Sailing in New Zealand: The Ultimate Destination For Snowbird Sailors

Posted on October 19, 2015 by Richard Shrubb under Boating, Sailing 2 Comments


Most leisure sailors from around the world hail from the Northern Hemisphere. Unless you’re fortunate enough to live in the US or Caribbean you’re limited as to the length of your sailing season – around this time of the year most yachties are winterising their boats and many are hauling them out for winter repairs. Those wishing to learn to sail will be limited to sailing abroad or in more temperate latitudes.

If you want to enjoy great sailing during the Northern Hemisphere winter months in a country that lives and breathes boating, why not head down to New Zealand? This piece will look at the sailing culture and opportunities to be had in this diverse and plentiful boating land…

Elite sailing – talked about as avidly in the pub as the Premier League is in the UK

Other than rugby, sailing is one of the most important sports in New Zealand. The politics and skulduggery in the run up to the 2017 America’s Cup is regularly covered in the mainstream media, and everyone seems to have an opinion on it all – not unlike Brits do the Premier League in the UK.

Recently I had a great discussion how Oracle Team USA used the rule book to the very limit to win the 2013 America’s Cup in San Francisco with a New Zealand woman who’s favourite hobby is quilting. She knew far more than I did about the alterations to the underwater foil control mechanism that allowed what outsiders and Americans called the ‘greatest comeback in sporting history’. Ask a New Zealander and they’d likely refer to it as the most audacious cheat in sporting history!

New Zealand are the only nation to win and successfully defend the America’s Cup – they won it successively in 1995 and 2000. Though the country hasn’t won any other America’s Cups in the 170 odd year history of the event, in the last 30 or so years New Zealand have always made their mark, winning the Louis Vuitton Cup several times.

Uniquely, the nation’s government sponsors the team in part – nearly sinking the team ahead of the 2017 challenge when America’s Cup politics meant that the America’s Cup World Series ditched New Zealand for a regatta, and the government nearly pulling funding as a result.

The country has made many a world famous sailor in other arenas too – Just look up Peter Blake who won several Whitbread and Volvo Ocean races in his long career.

Leisure sailing – a national pastime…

With hundreds of islands, astounding scenery and fantastic sailing, it is no surprise that millions of kiwis head down to the water when they get the chance.

The successive America’s Cup wins ensured a strong take up of boating in the country and cemented boating as a national pastime. If you want to learn to sail in the Southern Hemisphere you wouldn’t do badly to consider heading down that way.

Amongst many other sailing destinations, consider the 133 uninhabited sandy islands of the Bay of Islands with fantastic marine wildlife around their shores. These have a subtropical microclimate that means you can sail in the area almost year round.

By and large the climate of New Zealand as a whole is very similar to that of Northern European weather, so you will get some great sailing in the late spring months of October and November, as well as early autumnal weather in February and March – precisely when most people in northern climes tend not to want to sail at all!

As well as desert islands there are other marine sanctuaries to consider, such as the mountainous forested coastline of the Marlborough Sounds with amazing biodiversity meaning an extraordinary array of wildlife that will make your sailing adventure very memorable indeed.

Learn to sail in New Zealand?

The main sporting body for sailing there is Yachting New Zealand, which despite only having a small team leads one of the sailing giants of the world. It represents the interests of over 250 local sailing clubs across the country, and runs a range of sail training schemes.

There are a range of opportunities to do UK Royal Yachting Association recognised courses too, giving Europeans the opportunity to do a course that is widely recognised even by the most bureaucratic of sailing nations.

There are dozens of sailing schools on both islands, and you can easily charter a yacht as a bareboat to enjoy the coastline and islands at your leisure without crew fixing your breakfast every morning.

There are a number of fully crewed yacht charter holidays to be done in New Zealand too, so if lazing around and enjoying the view from a unique angle is what you want to do, there is ample opportunity to do that too.

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