Treaty of Waitangi moved to new Wellington home under cover of darkness
They only had to travel a few hundred metres down the road.
But the secretive operation was plotted for years and took place under cover of darkness, with no members of the public allowed to take part in the journey to protect the important documents' security.
Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi) was moved overnight Friday from Archives New Zealand on Wellington's Mulgrave St a few hundred metres up the road to the National Library on Molesworth St.
The three documents, including the Treaty, were moved at 2.45am with so much caution that archivists had to walk slowly alongside the vehicle to ensure there was no vibration.
Chief archivist Marilyn Little said a waiata was sung as a group shepherded the truck between the buildings. Mulgrave St was still dotted with security guards by 8am on Saturday for the operation.
The 1840 document was moved along with the 1835 He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni (Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand) and the 1893 Te Petihana Whakamana Poti Wahine (The Women's Suffrage Petition).
The documents were so sensitive that light, vibration and humidity were all threats - the operation had been planned for three months, including a rehearsal last week - and if it had rained, special "rain jackets" would have been put over the documents, Little said.
Minister Peter Dunne was at the National Library to announce the documents had been moved to their new home safely, before a welcoming ceremony at the Pipitea Marae. He said his great-grandmother's signature was thought to be among those on the Women's Suffrage Petition.
The final cost of the project came in at $7.2 million, nudging it only slightly over the DIA's budget.
Senior Maori leader Sir Mark Solomon was part of the morning's procession and was allowed to carefully touch and photograph the Treaty where his tupuna had signed it.
He praised the care with which the documents were moved into their new public display. "There was real heart put into it - I saw how important it was to them - I thought it was a beautiful ceremony."
The move will allow the three documents to go on display for He Tohu, a permanent exhibition of the nationally significant documents at the National Library.
"I think it is vital that any visit to Wellington includes a visit to these documents," Dunne said.
"For a lot of people, there is a real significance and this is a personal connection. I think as more New Zealanders engage with them, debate them, understand them, come to appreciate their significance in terms of shaping the country … then their role [as] markers of the future are also strengthened."
It was customary to move the documents, considered taonga, before first light. But focus on security also contributed to the decision to carry out the operation overnight - with a blanket ban on media coverage lifting at 10.30am on Saturday.
DIA director of Maori strategy and engagement, Hugh Karena, said there was likely to be huge interest in viewing the Treaty from the NZ public and for visitors to Wellington being shown the Parliament precinct.
It would also be an important resource for schools teaching pupils about the Treaty.
At various stages of its history the Treaty was not well looked after - exposed to rats' nibbling, and discovered in a damp condition in the basement of the old Government Buildings in Wellington.
The original display at Archives NZ was built in 1989 and had become outdated.
It was hoped the documents' new, light-controlled home would keep them protected for many centuries to come.
Due to the documents' light-sensitive inks, people who want to read them will have to push a button so a low-level light illuminates them.
The plan to rehouse the Treaty was announced five years ago, but by late 2013 the Department of Internal Affairs said it was going to miss its original planned move date.
By that point, $2.3 million had already been spent on the project.
That led to criticism that the whole affair was a waste of money and a review was launched into the project.
There had been plans to house the Homosexual Law Reform's 1968 petition in the exhibition too, but that was scrapped after it was decided the project had grown too big.
By 2015, another $800,000 had been spent on the project.
But the re-focused proposal resulted in the plan for just the three documents to form the exhibition, and the 2017 opening date was set.
The move was overseen by a He Tohu tikanga group of Wellington manawhenua, Ngapuhi-nui-tonu – who regard themselves as the spiritual guardians of the declaration and the Treaty – and the Department of Internal Affairs.