Stirring dawn ceremony and barbecue kicks off Waitangi Day

With not a cloud in the early morning sky and the sound of waves crashing against the foreshore as they did in 1840, Waitangi Day kicked off at Waitangi with a stirring dawn service and a barbecue hosted by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Hundreds gathered on Wednesday morning at the Upper Marae ground's Whare Rūnanga for the 179th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

After the Prime Minister and a group of ministers, including Kelvin Davis, Willie Jackson and Jenny Salsea, were escorted onto the marae with a traditional Māori greeting, the public followed.

While some were Kiwis, tourists from as far as Switzerland all scurried past the Māori wardens in attempt to get inside the marae where Ms Ardern and other esteemed guests were seated.

Most had to sit outside in the rays of a stunning Waitangi sunrise, but others had to line the banks around the marae, which didn't have enough seats for the incredible number of people who had come to celebrate New Zealand's national day.

Although the service began with a moment of silence, the speeches that followed were a powerful reflection upon the partnership built between Māori and Pakeha in 1840, as well as an inspirational look forward at the opportunities to grow as a nation.

"We say thanks for this our perfect country [and] how the children grow, so will be the shape of Aotearoa. [God] made us of one blood, now make us of one people," a prayer Ms Ardern read out said.

Her brief speech was followed by that of the Samoan Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi, who said there was still more to do to "keep us as a peaceful Pacific".

"Teach us to listen to those we disagree with, to hear stories that make us comfortable, heal the hatred in the world around us by healing our own hearts first," he said.

"We are good at paying lip service to these principles but do not follow through with action."

Politicians from across Parliament, figures from the Navy and Fire and Emergency, and Chief Justice Sian Elias also all provided a series of brief comments, prayers, or songs.

New Zealand First Minister Tracey Martin captured the tone of many in asking God to ensure future generations continue to understand the partnership our ancestors desired.

"179 years later we still strive, we still attempt to bring this to be a truth," she said.

Outside the marae.
Outside the marae. Photo credit: Newshub.

The dawn service was followed by a barbecue hosted by the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers, which predictably was a hit with the crowds who lined up for bacon and eggs.

Those waiting for their food said it "awesome" to see Ms Ardern among the people.

Cathy, who came up to the service from Auckland, said it was her granddaughter than inspired her to attend. She feels the next generation are leading a resurgence in interest towards the Treaty and New Zealand history.

Her friend, Shona, agreed and said it was something every Kiwi should experience.

"I came here as a child and I haven't been back for about 40 years, and thought it was time to come back... I know it is a very important day," she said.

It was also a thought echoed by Andrew Wright from the Wairarapa, who said his wife had begun learning Te Reo in 2018 and wanted to visit the place where New Zealand as we know it began.

"We have always wanted to come, and it has been wonderful," he said. "The dawn service here was quite stunning," he said.