One of the most spectacular sporting events to be held in the Western Bay will illuminate the inner harbour and Mount Maunganui coastline today and tomorrow.The 2016 Te Wananga o Aotearoa Long Distance Nationals have attracted waka ama paddlers from all over New Zealand, including many world champions, with guest teams from Australia competing as exhibition crews only.
The event will be based at Marine Park Reserve, Sulphur Point, with two race courses set to test the elite paddlers in testing weather conditions forecast to improve.
Spectators can take in the spectacular sights at various points along the coast including the base track of Mauao.
Event co-ordinator Rebecca Boyce says the event has attracted 728 paddlers across the two days of racing.
"On Friday we have 230 single paddlers in their waka ama and then on Saturday we have about 580 six-man crews going out," she said.
"Races get under way at 10am both days at the end of Sulphur Point. (Today) we have a 17km course, which takes them up the harbour a bit towards Rangiwahia, out around Mauao and Rabbit Island and back in, finishing at Sulpher Point at the Tauranga Fish and Dive Club.
"On the Saturday the senior crews do 30km from Sulphur Point all the way down to Omanu and back again."
Waka Ama NZ CEO, Lara Collins, says these are the largest long distance nationals that have been held in terms of numbers participating.
"That is partly because Tauranga is a pretty accessible place for people to get to. That is a real plus for the event," she said.
"We have three national championships a year, with the National Sprint Championships in January, National Secondary Schools Championships in March, and the Long Distance Championships held around this time of the year.
"We are the fastest growing water sport in the country. Since 2011 our membership has grown by 67 per cent and we have 90 clubs from Kaitaia to Invercargill. There is a really positive vibe around the sport.
"One of the things that is appealing about the sport is that everybody can do it.
"It is a real family oriented sport with mums, dads, kids and grandparents competing and that will be the case this weekend as well with under-16s through to over-60s categories."
Boyce says the three local clubs Tauranga - Moana, Hoe Aroha Whanau o Mauao and Maketu Hoe Waka - have been instrumental in the preparation for the event.
There is also unique on-land activity based at Marine Park Reserve.
The SMART Trust (Society of Maori Astronomy Research and Tradition) star dome has been set up in the marquee and will be a special attraction.
"They will have their scientists here and will take people through how voyagers used the stars to navigate. That is something fun and interactive for the kids," Boyce said.