Biggest fleet in history for Waitangi

Tuesday 27 October 2009, 5:13PM
By Waitangi National Trust


The focus of the nation will be on the Treaty Grounds more than ever this Waitangi Day.

As attention increasingly turns to the home of the Treaty for New Zealand’s annual nationhood event, arrangements are being made to receive the largest fleet of waka (ceremonial canoes) in recorded history. This will be a breathtaking highlight of the Year of the Waka, says Waitangi National Trust CEO Jeanette Richardson, whose organisation has recently invested significantly in upgrading facilities for the visitors expected this summer.

Improvements at the Treaty Grounds include refurbishment and re-roofing of the 40-metre long korowai (cloak) which forms the shelter for Ngatokimatawhaorua, the Guinness Book of Records title holder for the largest waka in the world. The 12 tonne Waitangi-based icon was this year separated into its three giant kauri components and re-lashed, while its launching tracks and their foundations were reconstructed following the cumulative effects of the coastal environment.

Waka coordinator Robert Gabel says the waka fleet, mostly from Te Tai Tokerau and the Waikato area, is expected to exceed the record of 23 craft that took part in the largest gathering to-date on Waitangi Day 1990, as part of the sesquicentennial celebrations attended by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Being part of Waitangi Day at Waitangi has enjoyed rising popularity over recent years says Jeanette Richardson. “This is the home-place where New Zealanders come together on the 6th February anniversary signing of the nation’s formative Treaty. The positive mood and family atmosphere at the Treaty Grounds for Waitangi Day and its lead-up festival have now become consistent themes.”

Matching this spirit has been the increasing presence of the Royal New Zealand Navy. This goes back to the first national observance of the day at Waitangi in 1890, and has now grown to include a spine-tingling Royal Guard of Honour, 21-gun salute, and the impressive Beat Retreat at Ceremonial Sunset. Police and Navy also join locals and visitors in the cultural, sporting, musical and community events in the days surrounding Waitangi Day.

It is likely 2010 will again see capacity audiences attend the regular beachfront concerts. Two very notable concerts will be fronted by, firstly, national treasure Ray Woolf and the massed Rodger Fox Big Band, and, secondly, the queen of cultural cool blues, recording artist Whirimako Black. Hip-hop, nostalgia, traditional Maori song and dance, colonial and folk music, competitive team games, community health promotions and a festival marketplace atmosphere all add to the appeal of the celebrations at the place where New Zealand first came together on the sweeping clifftop lawns and grounds around the Treaty House back in 1840.

There is also a respectful and reverent side to the commemorations, prefaced by official receptions and opened on the day by a dawn karakia in the Whare Runanga, the fully carved meeting house on the estate. An interdenominational service then brings thousands to the bay where Governor Hobson first set foot to negotiate the Treaty.

Waitangi is where a nation comes, once a year, to stand together. “In 2010 this very special and most impressive venue will again be filled with the sounds of ceremony, the sight of many waka on the water and the excitement of a family atmosphere. It looks set to be a particularly special and memorable Waitangi Day,” says CEO Jeanette Richardson.