An all-star cast lines up for Auckland's State Harbour Crossing swim tomorrow morning and organisers hope the event makes headlines for all the right reasons.

The State Harbour Crossing is the first stage of the New Zealand Ocean Swim Series that has six events throughout the country.

It is the most popular of the series, and more than 1200 swimmers are expected at the start line at 7:05am for the 2.8km swim from Quinton Park in Bayswater to the northern side of Te Wero Island, Viaduct Harbour.

"It's not every day that all marine traffic in New Zealand's largest city is called to a halt to allow you the privilege of saying, 'I swam across the harbour'," said event organiser Scott Rice.

The State Harbour Crossing, which has been run since 2004, is New Zealand's largest ocean swim in terms of participation and the quality of the field shows the respect in which the title is held.

Kiwi Cara Baker, who lives in Queensland and is trained by top coach Denis Cotterell, this year won the Australian and New Zealand open-water swimming championships.

She returns home as the favourite for the race and is excited about her first State Harbour Crossing and the chance to swim in front of her friends and family.

"It's quite hard to come back because I love New Zealand so much and I realise how much I miss it - this is definitely my home," said the 20-year-old Baker.

"I don't think there is any pressure on me, because it is my first time in the event.

"People can call you the favourite, but anything can happen in ocean events.

"I am going to go out hard and try to stay on the men's legs and see how we go."

The former Manawatu swimmer out-touched Taranaki's Charlotte Webby to claim the New Zealand Open Water title in Lake Taupo in January.

Webby is the harbour crossing defending champion and will be looking to get one back tomorrow.

Alannah Jury, a New Zealand rep in open-water swimming, is also among the favourites.

"The key to getting across the harbour as fast as you can is to find a target above the finish line and sight it the whole way," said Jury who is looking for her first win in the harbour crossing.

"You also need to account for the current of the water."

Also in the field is Olympic and Commonwealth Games rep Melissa Ingram, a former winner of the event, so the pressure at the front of the field will be intense from the start.

In the men's section, Rotorua swimmer Kane Radford has owned the State Harbour Crossing in recent times - he won three consecutive titles in 2006, 2007 and 2008, and is back to reclaim his title after a season in the United States.

"I love ocean swimming and this event really suits me," said the 20-year-old Radford, who rates his New Zealand ocean swim title as his career highlight.

"I don't see it as pressure but I want to keep up my winning streak.

"I know it is going to be hard with Codie [Grimsey] and Bryn [Murphy] pushing it all the way, but I'll give it my best shot and, hopefully, I can win it again."

Dunedin's Bryn Murphy returns to defend his title that he won ahead of Olympian Moss Burmester last year.

"Last year, I went into the race as an underdog and suspect I will do the same this year," said Murphy.

"There are some fantastic New Zealand and Australian competitors on the start line - it all comes down to the swimmer that swims the straightest line towards the Viaduct on the day."

Two of the younger swimming fraternity - Steven Kent (younger brother of Dean Kent) and Australian Codie Grimsey (younger brother of Trent Grimsey) - are stepping out of their brothers' shadows.

"What has attracted me to this event is the fierce competition," said Grimsey, the Oceania 10km marathon swim champion.

"Obviously, Kane Radford is the king of this course, winning three of the last four times it has been held, so I am excited about taking him on."

Grimsey has studied the results and noticed the placings chop and change between 2nd and 10th.

"This indicates just how much depth and up-and-coming talent New Zealand swimming has, so I am looking forward to racing some of these competitors."

Also entered this year are broadcaster Peter Williams and transtasman rower Shaun Quincey, following in the wake of Act Party leader Rodney Hide who completed the crossing in one of his three attempts.

There is hope the seventh harbour crossing will erase some of the dark memories of the sixth.

Tragedy hit last year when a 57-year-old man died attempting the crossing.

It was the second death in the race; a swimmer died of a suspected heart attack in 2005.

Surf Life Saving NZ and the St John Ambulance team were on hand but could not save the swimmer.

"I have spoken to everyone and I am assured there was nothing more that could have been done," said Charlotte Guscott, the St John Ambulance Auckland regional event manager.

Safety is always a top priority for the event.

The harbour crossing is not like the Auckland Half Marathon, in which anyone not up to running the full distance can walk.

Swimmers need to be sure they can complete a 2.8km ocean swim.

"We do all that we can to ensure the event is as safe as possible for all athletes, but the swimmers need to be healthy and competent to complete the distance," said Rice.

"There needs to be an element of personal responsibility."

Rice points out that more than 15,000 swimmers have safely enjoyed the Ocean Swim Series the past three years.

He paid tribute to the Auckland Harbourmaster, John Lee Richards, the Auckland boating community and the Viaduct Harbour management for their support.

Late entries can be lodged today at the Copthorne Hotel in Quay Street between 2pm and 7pm.

State Harbour Crossing Swim:
* The current course has been in use since 2008.

* In 2008, the course changed from Stanley Bay to Market Square (Viaduct Harbour) to Bayswater to the Te Wero Island (Viaduct Harbour)

* 2008: Champions Kane Radford (33.00) and Kate Brookes Peterson (34.25)

* 2009: Champions Bryn Murphy (34.25) and Charlotte Webby (38.15)

* For information on the remaining five events in the Ocean Swim Series visit www.oceanswim.co.nz