Whangārei Maritime Festival organisers are already planning for 2024 after this weekend’s “stupendously successful” first event drew more than 13,000 people.
Whangārei Town Basin-based Blackball Maritime Society chairman David Irvin said the first planning meeting for next year would be on Thursday.
The festival was held over Saturday and Sunday with 22-degree sunny weather adding to its holiday atmosphere.
The event was a first for New Zealand and drew nearly three times the number of people expected, making it one of Northland’s biggest.
“It was the right event, at the right time, in the right place – and the weather was spectacular,” Irvin said. “Everything that could go right did.”
Whangārei Mayor Vince Cocurullo described the festival as “absolutely fabulous”.
“I’m blown away by the success of the festival.”
Cocurullo formally opened the festival on Friday, saying it built on Whangārei’s long maritime heritage.
He was staggered by the number of festival attendees.
“Whangārei – love it here, you can’t get better than this.”
He said the $40,000 that Whangārei District Council put towards the festival had been well spent.
Irvin said the free family-focused festival celebrated Whangārei’s maritime spirit past, present and future.
“It was stupendously successful.”
The festival adds to the Town Basin’s history, which includes the New Caledonian yacht Ouvea quietly slipping in to berth there for several days in 1985 – before its crew of saboteurs later blew up the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland.
Organisers are working towards the festival becoming a trademark week-long Whangārei celebration in the future.
Irvin said a special Marsden Cove-based event for the Coastal Classic yachties sailing in New Zealand’s biggest annual yacht race from Auckland to the Bay of Islands over Labour Weekend was on the cards. More than 170 boats compete.
He said expanding further down the harbour from the Town Basin would allow for the inclusion of the New Zealand Sailing Trust-owned 26-metre yacht Steinlager 2, based in Auckland, that Sir Peter Blake sailed to victory in the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Race.
“They wanted to bring the yacht up this year but it’s too big to fit in the Town Basin,” Irvin said.
About 100 different options were available to festival-goers at the Town Basin venue, which was decked out with a kilometre of fluttering blue bunting.
Highlights included hundreds of people lining both sides of the Hātea River for a hugely popular demonstration of an emergency helicopter sea rescue.
The ancient Japanese art of gyotaku was also popular. A constant stream of young people created more than 500 fish prints on T-shirts, bags and material pieces by applying paint to real fish such as mullet and making prints with their bodies in the same way fishermen once used to record their catches.
Among the many boats on display at the festival was the restored 1930-built 20-metre classic yacht Arcturus, which was once owned by US World War II general George Patton and later by actor Gene Kelly.
Irvin said one satisfying festival feature was that it produced only a single bag of rubbish to landfill thanks to sustainable event waste management.
Festival attendees Paul and Josefina Kirkman said: “This will become a landmark for Whangārei. Today establishes it. Wonderful, wonderful, helped by the weather but wonderful nonetheless.”
Blackball Yacht Club, whose members are from among about 200 overseas boats that come to the Town Basin and Whangārei Harbour each year to escape the Pacific’s tropical cyclone season, donated $2500 at the festival towards scholarships for students sailing on the tall ship R Tucker Thompson.
Click through to see all the photos from the festival:
■ Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air