Even if you’re not interested in history, you’ll love it here. This 506-hectare (1,250-acre) reserve has had a massive face-lift, and quite apart from its historical importance, there are fabulous boardwalks through beautiful parklike grounds and mangrove swamps. You can easily spend 2 hours here.
It was on the grounds of the small Georgian house that the Confederation of Chiefs signed the first treaty with the British government. The treaty granted to the Maori the rights of British subjects in exchange for recognition of British sovereignty. The home of James Busby from 1832 to 1880, its broad lawn was the scene of colorful meetings between Maori and Pakeha during the treaty negotiations on February 6, 1840. Inside, you’ll see a facsimile of the treaty written in Maori, an exhibition of James Busby’s family mementos, and rooms with period furnishings.
The reserve is also home to one of the most magnificent whare runanga (meetinghouses) in the country, complete with an inspiring sound-and-light show. The house contains elaborately carved panels from all the Maori tribes in New Zealand and it is one of the few meetinghouses in the country that allows you to photograph the interior. Just below the sweeping lawn, on Hobson’s Beach, is an impressive 35m-long (115-ft.) Maori waka (war canoe) made for the treaty centennial celebrations from three giant kauri trees. The waka and the carved meetinghouse are the highlights of the grounds, in my view.
You’ll get far more from your visit if you take one of the tours. I recommend Embrace Waitangi for a comprehensive overview; or Talk the Walk, which focuses on the natural environment and its relationship to Maori. (The more you see the more you save on entry). If your visit coincides with the February 6 celebration of Waitangi Day, you’ll find the center of activity is the Waitangi National Trust Estate. There’s lots of Maori song and dance, plus Pakeha officials in abundance, dressed to the nines in uniforms of then and now. Reserve far in advance, as it’s a huge family day with crowds of vacationing Kiwis in attendance.