Today the country boasts a successful marine industry, with its highly sought-after boat builders regarded as world leaders.
Back in the 1800s, there was a wealth of timber to build boats from, and the Hokianga Harbour in Northland became the ship-building centre because of its large stands of native kauri trees which lined the harbour’s shores.
Virtually all boats built in New Zealand before the advent of modern composites were made of kauri, a straight-grained and flexible wood. Today kauri trees are protected.
Some of the finest examples of early boat building in New Zealand, boats designed by the Logan and Bailey families, can still be seen on Auckland waters today. They are graceful, historic racing yachts that are more than a century old and are protected by law from leaving the country.
The first boatbuilding activity by Europeans was believed to have been in 1795, when a group of stowaway convicts from a penal colony in Australia was marooned in Dusky Sound, Fiordland, and spent months building new ships to continue their escape.
Modern marine industry
Today, the New Zealand marine industry continues to bloom, with a turnover of NZ$1.7 billion in 2012. Export earnings have risen from $25 million in 1988 to $642 million in 2012; the majority of exports from superyacht building and refits, boating equipment and commercial vessels.
A marine industry apprentice training scheme, which currently has around 500 apprentices, is regarded as a world leader. Kiwi apprentice boat builders and sailmakers are in demand around the globe.
Team New Zealand’s America’s Cup victories in 1995 and 2000 gave the marine industry a huge boost. Grant Dalton, managing director of Emirates Team New Zealand, explains that the team is part of a "strategic alliance" with the marine industry and the government.
"The alliance has as its objective the growth of the New Zealand marine industry as a source of jobs, technology and exports," he says.
"We support specialist trades - boat builders, sail makers, spar makers, riggers, electronics, hydraulics, marine engineers, and more - on which New Zealand’s international reputation as a centre of marine excellence was built."
America’s Cup AC72s
The 2013 America’s Cup demonstrates the high regard accorded to New Zealand boatbuilders .
As well as ETNZ creating both of their AC72 catamarans in Auckland, the Italian Luna Rossa was also built in New Zealand, through a ground-breaking technical agreement with the ETNZ team.
The entire fleet of AC45 cats - used by the America’s Cup teams in World Series regattas to prepare the crews for multihull sailing - were built in Warkworth, a town an hour north of Auckland, at Core Builders Composites. Cup defenders Oracle, which owns the company, also built components for their AC72 yachts there.
Fact file: The America’s Cup & New Zealand
New Zealand - a sailing nation