Ardern set for Waitangi moment

Ben McKay

New Zealand Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern and much of her cabinet have de-camped to Waitangi ahead of the country's national day.

On Thursday, Kiwis from Cape Reinga to Invercargill and everywhere in between will celebrate and reflect on Waitangi Day.

The day, a public holiday since the 1970s, comes in honour of the country's founding document - the Treaty of Waitangi - signed 180 years ago.

The Treaty sets out a relationship between the Crown and Maori, which means each year the week brings public focus to the welfare of indigenous New Zealanders.

On Monday, Ms Ardern attended the unveiling of a statue of trailblazing activist Dame Whina Cooper at nearby Panguru.

Dame Whina was the first president of Maori Women's Welfare League in the 1950s.

As a 79-year-old grandmother, she led a 1000-kilometre march in favour of Maori land rights to Wellington, picking up supporters on the way to arrive as a 5000-strong force.

"There are very few statues that capture the role models particularly within Maoridom and so this is significant for many reasons," Ms Ardern said.

On Tuesday, the prime minister and other MPs will be invited to address Maori leaders at Waitangi's treaty grounds.

The occasion has been a source of raucous protest in years gone by.

In 2009, then prime minister John Key - sporting a broken arm - was assaulted by two men as he embraced his Maori Affairs minister.

In 1998, prime minister Helen Clark was denied speaking rights and broke into tears.

And four years ago, finance minster Steven Joyce was struck by a flying dildo thrown by a woman who yelled "thanks for raping our sovereignty".

Most notoriously, a wet t-shirt thrown at Queen Elizabeth's passing car in 1990 narrowly missed the monarch.

In November last year, Prince Phillip enjoyed a much more welcome audience on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where he expressed his eagerness to further Maori reconciliation.