Visiting the Bay of Islands NZ on Waitangi Day: what you need to know.
What and when is Waitangi Day?
Waitangi Day is a significant day in New Zealand’s history, celebrated annually on February 6th. It is a day to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the country’s founding document, between the Maori chiefs and the British Crown in 1840. The Bay of Islands is a popular destination for visitors on this day, as it is the location where the treaty was signed.
On Waitangi Day, the Treaty Ground are free and open to the public, and become the location for the Waitangi Day Festival; the museum and exhibitions are closed. The festival starts at 5 am with a dawn service in Te Whare Rūnanga. All-day entertainment creates a fun, festival atmosphere, with performance stages on the Upper Treaty Grounds, at the Te Korowai ō Maikuku and on the sports field opposite the Treaty Grounds. More than 150 market stalls offer an amazing array of art and crafts, clothing, a wide variety of food options, and live entertainment and activities for all ages.
And it’s not just one day! During a Waitangi Treay Ground visit in the days prior, expect to see waka taua (war canoes) practising for events on the big day, including the famous Ngātokimatawhaorua, the world’s largest ceremonial waka which is launched into the bay each year. There are also numerous cultural, performance art and the inevitable political events where the current state of the treaty is examined.
Visiting the Bay of Islands leading up to Waitangi Day
If you’re planning to visit the Bay of Islands on Waitangi Day, here are some things you can expect:
- Waitangi Day Festival: is a free event that takes place at the Treaty Grounds. The festival offers a range of activities, including live music, cultural performances, and food stalls. The festival is a great way to experience the local culture and learn more about New Zealand’s history.
- Crowds: Waitangi Day is a public holiday in New Zealand, and many people take the opportunity to visit the Bay of Islands. The grounds are closed for vehicle traffic from around 9am, but there is ample parking at nearby Haruru Falls with a free bus shuttle for visitors.
- Weather: February is typically one of the warmest months in New Zealand, with temperatures of 23 C or warmer. Bring Sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses are essential, as is a waterproof jacket in case of a passing showering.
- Accommodation: If you’re planning to stay in the Bay of Islands on Waitangi Day, it’s a good idea to book your accommodation well in advance. The influx of visitors and officials see good quality accommodation booked out early.
- New Zealand History awaits further afield. For quieter exploration, try the five waterfalls walks leading from Kororipo heritage park and New Zealand’s oldest European buildings in Kerikeri. Take the ferry across to Russell (Kororāreka) the ‘hell hole’ of the Pacific; now a charming waterfront village.
Visiting the Bay of Islands on and around Waitangi Day is a great idea!
The Bay of Islands is a subtropical escape that should be on the bucket list of anyone who loves sand, sea, and beaches and is planning a trip around New Zealand. The 144 islands scattering the vibrant blue waters of the Bay of Islands is a place to get out on the water, whether it’s on a relaxing sailing cruise or under a parasailing canopy.
Waitangi Day is an important day in New Zealand’s history, and the Bay of Islands is the perfect place to celebrate it, and explore Māori culture and history. With its stunning scenery, rich history, and range of activities, the Bay of Islands is a must-visit destination for anyone planning a trip to New Zealand.
Want to know more? Find the official programme for Waitangi Day 2024 here.