First Tall Ship Festival – an outstanding success and reminder of Auckland’s maritime heritage

Labour weekend will stay in the memory of those estimated 200,000 Aucklanders* who witnessed the spectacular arrival and departure or who came down to the waterfront to see the magnificent tall ship fleet.  It was my privilege on behalf of the Mayor to formally welcome the eight ships and their crews at an official powhiri, after the captains and some 600 sailors, some from as far away as Great Britain and the Netherlands, Canada and Australia marched on to Queens Wharf led by the band of the Royal New Zealand Navy.

The visit of the tall ships was a reminder to us all of our beginnings in New Zealand – and in Auckland.

Auckland is a harbour city. It was the superb advantages of the beautiful Waitemata Harbour that prompted the first Governor of New Zealand – who happened to be a Royal Navy Captain – William Hobson to select this place in 1840 to found the city of Auckland.

And just as Auckland is a harbour city – a port city – New Zealand is an island nation – lying at the furthest reaches of the world – dependent on the sea and ships and the maritime trade for our very existence.  Not only is the sea our economic life blood –  the sea is in our blood – in our DNA.

We are a sea people and the great harbour of Waitemata has welcomed so many of our ancestors – from the great voyaging canoe Tainui  and the other waka which sailed here bringing the ancestors of the Maori people from tropical Polynesia – to the tall ships of the explorers and the immigrant ships from Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries.

My own ancestors arrived here in 1851 – my great grandmother born at sea in the Southern Ocean en route to Auckland from the Cape of Good Hope.  And most of us have similar family histories.

Aucklanders deep interest in the sea and ships is abiding – this is not just a matter of nostalgia but of ongoing economic importance to us – apart from our vital sea-based import and export trade through the Port of Auckland, growing cruise ship visits, the fishing fleet and as the principle base of the Royal New Zealand Navy, the Auckland region has a vital stake in recreational boating and competitive sailing vessel technology.  And as the recent Americas Cup demonstrated the maritime industry in New Zealand – and Auckland in particular – is a world leader in developing cutting-edge sailing technology.

During the ships stay thousands Aucklanders young and old visited Queen, Princes and Hobson wharves to see the ships up close, to marvel at the complex technology of ropes and timber and canvas and iron which brought the ancestors of so many us from half-way round the world. Many people and organisations contributed to the success of the Tall Ships Festival but special thanks must go to John Lister the inspirational Festival director, the Spirit of New Zealand Trust which first proposed the idea to the Council, and the Voyager Maritime Museum of NZ which hosted the event. And an Auckland Council family supporters including Waterfront Auckland, ATEED, Auckland Council Events, Ports of Auckland, and others.

(* Or to be precise an estimated 200,000 visits. I went to see the Tall Ships four times!)

A shortened version of this article published  in the November issue of Verve.


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