Auckland is known as the City of Sails. Every Anniversary Day what is said to be the world’s largest one-day regatta takes place on Waitematā Harbour. In 1999, 2003 and 2021 the city hosted the America’s Cup, the world’s premier sailing contest.
The sailing spirit
For many years businessman Tom Clark epitomised Aucklanders’ enthusiasm for sailing. He raced Saracen, Buccaneer and Infidel, and was credited as ‘the man who launched a thousand sailing careers’ – including that of Peter Blake, who won two America’s Cup victories. One of Clark’s sayings was, ‘All you need is three meals and a yacht.’
Easy access to the sea and Aucklanders’ love of boating have long made boat building an important activity in the region. The America’s Cup increased demand for boat building – particularly luxury yachts and launches – and it is now a large industry, based in the West Harbour area.
There are more than 100 beaches within an hour’s drive of central Auckland. Enjoyment of ‘the boat, the bach, the beach, the barbecue’ typifies life in Auckland perhaps more than anywhere else in the country. Beaches are crowded in summer, while queues of cars make the Friday night exodus to baches in Whangaparāoa and beyond. Ferry excursions to the North Shore and the islands of the gulf have been popular since the 1880s.
Cricket and rugby union
Eden Park is home to Auckland rugby and cricket. Originally a swamp, it was drained in the early 1900s for two cricket ovals. From 1914 the Auckland Rugby Union leased the park, which became its base in 1925. It is New Zealand’s largest stadium. Among its most famous moments was New Zealand’s first cricket test win (against the West Indies in 1956) and the final of the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987 (New Zealand defeated France 29–9). The All Blacks won the final of the seventh Rugby World Cup at Eden Park in 2011.
Marx at the park
Eden Park has been the site of many sporting battles, but its most infamous conflict was a political one. During the final rugby test of the 1981 South African Springbok tour of New Zealand, a Cessna plane piloted by Marx Jones buzzed the park, as part of nationwide protests against South Africa’s apartheid regime. Passenger Grant Cole tried to stop the game by dropping flour bombs onto the field. The teams kept playing, although All Black Gary Knight was briefly felled by a flour bomb. When they landed, Jones and Cole were arrested.
The region is represented by three teams in the national rugby competition, the Mitre 10 Cup – Counties Manukau, Auckland and North Harbour. Auckland won the premiership In 2007 and 2018. Its famous blue and white hooped jerseys have been worn by players since 1883. The region is represented in the international Super Rugby competition by the Blues, who won the title in 1996 and 1997.
Auckland has hosted two Commonwealth Games: the 4th Games in 1950 (then called the Empire Games), and the 14th Games in 1990.
One of Auckland’s earliest festivities was a great outdoor feast in 1844 staged in Remuera by Waikato chiefs, and attended by Governor FitzRoy. Today the Sky Tower is the backdrop for New Year’s Eve fireworks and the Auckland Domain hosts a range of huge summer concerts. There is a growing range of ethnic festivals, such as Pasifika at Western Springs and the Lantern Festival in the Domain.
Auckland netball was founded in 1911, when 11 teams formed a competition. In 2007, the region had over 9,000 players in several leagues. Nationally, Auckland is represented in the ANZ premiership by the Northern Mystics and the Northern Stars.
Auckland’s first race meeting was held in Epsom in 1842. The Ellerslie racecourse was established in 1873 for galloping and steeplechase events. Alexandra Park is the home of the Auckland Trotting Club. Pukekohe hosts saloon-car racing, including a round of the Australian V8 Supercars series.
One of New Zealand's most famous sons, Sir Edmund Hillary, was educated at Auckland Grammar School. In May 1953 he and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to scale the world’s highest peak, Mt Everest. Hillary was the only living New Zealander to appear on a bank note ($5). Hillary College in Ōtara is named after him. He died in January 2008, aged 88.
Rugby league grew from its roots in early 20th century Auckland to capture a wider following than elsewhere in New Zealand. It holds special appeal for Pacific Island players, who are well represented in the New Zealand Warriors – a club team that has played in the Australian National Rugby League competition since 1995.
Football (soccer) has gained in popularity since the 1970s, with North Harbour Stadium often the base for the national team, the All Whites. A professional basketball team, the New Zealand Breakers, is also Auckland-based. The Breakers won the Australian National Basketball League four times between 2011 and 2015.
Tennis is a popular summer sport. Auckland hosts the World Tennis Association’s Heineken (Men’s) Open and the ASB (Women’s) Classic events each January. The Pakuranga Hunt opened as New Zealand’s first hunt in 1872, and is now based in Karaka. The region is well served by 36 golf clubs and 21 swimming clubs.