The hurricane season is doing its annual big favour to Northland by sending about 200 ocean-going yachts hurrying for shelter in the region's marinas, generating millions of dollars' worth of earnings for Northland businesses.
The first yacht arrived at Riverside Drive Marina in Whangarei last week.
The hurricanes might generate the need for shelter but a major reason for the steady growth in the numbers of yachts choosing Whangarei as safe haven is 17 years of hard work by the Whangarei Marine Promotions Group, until this year self-supported.
The 30 companies involved in the Whangarei and Marsden Cove marinas contribute over $30,000 a year to the promotional work but this year the Whangarei District Council acknowledged the economic importance of this seasonal community by sponsoring a yacht race in the annual pre-hurricane regatta at Vava'u in Tonga. Whangarei businesses also stepped up with a range of prizes for participants.
The group has sponsored the race for the past four years. The district council sponsorship has seen the race renamed The Whangarei City Challenge.
The names of the three category winners (under 40-ft, over 40-ft and multihull) have been engraved every year on a kauri trophy which hangs in a Vava'u yacht club. Each entrant received a prize: these included T-shirts; a free haul-out for a multihull with Whangarei boatyard Norsand; a night off the boat at the Kingsgate hotel in Whangarei; and a make-over with Reflections Hair & Beauty of Marsden Cove Marina.
Now seasoned campaigners, the group knows what works and has built on these activities year on year.
The formula is simple: going out to its target market with comprehensive information and using social events and one-to-one contact to win friends and influence people.
The group produces a fresh guide to the city's marine services and facilities every year and sends two committee members to the islands in September to distribute the guides personally by rowing from yacht to yacht, and in marina offices.
The 2012 envoys were Sharron Petersson of Whangarei Marina and Karen Wyatt of Marsden Cove marina, who also hosted the inaugural "barge party", a barbecue held on a barge moored in Vava'u harbour (the barge owned by Whangarei residents Owen and Lynda Manktelow).
Brochures and party supplies were sailed up, arriving in the nick of time with seasoned Northland sailor Boyd Smith, says group secretary/treasurer Ray Roberts.
The group served New Zealand wines, New Zealand sausages, and did a presentation on what Whangarei had to offer in terms of hardstands, marinas and specialised marine services, with information on Whangarei and Northland activities, and answered questions on customs clearance and biosecurity issues.
Sharron Petersson, assistant manager of Whangarei Marina, says over 25 boat crews - about 50 people - attended the event, and all intended to sail to New Zealand. The marina had about 60 bookings already but "usually just as many again arrive without booking. We manage to squeeze them in".
The Whangarei Marine Promotions Group has also developed a popular tradition of welcoming and farewelling the fleet with a barbecue. This year's welcome takes place on December 3.
About 450 yachts sit out the hurricane season in New Zealand from November to late March: Northland gets the lion's share. Eighty per cent of the 450 arrivals clear customs in Opua or Marsden Cove at the mouth of Whangarei harbour and about half of them stay on in Whangarei's boatyards and marinas.
Ray Roberts says the trend of seeing more multi-hulls and bigger yachts sailing up the harbour each year looks set to continue.