A highlight of on the water Waikato activities this Easter weekend will be a flotilla of 12 classic launches making their way from Waitematā Harbour to the Historical Maritime Park in Paeroa - a special occasion for which Thames' old Kopu Bridge will even be opened.
The launches are from the Classic Yacht Association of New Zealand and will berth at the park over the weekend where boating enthusiasts are invited to take a closer look.
The boats will make their voyage on Friday from Waitematā Harbour, Auckland, along the Waikato waterways, crossing the Hauraki Gulf and cruising up the Waihou and Ohinemuri rivers where spectators can watch the flotilla from any public viewing point along the Waihou River.
Trustee of the maritime museum and park, Gloria James, and her husband and chairman Colin say they are excited the Classic Yacht Association chose them as a venue to showcase the boats.
Gloria says: "It has been planned for a long time. Ten years ago we had four of their classic launches here and they really liked it, but we didn't have the amenities for more [boats]."
Thanks to a $730,000 Provincial Growth Fund grant and $400,000 from Hauraki District Council in 2020, the Paeroa Historical Maritime Park and Museum was able to make some improvements, including a new wharf in Paeroa, a boardwalk around the park and three new floating pontoons.
"The whole idea was to connect the town with the park and open the doors for the museum to unlock its full potential," Gloria says.
Next year, they have further changes planned.
"We need a little break now after the recent additions to the park, but we are working on getting a cafe in front of the museum that we will lease out to get some more revenue for the park," she says.
The oldest launch that is planned to come this weekend is Maroro which was made roughly around 1905.
Life member of the Historical Maritime Park Paeroa Trust and veteran seaman, Peter Vandersloot, 80, will be piloting the first boat from Kopu to Paeroa on Friday.
"It will be a nice spectacle to watch, all boats will be dressed in buntings. The safest place to watch it from is the Turua wharf, where we will be at around 2pm. If people missed it on Friday, they can see them on their way back on Sunday."
He has been boating since his childhood and is passionate about boats, seafaring and the river. He restored a couple of boats which can now be seen in the museum.
Trustee engineer Rikki Nganame is opening the old Kopu Bridge with his team of five and expects it to take an hour to complete.
Although the boats will arrive at the park on Friday, people will have to wait to see the boats until Saturday, because the park will be closed.
Says Gloria: "People can go through the museum and the park to see the boats berthed on the river. We have alpacas and birds and little games for the kids - they love it here."
Peter adds: "And we will have a special photo display on the day showcasing the history of classic yachting in New Zealand, including some photos by Henry Winkelmann."
The park is also open on Sunday and Monday, however, the Classic Yacht Association's classic launches will be leaving on Sunday morning.
"People wanting to see the boats would have come in Saturday really," Gloria says.
The maritime park is one of Waikato's hidden tourist gems, which focuses on celebrating the history of the region's rivers when they were the main highway of trade and transport.
Apart from the museum, the park also operates as a venue for functions and weddings, it links to the Hauraki Rail Trail and runs a camping ground for self-contained camper vans. People also have the opportunity to book cruises and boats on the Waihou and Ohinemuri rivers.
The park was formed as the Historical Maritime Park Society Incorporated by a group of people around Alan Brimblecombe in the late 1970s, with the idea of raising and restoring a paddle tug called Kopu which sank in 1936 near the old Puke Wharf.
It quickly gathered a large membership and an increasing amount of memorabilia from the early riverboat days.
The building that is today's home of the museum used to be the post office and postmaster's residence serving the Waitekauri goldfields around 1880. It was moved onto its present site to become the headquarters for the park and was officially opened in 1980.
Classic launches coming to the park
Maroro (roughly) 1905
Lucille (replica of a 1912 Logan)
My Girl 1925
Cindy Jane 1975
Summer Wine 1993
What: Classic Yacht Assoc. Easter Rally 2022
When: Saturday, April 16
Where: Paeroa Historic Maritime Park, 6894 State Highway 2, Paeroa 3640
Tickets [to the Maritime Park]: Adults $8, Children up to high school age $3