"New Kiwis" flock to Treaty grounds
There’s a new world on our doorstep, says Waitangi
Warm weather and $5 million dollars worth of new facilities seem to be finding favour with a new world of visitors to Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Admissions are up, and the faces are changing.
Along with an increasing number of local visitors, the Treaty Grounds has been attracting a noticeable diversity of nationalities from all over the country this Christmas period, says Chief Executive Jeanette Richardson, and many of them are new New Zealanders.
Staff at the Treaty Grounds’ new gateway centre now have the space and facilities to welcome and engage with every visitor individually, says Jeanette Richardson. This is allowing them to share the stories of many nationalities – many of whom they are discovering to be new Kiwis. “We have especially noticed that African and Asian visitors seem more represented this summer, and we’ve had also had Danes, French and other Europeans in addition to the usual American and British visitors. What is intriguing is that many are migrant families who are taking advantage of the holidays to come and learn about the history and cultural richness of their adopted new homeland.”
Michael Li from Epsom was typical of many new Kiwis bringing their young families to Waitangi. “It is a chance to combine a holiday with something educational,” he commented. He says his young daughter Sarah became excited just seeing the familiar one-way bridge across the Waitangi River because her class at Epsom Normal School had studied the Treaty Grounds. “She said ‘I can’t believe I’m here – it is a real thing!’” Now Sarah is going back to Auckland with the message that her whole class should go to visit the nation’s birthplace. Her reaction is not unusual, says Jeanette Richardson. Dane, Anja Danielsen, also was intrigued by the shared seafaring heritage of Vikings and Maori, taking time with Waitangi guide Ngati Kawa Taituha to explore the world’s largest waka housed at Hobson’s Beach on the estate.
Other visitors telling their story to staff yesterday included Rishab Sharma, who came to New Zealand with his family from Mumbai in 2001. Little girl Bongiwe Ndlovu was clearly overawed by the waka Ngatokimatawhaorua, its hull towering over her brightly braided head. Her family came from Zimbabwe to settle here six years ago. Guru Subramanyam and his family were also at the Treaty Grounds learning about the thread of Maori culture at the core of the bicultural weave of Waitangi. Like the majority of visitors, their first choice among the shows and guided tours was the half-hour interactive kapa haka performance, which combines oral history, dance and song, both traditional and contemporary.
“There’s no doubt that the free entry for New Zealanders is attracting more people to The Birthplace,” says Jeanette Richardson. “Our entry statistics show a growth of 21 percent in New Zealand admissions so far this year. That follows the stellar doubling of Kiwi admissions after we introduced free entry in 2008. Waitangi is really welcoming the world – and much of this new world has recently chosen to come and live in New Zealand. Now they are choosing Waitangi to learn about it .”