The Waitangi Treaty Grounds, one of the most important places in New Zealand, can be found just 2km from Paihia in the Bay of Islands, and is often missed by many backpackers and visitors to the area. The Waitangi Treaty grounds is also one of the most picturesque historical sites you will ever visit.
Waitangi is a famous part of New Zealand history as it is here that the Waitangi Treaty was signed on 6th February 1840 by both the British Crown and the Maori so that both parties could live in harmony. Today the grounds are available to explore, learn and appreciate the importance of this treaty on New Zealand culture and history. Staying true to New Zeland's desire to keep at one with the environment the wooden walkways are almost like a tree top trail with Parakeets and Fan Tailed birds flying around you.
For those looking to learn a bit more about the history there is a small video to watch which is simple, informative and not too heavy so worth a look. Also available to explore on the grounds is the famous Treaty House, home of James Busby and his family, the first man sent by the British Crown to New Zealand. It's a small white house which looks like something from Little House on the Prairie but this just makes it all the more poignant considering the history and trouble James Busby had during his stay in New Zealand.
The house is situated on a big open green that looks out onto the Bay of Islands, not too shabby. In the middle of the green is the iconic flagpole that cements the position where the Waitangi Treaty was first signed. To the left of the house, or right if you are facing it from the other way, is the Te Whare Runanga, a traditional Maori meeting house complete with wall carvings each representative of the regional tribes in New Zealand at that time. For a non-New Zealander this place is quite a surprise and a great example of Maori art and culture.
When the sun is shining, which it does often in the Bay of Islands, the Waitangi Treaty grounds are a wonderful place to stroll around and it is hard to imagine the troubles each side had back before 1840. There are a couple of coastal walks if you have the time as well as the huge wooden traditional canoe, known as a waka, or if you are confident enough to say the proper name, Ngatokimatawhaorua.
Once you've had your fill of the grounds, sit outside amongst the gorgeous surroundings and have a coffee in the cafe. Although the grounds cost $25 for admission if you are not a New Zealand resident (they can go for free) it is worth it and if you are backpacking and have a working holiday visa you can go for free with a donation. It's also a great walk back to Paihia from the Waitangi Treaty Grounds afterwards along the coast.