New Zealand's sea-going love affair

Since man first stepped ashore on the islands of New Zealand, the sea and sailing have played a vital role in the lives of New Zealanders.

Since man first stepped ashore on the islands of New Zealand, the sea and sailing have played a vital role in the lives of New Zealanders.

Surrounded by water and isolated from the rest of the world, the nation was reliant on sailing craft to bring people and goods across the water to settle these islands.

Kupe - the great navigator
The people of Polynesia were some of the world''s finest boat builders, navigators and sailors.

Legend tells how Kupe, a great Māori navigator, first discovered New Zealand more than 1000 years ago. Kupe guided his waka or wooden sailing canoe south from the mystical Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki through the waters of the Pacific.

Kupe named the new land he discovered Aotearoa - ''land of the long white cloud''.

Māori, New Zealand''s indigenous people, were great sea explorers. During the great migration, they sailed double-hulled waka to New Zealand guided by stellar navigation, reading the night sky to pinpoint their way across the ocean.

European explorers
Much later, European explorers arrived on sailing ships that had come half-way round the world.

Dutch navigator Abel Tasman saw New Zealand''s west coast in 1642, and initially christened it Staten Landt, believing that it could be linked to Staten Landt close to Cape Horn. When Tasman''s initial theory was disproved, the name changed to Nieuw Zeeland after the Netherlands province of Zeeland.

Captain James Cook claimed the country as a British colony after sailing around its islands on the Endeavour in 1769.

Boatbuilding
New Zealand''s early settlers were reliant on the sea for trade, communications and travel, and had to build strong, seaworthy boats to sail to the other side of the globe.

Timber from New Zealand’s native bush - especially the stands of mighty kauri trees in Northland - was perfect for building boats.

With 15,811km (9824 miles) of coastline, New Zealanders also learned to love the water in their free time. Going to sea or getting out on the freshwater lakes and rivers became a favourite pastime for New Zealand families.

As a child, the late Sir Peter Blake learned about boat building on the lawns of his Auckland home. Acclaimed Kiwi designer Bruce Farr started producing his rocket-ship dinghies and skiffs in the family shed.

P-class dinghy
Most New Zealand-born America’s Cup sailors - like Dean Barker, Chris Dickson, Craig Monk and Russell Coutts - can trace their sailing roots back to an ugly little dinghy called a P-class, a boat unique to New Zealand.

This small single-handed dinghy was designed in 1920 by a weekend sailor named Harry Highet, who lived in the northern city of Whangarei. Highet wanted to design a boat that was safe for children to sail and could not sink.

Today, in yacht clubs the length and breadth of the country, young Kiwi children learn to sail the little snub-nosed P-class dinghies while their parents cheer from the shore.

More boats than anywhere
New Zealand claims to have more boats per head of population than any other country in the world.

There are about 80,000 privately-owned boats in Auckland alone - one for every 11 Aucklanders - earning the title of ''city of sails''. It is no wonder this sea-bound nation produces some of the world’s finest sailors.

More information

New Zealand & the America''s Cup

We use cookies and analytics to provide you with a better experience on this site. By continuing to use this site, you agree with our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.