Auckland's giant waterfront party kicks off today.
Over the next 23 days, an expected 500,000 visitors will be treated to free entertainment and given the chance to meet their sailing heroes at the Viaduct Harbour, transformed to host the Volvo Ocean Race's New Zealand stopover.
The 65ft around-the-world racers, each with Kiwi sailors aboard, were duelling their way through the Pacific from their Hong Kong stay and expected to storm into Auckland by Tuesday or Wednesday.
But festivities begin today at the Volvo Ocean Race village with a welcome ceremony at 9am. The party will continue until the fleet leaves for Brazil on March 18.
The race village, extending from the Eastern Viaduct across Te Wero Island to the Viaduct Events Centre, will feature the seven racing boats on display – on the water for three days of racing, and onshore for an overhaul giving visitors a view of how they're prepared for one of the world's toughest sports events.
The nine Kiwi sailors will join in the village gala. Fans will have the chance to quiz victorious America's Cup sailors Peter Burling and Blair Tuke in a Q&A session on the main stage at 3pm on March 3.
Tuke, sailing with MAPFRE, was looking forward to a taste of home after a diet of mainly freeze dried food sailors have on board the racing boats.
"If there is one thing I will eat when I get home it will be a steak and cheese pie, and an L&P."
Entertainment at the race village will include top acts such as Elemeno P, Hipstamatics, Anika Moa and the Jordan Luck Band. Sons of Zion are due to play tonight from 9pm-10pm.
There will also be magic shows, poi dancers and glow-in-the-dark stilt walkers. And Yachting New Zealand will provide free learn-to-sail lessons for all ages.
An exhibit featuring a life-size cutaway of a Volvo Ocean 65 boat will allow visitors to pass through it to "see what it is like to sleep in a bunk, stand at the helm, check out the living conditions and get a real feel for every aspect of life on board", organisers said.