Waitangi Day: The New Zealand Story

Aimed at younger readers but providing an excellent resource for the whole family, this new book looks at the rich history behind Waitangi Day, universally recognised as New Zealand's national day. It reviews the historic events behind the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 and charts the celebrations, tensions and protests witnessed in the years that followed, concluding with a summary of the Waitangi Day events held around the country on 6th February today. An engaging informative text gives children a very well balanced view of the significance and background to New Zealand's celebration of Waitangi Day.

The story behind the book

I have been to the Bay of Islands several times before, but when I was writing this book, I knew that I needed to make another trip to get more photos and a clearer sense of where all the different locations are. Unfortunately our trip coincided with the tail end of Cyclone Lusi. You can see here what it was like in Russell and Paihia!

Our flight from Auckland to Kerikeri was cancelled so we had to go by bus instead. By the time we finally got there, we had missed almost a day of our three-day photo expedition, but it wasn't possible to take any photos that day anyway, and a lot of the historic sites, like the Stone Store and Kemp House in Kerikeri, were shut. Even the next day, our photos of the beach at Waitangi show it littered with debris after the storm. By the third day, the sun was finally out again.

We still managed to pack a lot into those three days. One of the highlights for me was visiting Oihi Bay. I'd never been there before and it was an amazing place, especially as we were the only ones there.

The beach at Waitangi, the day after Cyclone Lusi
The beach at Waitangi, the day after Cyclone Lusi.

Oihi Bayi
Oihi Bay - an empty beach, and nobody there except us!


It takes a huge amount of time to find and request permission to use the images for a book like this, but in doing so you get to have email conversations with people from all over New Zealand and overseas. Famous NZ photographers like Gil Hanly and Ans Westra agreed to let me use their work. The University Museum of Zoology in Cambridge was closed for redevelopment and the museum staff had to track down Charles Darwin’s red gurnard in a box where it was crated up ready for relocation before they could take a photo of it. Someone in London sent me a stack of photos of the Waitangi Day London pub crawl, featuring young London Kiwis dressed up as Whitaker chocolate bars, tomato sauce containers, peanut slabs and kiwifruit. The woman who had taken the photo at Elephant Rocks in South Canterbury had since moved to Napier, but she hunted through boxes until she found the right photo for me. The Parish administrator at St Mary’s Church in Lydney, Gloucestershire, sent me a photograph of the stained glass window donated by Lord Bledisloe. This was his local parish church and when he returned to England after being Governor General, he and his wife had the window installed there. It arrived too late to put in the book, but I do like it so here it is:

The stained glass window in St Mary's Church, Lydney, Gloucestershire, England, donated by Lord Bledisloe in memory of his time in New Zealand (photo: Nick Fenby)
The stained glass window in St Mary's Church, Lydney, Gloucestershire, England, donated by Lord Bledisloe in memory of his time in New Zealand (photo: Nick Fenby)

Reader's Activity

• Make a plan for how you and your family, whanau, friends or class at school might celebrate the next Waitangi Day.

• Read some books about early New Zealand and the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Some good ones to start with are Mission girl (originally published as A new song in the land) by Fleur Beale, Jacky Nobody by Anne de Roo, Shadow of the Boyd by Diana Menefy and Hene and the burning harbour by Paula Morris.

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