Home / New Zealand / The City of Sails rides the waves

The City of Sails rides the waves

Westhaven Marina,  Auckland,  New Zealand

New Zealand has won fame and recognition for its sailing prowess, with two successful defenses of America’s Cup in recent years. Unfortunately, in the latest edition of the race in 2003, the New Zealand team lost, to an Italian team headed by former New Zealand skipper Russell Coutts and manned largely by a New Zealand crew.


The City of Sails

The city of Auckland is called the “City of Sails”, for the abundance of sailing opportunities here. Auckland is the second windiest city in New Zealand, offering more sailing days than most other seaside towns. Sailing is not restricted to boats — you can also windsurf to enjoy the winds up close to the waters.


Being a sailing destination, Auckland is the natural choice for the New Zealand National Maritime Museum. Located on the waterfront at Viaduct Harbour, this museum is a reliquary of New Zealand’s maritime heritage, from the early arrivals who became the Maoris, to the era of tall ships and steamships that conveyed European immigrants well into the 20th Century, and ending with today’s leisure and competitive sailing.

The nation of New Zealand is, in a way, tied to a common maritime past. The ancestors of the Maori first came to this land by boat. Experts record that they came from the Melanesian Islands, island hopping throughout the south Pacific Ocean in the years between 1, 200 BC to 1, 000 AD. After 1, 000 AD, they started arriving in New Zealand. The sailors then navigated the vast seas by the stars and sun, and were able to move about accurately in the ocean waters.


The next wave of arrivals was not to come until the age of discovery, as the seafaring nations of Europe started arriving in the waters of the land that was to become New Zealand. Abel Tasman first entered New Zealand waters in 1642, but they had a violent encounter with the people of the land. Part of the coastline was charted at this time. The next Europeans to arrive here were James Cook of Britains and Jean François Marie de Surville of France, both arriving independently in 1769, but never meeting.

A nation made by sail power… and triumphs by sail power


The colonization of New Zealand proceeded from the 1790’s onwards, with the British taking the lead. With the Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840, Britain formally proclaim overlordship over all of the islands forming New Zealand. The development of steamships allows for both greater inward migration and also improves intra-island trade, as roads and railways have yet to be introduced. Seaways and rivers continue to be the lifelines of the country. This history is commemorated in mariner’s instruments, paintings, photographs and archival material and periodicals related to New Zealand maritime heritage.

The America’s Cup race is in many ways the most prestigious and well known of yachting races in the world. It is also one of the world’s oldest continuously held international competitions, and had possibly the longest winning streak in history — the cup was held for 132 years by the first champion, the New York Yacht Club. In 1995, New Zealand would mount a challenge that would bring the Auld Mug, as the trophy is called, to New Zealand for the first time, in one of New Zealand’s greatest international sporting victories ever.


The NZL32, also known as the Black Magic, racing in the traditional New Zealand sporting colour — black — was led by Sir Peter Blake, who went on to become a sporting hero of this nation. It came as a challenger in the 1995 race against the San Diego Yacht Club, and won all but one of its races. The team went on to defend the trophy in 2000, but has since lost it in the most recent challenge in 2003, to the Swiss team.

In memory of Peter Blake, who died in Brazil in 2000, the Maritime Museum is planning a memorial annex to house the NZL32 boat and a tribute to its skipper. In addition to the America’s Cup, Blake also won the inaugural Whitbread round-the-world trophy, and the Jules Verne trophy for the fastest non-stop solo sailing around the world. The Black Magic will be housed in a glass-walled building on the waterfront and is expected to be ready in 2005.

If you are keen to get down on the water itself, there is a sailing program attached to the museum. On some Satudays, the museum offers complimentary rides in the SS Puke, the oldest steamboat in New Zealand. Public sailing is held on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, in conjunction with a sailing company called Pride of Auckland. This may be reduced depending on sea conditions and season.

The museum is open all days except Christmas from 9am – 5pm. Admission is NZ$ 12 for adults and Concessions NZ$ 6 for children 5-7 years old, senior citizens and students. Admission includes rides on the SS Puke, when weather permits. Sailing in the other boats requires a separate charge.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *