Big effort for Varekai's very big top

As far as big tops go, they don't get much bigger than the 20m-high, blue and yellow "Grand Chapiteau" erected by the Cirque du Soleil in Auckland yesterday.

It took about 60 people to raise the giant tent on 4.8m steel poles at the ASB Showgrounds.

Four more smaller structures - including the backstage zone in which trapeze artists dress, jugglers warm up and contortionists prepare to go on stage - awaited the set-up crew ahead of next Friday's opening of Varekai.

Christchurch-raised Varekai transport manager Max Blythe said "big top day", as it was called, was a big deal for the circus.

"Day one is mast day, when we put up the masts, day two is big top day, then we just go from there."

More than 1000 tonnes of equipment filling 73 containers was brought in for the extravaganza.

Bringing the equipment to New Zealand brought its own challenges for the Canadian company. It was the first time the Varekai set was shipped and each piece was cleaned under Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry supervision in Brisbane to meet quarantine regulations.

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