Waitangi Day is in essence New Zealand's national day. It celebrates, on 6th February, the treaty signed between England and Maori chiefs in 1840, which forms the basis of modern New Zealand. It was signed in the Far North, in the Bay of Islands at a place call Waitangi.
Every year, Maori tribes from all over the country congregate at Waitangi to commemorate the treaty. It is probably the most significant date in the Maori calendar. There are two main aspects to this commemoration - a dawn service and a massed flotilla of waka (traditional canoes). There have been as many as 300 warriors in 20 waka in the last few years.
These waka are filled to the brim with fierce warriors selected for their personal prowess and competence. It is an honour for Maori to paddle a waka on Waitangi Day. For the first time ever, it is possible for tourists to join this awe-inspiring celebration. This is because our chief, Hone Mihaka, is one of the pre-eminent chiefs of Nga Puhi (the fierce northern tribe), and his mana (prestige) allows him to take guests along.
Obviously, it is very important for those guests to be properly versed in traditions, chants and waka paddling. So this itinerary focuses on an intensive 3-day preparation for Waitangi, followed by Waitangi itself and then a feast day afterwards. In accordance with Maori culture, the accommodation is communal and the starts are very early. This is something people will tell their grandchildren about. "I paddled a waka with Maori on Waitangi Day".
Day 1, Feb 1st: Arrive in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, with a population of 1.4M out of a national total of 4M. Transfer to your hotel, the 5-star Westin, situated on Auckland's waterfront. Your guide will be at the hotel, meeting the participants as they come in, briefing, handing out special equipment (sleeping bags, insect repellent etc.) and so on. That night we will all come together for a dinner at one of the waterfront restaurants, together with a special Maori speaker.
Day 2, Feb 2nd: We will spend the morning at Auckland Museum, together with our special guide, spending time in the Polynesian and Maori sections. Auckland Museumis home to the world's most comprehensive collection of Polynesian artefacts.
After lunch we will drive north to the Bay of Islands, a trip taking 3.5 hours. After a little time to see the waterfront of Paihia and possibly the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, we will arrive at Tauwhare Marae at 5pm. Here, we will be accorded a traditional welcome, enjoy a traditional meal and embark immediately on some knowledge sharing around waka. We aim to finish around 11pm.
Accommodation is on the marae in the traditional meeting house. We will sleep as all Maori visitors do, on mattresses on the floor of the meeting house, all in one big room. The meeting house is like a combination of church, town hall and social centre.
Day 3, Feb 3rd: If we are to be paddling with the best of Maori warriors in three days time, we have a lot to learn. After prayers at 5:30am, the morning will be spent learning to paddle - on land. We will then all go to Paihia to launch the waka and spend the afternoon paddling them until 5pm, after which we return to the marae, for dinner and another knowledge sharing session until 11pm.
Day 4, Feb 4th: On the morning of 4th February, all the waka participating in the Waitangi celebrations will meet at Waitangi and paddle together, practicing formations etc. In the afternoon we will paddle the waka down the Waitangi River, visiting Haruru Falls and a traditional marae. In the evening, more knowledge sharing on the marae.
Day 5, Feb 5th: Waka training all day today with an early night in order to be ready for a very long day tomorrow.
Day 6, Feb 6th: Rise at 3am today for a traditional dawn ceremony before having breakfast at 6am and arriving at the waka at 7:00 am. The waka ceremony will then continue until about 1pm after which everyone will be free to relax, wander around Waitangi and take it easy. The coach will depart for the marae around 5pm and everyone will go to the traditional hot pools at Nga Wha, where Maori warriors come after significant occasions for healing. After this, we suggest an early night after the exertions of the day.
Day 7, Feb 7th: Today the group will spend time preparing a traditional hangi (meal cooked underground) feast and spend the night eating, drinking, singing and relaxing. In Maori tradition, everyone will be expected to get up and say something - which could be serious or humorous, a speech or a song. Party into the night.
Day 8, Feb 8th: After a later start, prayers, farewell speeches and travel back down to Auckland.
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