On 6 February 1840, representatives of the British Crown met with prominent Māori chiefs from the northern regions of the North Island, to sign the Treaty of Waitangi.
New Zealand's founding document was then transported around the country to allow chiefs from other tribes to sign.
The ultimate intention of the Treaty of Waitangi, from the Crown's perspective, was to protect Māori interests from the encroaching British settlement, to provide for British settlement and to establish a government to maintain peace and order.
Māori and European settlers
At the time, the relationship between Māori and European settlers was not particularly harmonious.
The notion of central governance was foreign to Māori as each tribe lived by laws set by a rangatira (chief) whose authority was limited to within his tribal boundary. British settlers, in turn, regularly disregarded Māori tribal laws, which often led to conflict between the two peoples.
As most early rangatira could not speak or understand English, the English version of the treaty was translated into Māori. However, there were variations in meaning between the two translations, and some obligations that the Treaty placed on the partners are still contentious.
The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi is commemorated by a national holiday on 6 February each year, known as Waitangi Day.
In the past, this day has been tarnished by angry protests as Māori fought to have rights that had been promised to them under the Treaty, honoured by the Government. However, in recent years, many iwi (tribes) have had their grievances settled by the government and Waitangi Day has become a peaceful celebration of nationhood.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds
In 1932, the grounds where the Treaty was first signed were gifted to the nation in trust by Lord and Lady Bledisloe. Lord Bledisloe was a former Governor General of New Zealand.
Today the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, part of the 1000 acre gifted site, are referred to as the birthplace of New Zealand.
The grounds include one of New Zealand's oldest and most visited historic homes. Treaty House, originally named 'The Residency' was built for the first British resident, James Busby, and his family. The name was changed to Treaty House at the request of Lord Bledisloe after the house was restored in 1933.
NZ cultural icons
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is also home to two of the nation's cultural icons - 'Te Whare Runanga' and a ceremonial waka taua (war canoe).
'Te Whare Runanga' is a carved Māori meeting house erected to commemorate the centenary of the first signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Carvings in the house were produced by the local Ngapuhi tribe, though the building is representative of all Māori tribes.
Ngatokimatawhaorua, one of the largest Māori waka, sits in the grounds. The 70-year-old waka has been refurbished ahead of relaunching as part of the 2010 Waitangi Day celebrations. At 35.7 metres long, up to 2 metres wide and weighing 12 tonnes, the vessel is an impressive sight on the water with a crew of up to 80 paddlers and 55 passengers.
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a popular destination for tourists, both domestic and international. The new Museum of Waitangi (opened on Waitangi Day 2016), is a modern and comprehensive showcase of the role of the Treaty of Waitangi in the past, present and future of New Zealand. The museum building houses a permanent exhibition Ko Waitangi Tenei: This is Waitangi which explores the stories of Waitangi and features many valuable and significant historic pieces.
The Waitangi Visitor Centre has an impressive audio visual show that tells the story of Waitangi and surrounding areas. There are also live cultural performances, a gift shop and an artefacts gallery.
Visitors can also take a guided tour of the Treaty House - the first British residency in New Zealand and the family home of James and Agnes Busby.