History of Waitangi Day in the capital

We all love a holiday – especially when the sun’s shining – but there’s more to Waitangi Day than a day off.

A Maori kapa haka group perform at Waitangi Day celebrations in 1995.
A kapa haka group perform at Waitangi Day celebrations in 1995.

The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 by Representatives of the British Crown and over 500 Māori chiefs. Wellington Māori signed the treaty on 29 April aboard treaty translator Henry Williams’ schooner in Port Nicholson.

Annual celebrations began over a hundred years later in 1947 when a Royal New Zealand navy ceremony occurred in Waitangi, however no Māori were present.

The national holiday on 6 February was established in 1974 by the Labour Party and was called New Zealand Day. Two years later, the National government changed the name to Waitangi Day, and it’s been an important date on New Zealand calendars ever since.

From here celebrations in Waitangi grew and by 1985 the event was significant enough that the Prime Minister began to attend.


The incinerator formerly on the site of Waitangi Park.
The incinerator known as "the destructor" formerly on the site of Waitangi Park.

What does Wellington’s Waitangi Park have to do with Waitangi Day?

The stream that runs adjacent to Waitangi Park is called Waitangi Stream. It originally fed a large wetland used for centuries by Māori to gather food, source fresh water and launch waka.

An 1855 earthquake lifted the land by 1.5m, allowing the site to be reclaimed, and the stream became part of the underground stormwater system. Before Waitangi Park became the central city oasis that it is now, it was also the site of a morgue and an incinerator called “the destructor”.

Now Waitangi Park stands as a space for recreation and leisure, the name acknowledging its past as a significant Māori landmark.

The taurapa or carved tailpiece of a waka used in Waitangi Day celebrations.
The taurapa of a waka used in Waitangi Day celebrations.

Controversy in Wellington?

The ongoing protests at the Treaty House grounds drove the government to hold a low-key Waitangi Day ceremony at Wellington’s Beehive in 1984, as well as at Waitangi. However, controversy was not so easily escaped and protestors attended both events. Northern Māori were offended by what they felt was a move to exclude their special role in the celebrations.

A Maori carver creates a sculpture from Oamaru stone at Waitangi Day celebrations in 1995.
Marie Moanaroa-Parata-Munroe carves a sculpture at Waitangi Day celebrations in 1995.

How do we celebrate as the capital city?

Over the years, Waitangi Day has been celebrated in Wellington with a variety of events, including Te Rā o Waitangi.

Back in 1995 we marked the occasion on the waterfront at Frank Kitts Park.

Entertainment on offer included a Māori women’s performance group, while sculptors such as Marie Moanaroa-Parata-Munroe carved stunning works from chunks of Ōamaru stone, his in particular exploring a motherhood theme.

A waka was also on display in the lagoon, its taurapa proudly decorated with feathers (called the puhi ariki to acknowledge Tāwhirimātea, the god of wind).

Waitangi Day with a reggae twist!

On 6 February 1998, Wellington also celebrated popular reggae star Bob Marley’s birthday with the first One Love festival. This introduced a new flavour to Waitangi Day, as well as complementing its values of peace and unity.


Incinerator: WCC Archives Ref: 00138:0:12484
Te Rā o Waitangi: 00558:1:2: Film A: 4A, 9A, 24A; Film B 11A, 25A