Story: Northland places

Page 7. Paihia and Waitangi

All images & media in this story


Holiday town 23 km south-east of Kerikeri with a 2013 population of 1,719. Well sited on the inner reaches of the Bay of Islands, it has a rich history. Waitangi is immediately to the north while Russell is on the opposite shore, reached by passenger ferry, and by car ferry from nearby Ōpua.


The Church Missionary Society established a mission in 1823 (following one at Kerikeri in 1819), and later set up New Zealand’s first printing press. Paihia’s residents witnessed and recorded the events leading to the establishment of colonial government in 1840. The mission closed in 1850 and by 1890 there were a mere handful of houses and a church in the settlement. St Paul’s, the present stone church, was built in 1925 on the site of three earlier churches as a memorial to missionaries Henry and William Williams.


The holiday town dates from the 1930s. The restored Treaty House at nearby Waitangi was an attraction, and a road built from Ōpua made the town much easier to reach from the south. After the Second World War it became particularly popular with Aucklanders, and rivalled Russell (still reached mainly by ferry) in size. In the early 1960s a hotel opened, catering to well-off visitors, while the town had beach houses, motor camps and motels. It is a base for deep-sea fishing, boating and for visiting sites of historical interest throughout the Bay of Islands.


Location 3 km north-west of Paihia. At its centre is one of the country’s most spectacular and historic places. James Busby, British Resident, took up residence on the north side of the mouth of the Waitangi River in 1833. Māori chiefs gathered at Waitangi in 1834 to select a national flag, and in 1835 to sign a declaration of the country’s independence. On 6 February 1840 Waitangi was the site for the signing of a treaty by Māori and William Hobson, representing the British Crown.

Chiefly for show

Missionary William Colenso describes the gathering of chiefs to consider the Treaty of Waitangi:

‘In front of the platform … were the principal Native chiefs of several tribes, some clothed with dogskin mats made of alternate longitudinal stripes of black and white hair; … here and there a … taiaha, a chief’s staff of rank, was seen erected, adorned with the long flowing white hair of the tails of the New Zealand dog and crimson cloth and red feathers.’ 1

The Treaty House

The Waitangi Treaty House and grounds, together with an additional 1,000-acre land block, were gifted to the nation in 1932 by the governor-general, Lord Bledisloe, and his wife. His intention was to create a national historic site to mark the country’s foundation document. A trust board was set up, the dilapidated house was restored, and the grounds were gradually developed. The Treaty House underwent extensive renovations in 1989–90. Development of the grounds is ongoing. Te Kōngahu, the Museum of Waitangi, opened in 2016 as a major visitor attraction.

Waitangi Day

Celebrations were held in 1934 to acknowledge the gift, and in 1940 to mark the treaty’s 100th anniversary. In the Treaty House grounds a whare rūnanga (meeting house) representing all tribes was built for the 1940 celebration. The commemorations led to a recognition of the historic significance of Te Tii marae at the Waitangi River mouth. Māori had erected a treaty monument there in 1880. Both commemorations brought thousands of visitors to the quiet Northland area, and established an annual tradition of marking the birth of the nation. 6 February was first observed as a national holiday in 1974.


Since the 1970s Waitangi Day commemorations have been an occasion for protest by Māori and some Pākehā. In addition to concerns over land loss, protesters have wanted acceptance of Māoritanga (Māori values), acknowledgement of Māori as tangata whenua (people of the land) and, latterly, Māori sovereignty and speedy settlement of land grievances. In the early 2000s it was clear that for many New Zealanders, the treaty had meaning far beyond its historical significance as the nation’s founding document.

  1. Quoted in Claudia Orange, The Treaty of Waitangi. Wellington: Allen & Unwin/Port Nicholson Press, 1987, p. 45. › Back
How to cite this page:

Claudia Orange, 'Northland places - Paihia and Waitangi', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 May 2024)

Story by Claudia Orange, published 12 Dec 2005, updated 1 May 2015