6 Feb 2014

Crowd numbers down at Waitangi

10:22 pm on 6 February 2014

Bad weather is being blamed for a drastic drop in crowd numbers at Waitangi. About 6000 people visited the grounds for ceremonies in Northland marking when New Zealand's founding document was signed in 1840. The day traditionally attracts up to 30,000.

The dawn service at Waitangi.

The dawn service at Waitangi. Photo: RNZ

Despite the cancellation of some events, people still braved wet and windy conditions to take part in the festivities. Hundreds of people gathered for the dawn service at the carved meeting house on the Treaty grounds.

Prime Minister John Key said a prayer and gave thanks that New Zealand was a blessed and prosperous country. He told those gathered to remember people serving New Zealanders.

"We take this moment to thank all those other New Zealanders that support the rest of us, In particular, I think of our police and our firefighters but also, of course, our military men and women, many of whom are serving overseas still today in dangerous and difficult locations."

Not as many waka crews took part in the  festivities.

Not as many waka crews took part in the festivities. Photo: RNZ

An inter-denominational church service was held at the waka shelter and there was a 21-gun salute at midday.

In the afternoon, about 200 protesters took part in the annual walk from Te Tii marae to the Treaty grounds.

Most were part of a hikoi which arrived at Waitangi from Cape Reinga on Wednesday protesting against deep sea oil drilling in the Reinga basin about 100km off Ninety Mile Beach. The group performed a karakia at the Treaty grounds flagpole.

Waitangi National Trust chair Pita Paraone said there were some disappointed waka crew who couldn't get out on the water in the morning but, overall, it had been a good day.

"While I have some sympathy for particularly the stallholders and the committee who've been responsible for putting together the programme, unfortunately the weather's a fact of life."

Around New Zealand

The largest Waitangi Day celebration was in Porirua, near Wellington, where more than 30,000 people turned out in fine weather. Festival of the Elements chair Bob Cater said he has been with the festival since it began in 1991 and it has built a reputation for showing the way communities can come together in the spirit of the Treaty.

In Auckland, about 30,000 people attended a festival at Barry Curtis Park in Flat Bush. Thousands also attended celebrations at Bastion Point, which got underway with a powhiri at Orakei marae on Thursday morning.

In the South Island, about 200 people gathered at Rapaki Marae on Banks Peninsula for a special citizenship ceremony.

Relationships and family connections were the theme for celebrations marked by Ngai Tahu, with the tribe's annual festival this year hosted by Te Runanga o Otakou at Otakou Marae near Dunedin.

Anti-drilling protesters at the Treaty grounds.

Anti-drilling protesters at the Treaty grounds. Photo: RNZ