A closer look at: Waitemata Harbour

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Its name.

The Harbour’s original Maori name was Whanga-nui o Toi. The English translation is ‘the big bay of Toi’. Toi was an explorer who sailed from Polynesia and arrived at this bay around 1125 AD. Later on they changed the name to Waitemata.

The name Waitemata comes from the Maori words ‘wai’, meaning ‘water’ and ‘te mata’, meaning ‘the Boat Rock’. In the middle of the Harbour lies a rock that has had many names, but it’s most common one is Te Mata (the Boat Rock). This rock can be seen at low tide. The name of this Harbour is therefore: Te Mata waters.

Although Waitemata is this Harbour’s real name, a lot of people simply call it ‘Auckland Harbour’, because it is the main Harbour.

Its history.

The history of Waitemata Harbour is about as old as the discovery of New Zealand. It always has been a great place to come ashore. Rangitoto Island, which lies in the Hauraki Gulf, close to Auckland proves shelter and makes it easier for boats to get to the shore no matter what type of wind.

The location of Waitemata Harbour is ideal for trade. In the 19th century the Northland became the center for kauri gum digging and trading mostly took place via this harbour. The gum was extracted from the huge kauri trees and beautiful juwelry and other decorations were made from it. Unfortunately it also caused deforestation.

At the beginning of the 20th century the Riverhead State Forest was created, planting pine trees on top of 5,000 ha of poor gum land. It is now a place where mountain bikers, horse riders and cyclists love to come and enjoy the outside close to the city.

There have been plans to build a canal from one Harbour to the other, even as early as in pre-European colonial times, but those plans never became reality. There were major land claims involved and in 2010 all plans to achieve this were stopped.

Current problem.

These days the problem this Harbour is facing is sewage contamination. When it rains heavily wastewater overflows into the Harbour, making it a dangerous water to swim in. There now is a plan to reduce this overflow with 80%. Between 2019 and 2024 this plan, the Central Interceptor, will come into action. Hopefully this will make Waitemata Harbour a lot cleaner again.

Some highlights.

First of all, the Harbour is a good place to come to when work is done and it’s time to relax and have a few drinks. It’s close to the business district. When I was working in one of Auckland’s law firms people used to go there on a Friday afternoon to celebrate the weekend. There are quite a few pubs and restaurants near the Harbour. From some places you have a nice view over the water.

Waitemata Harbour is also the place where many ferries come and go to all sorts of destinations. One of the places you can visit is Rangitoto Island. This volcanic island lies in the Hauraki Gulf close to Auckland. It’s a great place to visit and explore. There are several Maori myths linked to this island and this place has quite a bit of recent history too. Between 1925 and 1936 prisoners built roads on this island all the way to the top and Rangitoto had a military purpose during WWII. I will write another story about this island soon, so I won’t tell you too much, but I had a great time taking photos there with my macro lens.

You can also go on a Whale or Dolphin watching safari, starting in Waitemata Harbour. Again, I will write a more detailed story about my experience with one of these tours. However, I can already inform you that when you’re into marine life, a whale or dolphin watching trip is a fantastic day out. You pay around $180 for a 4.5 during tour.

America’s Cup.

One of the things I always liked to do best in Waitemata Harbour was to look at the America’s Cup boats. Unfortunately I have never had the chance to sail on one of those yachts myself. But it is possible to do so in Auckland. To sail on an America’s Cup yacht for 2 hours costs $185 NZD. To compete on an America’s Cup Yacht for 3 hours costs $199 NZD. Since Auckland has the best sailing conditions in New Zealand, this would be a great thing to do.

The upcoming America’s Cup (the 36th) will take place in Auckland itself, in March 2021. The race will take place in the Waitemata Harbour and the Hauraki Gulf. Emirates Team New Zealand was the winner of the 2017 match, so they will be the defenders. The challengers will be Luna Rossa Challenge (Italy), American Magic (USA), INEOS Team UK (UK), Stars and Stripes Team (USA) and DutchSail A36 (the Netherlands). During the event you will be able to watch the race from land.


Also on Travelharts.com.

Waitemata Harbour is the start of the Coast to Coast Walk. This was one of my last things I did before I left New Zealand. To read my story about this hike, click here.

The Coast to Coast Walk is a 16 km hike from Waitemata Harbour via Auckland Domain, Mt. Eden and One Tree Hill to Manuka Harbour.

If you like to see more photos of Auckland, City of Sails, check out our photo site and click here.

Auckland, surrounded by vulcanos, was founded by William Hobson in 1865. Maori already settled there around 1350 and sold a piece of land to the colonists.

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