kiwis get out into the summer weather and soak up the sunshine along the country’s many pristine beaches.
In New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, the festivities occur at the city’s birthplace, Okahu Bay Domain. Meanwhile, Wellington, the national capital, hosts an event at Waitangi Park on the city’s waterfront with a mix of entertainment, arts and crafts, and food in celebration of a range of different cultures.
Across the country, it’s not unusual to find the locals enjoying sporting events, rodeos, mass haka, Maori-infused church services, servings of roast lamb, kumara and pavlova, a decent bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, and even a cheese-rolling competition.
Away from New Zealand, expats in the UK attend the Waitangi Day Charity Ball in London where partygoers taste New Zealand wines and experience a themed dinner menu. For the brave, a 27-pub crawl is embraced by thousands on London Underground’s Circle Line, culminating with a traditional haka dance outside Westminster Abbey.
While most Kiwis will be celebrating the day in one form or another, many still believe that it hasn’t quite achieved the recognition it deserves.
In some quarters, it’s often felt that ANZAC Day has more importance for Kiwis and provides more of a focal point for New Zealanders to consider their nationhood. But all agree that any excuse to celebrate New Zealand is a good one, wherever in the world you might find yourself.