New Zealand cultural sites contend for World Heritage status

Three unique cultural sites in New Zealand are being considered on UNESCO’s tentative list for World Heritage Sites. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds, Kerikeri Basin and Napier Art Deco Historic precinct have all been suggested by the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, as cultural sites worthy of World Heritage protection.

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds were the location for the first signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between Maori and the British Crown on 6 February 1840. For this reason this historic precinct is referred to as the “birthplace of the nation. The site encompasses 4.8 hectares and includes the Treaty House, the whare runanga (Maori meeting house) and the imposing naval flagstaff, which marks the approximate spot of the first signing.

The Treaty House was built in 1834 for James Busby (the first British Resident to New Zealand ) and is one of the oldest existing buildings in New Zealand . The Treaty House has been completely restored and is now classified as a museum. The whare runanga is a traditional carved meeting house that represents all iwi (regional tribes) in New Zealand and the Ngatokimatawhaorua – one of the world’s largest Maori ceremonial war canoes is also located on site.

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds stand as a cultural marker to one of the most significant periods in New Zealand ‘s history. The site, containing native bird life, trees and heritage gardens is located in Northland.

The Kerikeri Basin in Northland witnessed the birth of Christianity in New Zealand and the beginning of a bi-cultural society. Maori welcomed missionaries in 1819, allowing them to establish a Church Mission Settlement on land surrounding the Kerikeri River and Inlet.

The area was settled before the arrival of the Europeans, notably Hongi Hika of Nga Puhi (one of Northland’s main Maori tribes) had a coastal settlement in the basin. The Kerikeri Basin site integrates significant Maori and Christian heritage elements, these include the Kororipo pa(fortified settlement), the Kororipo whirlpool and the Kerikeri Mission Station (Mission House and Stone Store), as well as other archaeological sites.

Built in 1822, the Kerikeri Mission House (also known as Kemp House) is New Zealand ‘s oldest European building. Standing beside the Mission House is the Stone Store. Completed in 1836, it is the oldest stone building and the oldest trading building in New Zealand . Originally the Stone House was used to house mission supplies and produce, but over time has also functioned as a library, military barracks and trading post and a general store.

In1974 the Kemp family entrusted the house and its contents to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. The garden surrounding the buildings is New Zealand ‘s oldest continuously cultivated European garden.

The co-existence of these historic European buildings in a distinct Maori environment makes the Kerikeri Basin a unique and precious area. The largely intact natural environment of river and shrubland and the Kerikeri Falls adds to the value of this cultural site.

The Napier Art Deco Historic precinct is the result of a massive program of building works carried out after the devastating Hawke’s Bay earthquake of 1931. The earthquake, measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale and the resultant fires destroyed much of the existing township.

This natural disaster created an opportunity for a group of architects to work together to reconstruct the town center. The majority of the work was carried out within two short years and conformed to a predominantly Art Deco style that was fashionable at the time. By the end of the decade Napier was proclaimed to be the newest city in the world.

The precinct is registered as an Historic Area, validating its value and safe-keeping the area for future generations. The Art Deco Trust now operates to promote and educate people on this unique area, and a schedule of Art Deco events (including the annual Art Deco weekend in February, as well as guided walks of the precinct) ensures modern visitors can enjoy a true Art Deco experience.

The 31st session of the World Heritage Committee Meeting will be held in Christchurch from 23 June till 2 July 2007. Delegates from around the world will meet to discuss the tentative World Heritage sites, as well as the state of existing sites.