Auckland: Highlights of a harbour city

By Dionne Christian

Dionne Christian contemplates Auckland's maritime heritage for the Ports of Auckland Anniversary Day Regatta.

Auckland's Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum is offering a cultural experience aboard the Waka Haunui.
Auckland's Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum is offering a cultural experience aboard the Waka Haunui.

A landlubber from way back, I can get sea sick even by standing up quickly in a bath - but I've long harboured romantic notions about learning how to sail and spending more time enjoying Auckland's seas.

Auckland Anniversary Day sure is the day to contemplate our maritime heritage, and how lucky we are to live in a harbour city.

The Ports of Auckland Anniversary Day Regatta is the highlight and, at 174 years old, is New Zealand's oldest sporting event.

Hosted by 17 different yacht and watersports clubs and the Royal NZ Navy, the one-day regatta, held all over Auckland, attracts entries from about 500 vessels, with an estimated 1500 people afloat - and that's not including spectators.

Those of us who don't have boats can spend a relaxing day watching the events from the calm of terra firma.

Bastion Pt, North Head, East Coast Bays, Tamaki Drive, Orakei Wharf and Princes Wharf are the best viewing locations.

On-the-water action includes:

Sea scout cutters.
Tugboat races, a parade and a fire-fighting demonstration.
Championship dinghy racing for youth and adult classes.
Fleet racing for keelboats and multihulls as well as classics.
Waka ama and dragon boating.
Passage races from Kawau, Mahurangi and Rakino for boats in cruising trim.
Recreational dinghy sailing for all classes.
The Harbour Challenge for hotrods on water.
Remote-controlled yachts.

But earlier these holidays, with the regatta fast approaching, I thought it was the perfect time to hoist the sails on my own dream and embrace some different ways to experience our harbour-side location.

Classic yachting

Dan Renall is the captain of the Classic Yacht Association of New Zealand, and wants to get more of us into sailing classic yachts.

He and friend Tim Burnie were more than happy to take me out on Jonquil 8141 for a morning sail from the Viaduct Basin to North Head and back again.

Dan, who's been sailing since childhood, favours these classic vessels, built from wood and sailed using traditional techniques, because he says they're more of a challenge to sail than modern boats. Listening to and watching him and Tim tacking, gybing and luffing - among other things - was to get a porthole view into another world.

A love of and respect for the sea, co-ordination and a sheer enjoyment of boats are paramount.

This was smooth and very enjoyable sailing as we skipped lightly across the water. After spending a morning on board, I confess I spent an idle moment surfing the net to look at prices for classic yachts.

For the moment, I will have to be content to watch classic yachts race during the Anniversary Day Regatta. Dan won last year's Classic B division and is determined to repeat the success this year, but he'll face intense competition. Auckland is home to the largest fleet of vintage yachts still sailing anywhere in the world and a number of them, including the Jonquil, are on display and/or racing on Regatta Day.

Stand-up paddle boarding

Anyone who's been anywhere near the seaside in recent years would have seen a growing number of stand-up paddle boarders serenely gliding across the water.

Neil Pollett, who runs the SUP store Flux at Westhaven, patiently gave me my first lesson.

He fulfilled his promise to me that within an hour I would be standing up and paddling.

I ended up in the drink twice before successfully rising to my feet and paddling for a few minutes. I loved the walking-on-water sensation and can see how the sport, the world's fastest growing, could become addictive. Once you hit the right rhythm, you end up in a trance-like state concentrating on the sound of the sea and the unique perspective that SUP boarding gives you of the world. I was back two weeks later, with friends, having another go.

Have a Go session for newcomers: NZ Marine Drive Building, Westhaven Drive, Westhaven (check parking as some are tow-away). Monday 3pm-5pm, followed by fun racing from 5pm-6pm. Donate a gold coin and Flux will donate money raised to the Watercare Harbour Clean-Up Trust.

Waka on the Waitemata

Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum's Hawaiki Gallery has just launched a 2.5-hour cultural experience aboard the Waka Haunui, a double-hulled ocean-voyaging canoe. A traditional welcome precedes the hands-on sail and navigational journey.

Waka Quest also hosts a waka-building display at the museum's Hobson Wharf entrance. This weekend the museum is a hive of activity include arts and crafts like sand-painting, story-telling and harbour sailings aboard boats the Ted Ashby, Breeze, and SS Puke.

Waka sailings today at 10am and 2pm. Adults $150, children $110. Navy Pipes and Drums Marching Band show, Monday, 10.30am and at noon.

Remote-controlled yachting

On a perfect Saturday, I joined members of the Wattle Downs Radio Yachting Club to watch them race International One Metre (IOM) and Radio Marblehead (RM) radio-controlled yachts.

Don't be fooled into thinking this isn't competitive or fast, or that it's easy. Although the boats may be smaller, their skippers are as determined to win as any America's Cup crew - indeed, there are a handful of America's Cup sailors who race radio-controlled boats.

The boats, which range in price from about $1500 up to $4500, are controlled by radio equipment so each sailor must have precision hand-eye co-ordination. They're amazing to watch as they speed dexterously around the course at Wattle Farm Park.

Club spokesman Bill Bradley says they're the perfect way to spend a day sailing without getting wet and spending hours cleaning the boat afterwards.

Though Wattle Farm is regarded as the country's best site for RC yachts, this regatta day there's mini-action around Auckland.

Electron Fleet racing from Westhaven Marina, 10am; International One Metres, A2 and Marbleheads Fleets, Onehunga Lagoon. See radioyachtingnz.wordpress.com or contact Bill Bradley on 027 280 9252.

Go behind the scenes

Ever driven past Ports of Auckland and wondered how they unload container ships? See Port will show the port at work during Auckland Anniversary Weekend.

Captain Cook Wharf will be open with displays related to the port, industry and jobs. There'll also be games, live music and food stalls.

Free bus tours will travel around the ports' commercial wharves, while boat tours will provide an insight into waterside operations.

Captain Cook Wharf bus tours are today at 11.30am, 1pm, 2.30pm and 4pm.

Boat trips, today at 2pm and 4pm.

If you're over 16, bring photo ID (required by law as the port is a Customs-controlled area).

Bookings essential, see poal.co.nz.

Serious eating

For the past eight years, Auckland Anniversary Weekend has also been about the Seafood Festival at the Viaduct Event Centre. Anyone with a passing interest in food will savour the chance to walk around the many stalls and try new seafood dishes.

The family event is a three-day extravaganza featuring the best local seafood prepared by some of our most accomplished chefs and eateries, plus live music, cooking demonstrations and competitions.

Don't miss the ancient Sicilian fishermen's Slippery Pole competition. Competitors attempt to walk the length of a heavily greased telephone pole to try to reach a flag and claim the $1000 prize.

In all the years it's featured at the ASB Auckland Seafood Festival, no one has reached the flag.

- NZ Herald

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