Navy to Play Active Role at Waitangi Day Commemoration

31 January 2019

The Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) will have an active role again in Waitangi Day commemoration in the Bay of Islands this year.

Every year on 6 February people of all backgrounds and creeds gather to commemorate the signing of New Zealand’s most historic document, Te Tiriti o Waitangi – The Treaty of Waitangi. 

The RNZN is invited annually by the people of Te Tai Tokerau to attend Waitangi Day activities, and it plays a significant part in the commemorative ceremonies.

The RNZN representatives this year will be Chief of Navy Rear Admiral David Proctor and his Deputy, Commodore Mat Williams.

This year HMNZS Wellington will be in the bay, alongside Opua Wharf from 4-5 February and anchored off Waitangi on 6 February.

RNZN involvement in the commemoration will begin with a Beat Retreat and Ceremonial Sunset Ceremony at the Treaty Ground flagpole on Tuesday evening, 5 February.

A 100-man Royal Guard of Honour will conduct the ceremonial lowering of the New Zealand White Ensign, signifying the end of the day. This will be reviewed by Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy.

At midday on Wednesday, 6 February, HMNZS Wellington will fire a 21-gun salute to observe the 179th Anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Firing such salutes developed from the naval tradition of visiting warships firing their cannons until all ammunition aboard was spent, demonstrating they were disarmed and had no hostile intent. Today all salutes are fired with blank cartridges.

From the outset Waitangi commemorations have included naval involvement, first with Royal Navy ships and officers and latterly with the RNZN, which paraded at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds for the first time in 1947, after being granted access by the Waitangi National Trust.

In 1990 the RNZN was presented with a Charter recognising the strength of the relationship between the RNZN and the community in the region. The charter allows the RNZN to parade on Te Tai Tokerau land and on Waitangi grounds.

RNZN Waitangi Day Programme in Bay Of Islands

Monday, 4 February

8am: HMNZS Wellington berths alongside Opua Wharf

2–3pm: Navy Band Concert at Paihia Village Green

Tuesday, 5 February

10am: HMNZS Wellington departs Opua Wharf – Ahoy Waitangi school programme

4.45–5.30pm: Beat Retreat and Ceremonial Sunset Ceremony, with the Governor-General as Reviewing Officer

Wednesday, 6 February

5am: Dawn Service

10am: Church Service, Chief of Navy and Principal Navy Chaplain

11.15–11.30am: RNZN Maori Cultural Group perform on the Treaty Grounds

11.30–11.50am: RNZN Band concert on the Treaty Ground Flagpole

Midday: Guard of Honour forms at the Flag Pole – 21-Gun Salute from HMNZS Wellington

Midday: Seasprite helicopter flypast

5–5.30pm: Closing ceremony – Beat Retreat and Ceremonial Sunset Ceremony, with the Chief of Navy as Reviewing Officer

Royal Guard of Honour Ceremony Overview

Before the Beat Retreat, the Governor-General will inspect the Royal Guard of Honour, who parade as a ceremonial mark of respect to the Governor-General and the occasion of Waitangi Day. The size of the guard reflects the royal ceremonial honour, and they will parade the Queen’s Colour, a ceremonial ensign dedicated by the Governor-General on behalf of the Queen.

The Royal Guard of Honour, comprising 100 sailors from the Royal New Zealand Navy, will march on to the Treaty Grounds in front of the Treaty House. The Governor-General will take the dais and receive a Royal Salute from the Royal Guard of Honour. She will then inspect her guard and the RNZN Band and receive a second Royal Salute. On completion, the Guard and Band will march off and relocate for the Beat Retreat Ceremony.

Beat Retreat and Ceremonial Sunset

The Beat Retreat ceremony is a military custom that dates back to at least 1557, and has been defined as “A beat of the drum, at the firing of the evening gun”. The gun was fired to mark the change from day to night.

It is followed by a Ceremonial Sunset, which is a formal recognition of the naval tradition of saluting and lowering the ensign at sunset each day in harbour, which traditionally signalled the cessation of hostilities overnight while at war. The Ceremonial Sunset does not actually occur at sunset – it can be used to provide a formal conclusion to events, and at Waitangi signifies the ceremonial end of the day.

The first part of the ceremony will be performed by the Royal New Zealand Navy Band, while the Royal Guard of Honour marches into position. Once the Guard is in position, VIPs and guests will be invited to move towards the flag pole.

At Sunset the Guard will present arms and a single Evening Gun will be fired from the Royal New Zealand Navy Ship HMNZS Wellington, which will be anchored off the treaty grounds.

A Bugler will play Sunset over the evening hymn, during which time the New Zealand White Ensign will be lowered.

After the ceremony the Guard and Band will retire and guests will depart.

This page was last reviewed on 30 January 2019.