Waitangi Day dawns in New Zealand

Ben McKay
·2-min read

Leaders from all walks of New Zealand life have commemorated the country's national day with a dawn service at the birthplace of the nation, Waitangi.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was joined by other political figures, religious leaders, military and police chiefs and countless others for the sombre but soulful occasion.

And at the end of it all, Ms Ardern donned an apron and staffed the barbecue, dishing up bacon and eggs as sunlight bathed the beautiful Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

The dawn service was one of hundreds of events held across Aotearoa for Waitangi Day.

Fears that COVID-19 might hurt attendance didn't come to pass.

Thousands of Kiwis braved the 5am start, journeying to the grounds where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed by Maori chiefs and the British Crown 181 years earlier.

Beginning in darkness, those gathered heard prayer and joined together in song, singing waiata and the national anthem.

Ms Ardern called New Zealanders "hardy, practical, creative people, working towards a common purpose".

"Today we mark the Treaty of Waitangi, Te Tiriti o Waitangi," she said.

"We acknowledge our partnership, constantly learning, striving for better, holding hope for the future."

Then came the fry-up.

Since becoming prime minister in 2017, Ms Ardern has made a tradition of government members cooking a free breakfast for all attendees to the service.

"When I first became prime minister I was running through the usual program that every other leader has had here and I was told that there's usually a prime minister's breakfast and it's hosted at the Copthorne (Hotel)," Ms Ardern said.

"My view was that that wasn't as open and didn't include as many people as I would like.

"I'm a big fan of a bacon butty. And so that's how the barbecue was born."

New Zealand has commemorated Waitangi Day as a public holiday since 1974, for two years as "New Zealand Day", before reverting to the name of the foundational treaty.

Aotearoa also received well-wishes from friends either side of the Pacific Ocean.

Ms Ardern shared a note from newly inaugurated president Joe Biden on Saturday afternoon on her Instagram.

"The American people join me in offering warmest regards to the people of New Zealand on the occasion of Waitangi Day," Mr Biden wrote.

"I have fond memories of my trip to your country in 2016 when New Zealand's legendary reputation for friendliness and hospitality was on full display.

"New Zealand is one of our closest friends and partners ... I look forward to strengthening the U.S.- New Zealand relationship and cooperating to overcome the greatest challenges of our time."

Foreign Minister Marise Payne also delivered a birthday message to New Zealand on behalf of Australians on Twitter.

"Our relationship is uniquely close, with strong community links & shared values. We are the closest of partners in the Pacific & on the global stage," she wrote.