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The Origins

How it all started

The origin of the Festival traces back to the beginning of the Black Ball Yacht Club in 2018. A group of international cruisers wanted a way to thank the people of Whangārei for their generosity. Thus began the Black Ball Scholarship Fund, which is used to encourage young people in the Northland region to become involved in the marine trades.

We realised early in the development of the Fund, that exposing kids to the boating world at a young age was important. This led to the club partnering with the Spirit of New Zealand and the R. Tucker Thompson, who have excellent youth development programs.


Last year, Bruce Dunlap, David Irvin and Mark Bennett were looking at the progressing development of the Town Basin, and thought that the area would be a great venue for a boat show.


To draw attention to the new section of the Hatea River Walk, we gathered nine classic boats, putting them on display at the docks, with information plaques about their construction and history. This drew quite a bit of interest. The idea of doing something again this year came up, and we thought that adding a couple of shore-side boats (e.g. dinghies, small boats and the like) would add to the interest.

The Festival seems to be the right idea, at the right time, in the right place. It has grown beyond our wildest dreams and is being designed as a signature event for Whangārei, to join the ranks of other internationally known boating festivals, such as Port Townsend’s in the US or Hobart’s in Tasmania. With Whangārei’s long history as a maritime center, we hope that the community will see this festival as a way to celebrate its maritime past, present and future.

Classic boats on display at the Whangārei Town Basin in 2022

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