Auckland is known as the City of Sails, where every Anniversary Day the world’s largest one-day regatta takes place on Waitematā Harbour. In 1999 and 2003 the region 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 his sayings was ‘All you need is three meals and a yacht.’
Easy access to the sea, and Aucklanders’ love of boating has 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 traffic make the Friday night exodus to baches in Whangaparāoa and beyond. Ferry excursions to the North Shore and 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, becoming its base in 1925. It is now 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 finals of the seventh Rugby World Cup were held at the 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. Fellow traveller Grant Cole tried to stop the game by dropping flour bombs onto the field. Dodging the missiles, 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 ITM Cup – Counties Manukau, Auckland and North Harbour. In 2007 Auckland won the cup. Its famous blue and white hooped jerseys have been worn by players since 1883. The region is also represented in the Super 14 rugby competition by the Blues.
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 the great outdoor feast staged in Remuera by Waikato chiefs in 1844, and attended by Governor FitzRoy. Today the Sky Tower is the backdrop for New Year’s Eve fireworks, the Auckland Domain for a range of huge summer concerts, and Ericsson Stadium for the Big Day Out music festival. There is a growing range of ethnic festivals, such as Pasifika at Western Springs and the Red Lantern (Asian) Festival in Albert Park.
Auckland netball was founded in 1911, with 11 teams forming a competition. In 2007, the region had over 9,000 players in several leagues. Nationally, Auckland is represented by the Northern Mystics, who play in the ANZ championship.
Auckland’s first race meeting was held in Epsom in 1842. The Ellerslie Race Course was established in 1873 for galloping and steeplechase. Alexandra Park is the home of the Auckland Trotting Club. Pukekohe is home to Grand Prix and saloon car racing.
One of New Zealand's most famous sons, Sir Edmund Hillary, was an Aucklander, 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 National Rugby League since 1995.
Soccer (football) 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.
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 now takes place in Karaka. The region is also well served by 36 golf clubs and 21 swimming clubs.