Waitangi Day 2024: Thousands of visitors, one clear message – ‘Toitū te Tiriti!’

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About 1000 people matched onto the Treaty grounds
About 1000 people marched onto the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, all echoing a call that has gone out again and again over the past few days - Uphold te Tiriti - Toitū te Tiriti! Image: Peter de Graaf/RNZ

By Pokere Paewai , RNZ News Māori issues reporter, and Shannon Haunui-Thompson, Te Manu Korihi editor

Before the sun rose and the birds started singing in Aotearoa today, thousands of people arrived for the traditional dawn service on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

Standing in the footprints of those who first signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi, they listened to sermons from church ministers and Bible readings from politicians, while singing hymns.

But as always, the highlight was the spectacular sunrise, which washed the grounds in golden rays.

It was a moment which made standing in the longest queue in the world for coffee seem fine.

The waka came back to the beach — Kaihoe paddling strongly and proud just like their tūpuna — and the rowers were called ashore, then entertained the thousands of onlookers with a haka.

Watch a livestream of this morning’s ceremony:

The Waitangi dawn Service. Video: RNZ News

The grounds were awash with thousands of people again later in the morning, holding or wrapped in Tino Rangatiratanga and Te Whakaputanga flags for the hīkoi — another tradition.

About 1000 people marched onto the Treaty grounds, all echoing a call that has gone out again and again over the past few days — Uphold te Tiriti — Toitū te Tiriti!

Hīkoi leader Reuben Taipari acknowledged those who walked with him and encouraged everyone to continue the fight for their mokopuna.

The sun rises over the Treaty Grounds in Waitangi on Waitangi Day 2024.
The sun rises over the Treaty Grounds in Waitangi on Waitangi Day 2024. Image: RNZ

“This new generation coming through now, it’s a powerful generation. They are the raukura, they are the graduates of kōhanga reo, kura kaupapa, whare wānanga,” he said.

“They don’t have a struggle with who they are . . .  so we need to support that new generation.

“We have the experience, but they have the energy.”

The hikoi crossing Waitangi Bridge.
The hīkoi crossing Waitangi Bridge. Photo: RNZ/Angus Dreaver

It did not take long for the grounds and surrounding markets to fill up, with every piece of shade taken as the sun was scorching.

Lines for drinks, ice creams or anything cold were endless, while teens jumped from the bridge into sea below to cool off and show off.

The roads in and out of Waitangi ground to a stand-still as an endless stream of cars kept coming.

Boy on a horse south of Kawakawa
A boy on a horse south of Kawakawa. Image: RNZ

The festival was pumping — each stage was packed with spectators as kapa haka and bands entertained. All the free rides and bouncy castles were full of happy kids.

The most popular item being sold was anything with a Tino Rangatira or Whakaputanga flag on it, or iwi merch.

All accommodation was booked out weeks ago, but it did not stop people coming — some sleeping in their cars just to be part of the day.

This could be one of the biggest turn-outs in Waitangi on Waitangi Day, with tens of thousands of people attending, coming to Waitangi to be part of the Kotahitanga movement, and enforce the message of Toitū te Tiriti.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

A marcher on the hīkoi.
A marcher on the hīkoi. Image: RNZ/Peter de Graaf
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