Maritime adventurers at extreme ends of the sailing spectrum will make history this month (February 2018) when they gather in New Zealand waters for two very different events.
At opposite ends of the North Island over the same weekend, sailing craft - thousands of years apart in design and operation - will be navigated into port reinforcing New Zealand’s sea-faring heritage and reputation as one of the top sailing destinations in the world.
At dusk on 23 February a fleet of more than 50 waka will gather on Wellington Harbour to mark the opening of New Zealand’s largest international arts festival. And 650kms away in Auckland, the City of Sails, local boaties will be preparing to welcome the leading yachts competing in the Volvo Ocean Race due to make landfall around 24 February.
The vessels couldn’t be more different. The waka are unsophisticated, hand carved wooden canoes navigated by traditional methods using the stars and the elements - wind, waves and wildlife. In contrast, the Volvo boats are high spec, ultra-modern, carbon fibre racing yachts with the latest in satellite navigation equipment.
What the boats and sailors have in common comes down to Kiwi ingenuity and an adventurous spirit borne out of geographical proximity to the sea. New Zealand has nearly 16,000 kilometres (10,000 miles) of coastline, a temperate climate and nowhere is far from the water.
Ever since New Zealand’s first Polynesian settlers navigated uncharted oceans a millennium ago, sailing has been a big part of New Zealand’s culture and the Wellington Festival Waka Odyssey – a series of events over five days - honours the legacy of famous Pacific explorer, Kupe and celebrates the Pacific and Aotearoa New Zealand’s shared sea-going heritage.
Tens of thousands of people are expected on Wellington’s waterfront to welcome the arrival of the fleet which will include waka hourua (twin-hulled ocean-going waka), waka taua (large war canoes) and a fleet of waka ama (outrigger canoes). As well as the large flotilla on Wellington Harbour for the spectacular opening night, a 1,000-strong haka will be performed on land as actors, choirs and kapa haka groups come together to welcome the voyagers to the capital city.
The Volvo Ocean Race teams will also have a taste of New Zealand culture when they are welcomed on and off the water by Auckland kapa haka groups. Auckland is one of 12 host cities during the seven competing teams’ 12 month-long circumnavigation and will be the longest stop-over giving teams time to complete maintenance and prepare for the action-packed Southern Ocean leg to Brazil.
This will mark the 11th time the race has visited New Zealand and the 10th time it has stopped in Auckland. Many look at New Zealand as a spiritual home to the Volvo Ocean Race, with over 350 Kiwi sailors having taken part in the race dating back to 1977.
NZ Festival - Waka Odyssey:
- The Waka Odyssey marks the opening of the New Zealand Festival (23 February – 18 March, 2018) which attracts artists and audiences from across the world.
- It’s the biggest waka / boat flotilla to enter Wellington Harbour since the arrival of the first Polynesian explorer, Kupe 1000 years ago.
- The waka use traditional navigation techniques – reading the stars, clouds, waves, wind, birds and whales to reach their destination.
- Māori consider waka as not just sailing vessels but as ancestors with their own history and stories.
Volvo Ocean Race – Auckland Stopover:
- Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour will be transformed into a vibrant race village during the stopover (24 February – 18 March, 2018). From Auckland, the boats will depart for Brazil.
- The Volvo Ocean race is held every three years and is considered to be the longest and toughest professional sporting event in the world.
- The seven competing teams left Alicante, Spain, in October 2017 and will cover 45,000 nautical miles, sail across four oceans and leave six continents in their wake as they race to finish line in The Netherlands by October 2018.
- Amongst crew are the Kiwi sailing legends Peter Burling and Blair Tuke both part of New Zealand’s winning America’s Cup team. Also participating is James Blake, the son of New Zealand yachting legend, the late Sir Peter Blake.