Russell Blackstock

Russell Blackstock is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

Yachting stars eye Northland

Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts will be based near Whangarei with the Oracle team. File photo / APN
Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts will be based near Whangarei with the Oracle team. File photo / APN

New Zealand is rolling out the red carpet for the rock stars of yacht racing.

After scouring the world, America's Cup holder Oracle Racing Team has opted to base itself in Northland to prepare for its next defence of the coveted trophy, known as the Auld Mug.

American billionaire Larry Ellison is bringing his team - including yachting superstars Russell Coutts and James Spithill - to Marsden Cove marina to put his state-of-the-art racing catamarans through their paces.

Oracle ground crew will start arriving in October, with racers coming in early January and expected to stay till the end of May 2013.

San Francisco-based Oracle approached Hopper Development, which controls the marina, and asked it to find 50 houses suitable to rent for the the crew, support team and their families.

"This is massive news and we will pull out all the stops to make everyone welcome," Paul Shanahan, marketing manager for Hopper Development, said.

"We want Oracle to have such a good time that they come back for more because these guys are the rock stars of ocean racing."

Shanahan said Oracle chose the area as a base because of Northport's deep water conditions. It was also close to Warkworth, where some of their boats' key components were being built, at Core Builders Composites.

Whangarei mayor Morris Cutforth welcomed the prospect of the VIP visitors' arrival, which is expected to boost the local economy by millions.

"I expect come summertime, half of Northland will be out looking for the best vantage points to watch the Oracle team on the water," Cutforth said. "We expect this will inject a lot of new life into the area. It is very exciting."

Meanwhile, it was announced yesterday that tycoon Ellison is splashing out about half a billion dollars to buy the Hawaiian island of Lanai.

It is Hawaii's sixth-largest island. What Ellison gets for his money is 365sq km of barely developed natural beauty, a property that has been called Pineapple Island because of its history of plantations growing the fruit.

These days it is a luxury resort, accessible to the billionaire set by helicopter or private jet. It boasts championship golf courses and 76km of coastline that includes some of the most pristine beaches in the United States. There are barely 3000 residents, few made-up roads and no traffic lights.

- Herald on Sunday

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