The approach to Auckland down Rangitoto Channel culminates in a sweeping starboard turn into some 70 sq. miles of water known as Waitemata Harbour. This harbour is the focal point of Auckland, New Zealand's largest city (population 500,000). It is aligned roughly east and west and debouches into the Hauraki Gulf, which in turn opens to the mighty Pacific Ocean in the north. Numerous islands within the Hauraki Gulf and at the entrance to Waitemata Harbour, together with deep navigable channels (average 6½ fathoms), slow currents, and minimum tide range (average 8 ft), ensure good shelter and berthage for the largest of overseas ships even in the severest of storms.
Waitemata Harbour occupies a drowned valley system cut in marine sediments of Miocene Age (15–25 million years ago). The present-day shore line is intricate in outline and follows numerous ancillary tidal rivers, particularly in the upper reaches and western shores. Tidal mudflats covered by mangrove (Avicennia marina) and salt marsh (predominantly Salicornia, Juncus, and Stipa) are ubiquitous and indicate subtropical conditions.
In the west and north-west, geologically recent fluctuations of sea level have left widespread terraces that formed convenient landing stages in the days when harbour transport was often the only means of communication. In the early days of settlement, whaleboat and scow racing was popular, and from this the Waitemata has emerged as the venue for the largest single-day regatta in the world. On 29 January each year (Auckland Anniversary Day), upwards of 900 yachts and launches of all sizes assemble to compete in the many racing events, and thousands of spectators gather along the shores and on the cliff tops to watch the cluster of white or many coloured sails dancing on the sparkling water.
In 1959 the long-awaited Auckland Harbour Bridge became a reality. This fine single-span, four-lane bridge, 3,348 ft long, links Point Erin on the south shore with Stokes Point on the North Shore and gives direct road access to an area that was hitherto served by passenger or vehicular ferries or by a long winding route of some 30 miles by road around the harbour. The name Waitemata is generally considered to mean “sparkling waters”.
by Barry Clayton Waterhouse, New Zealand Geological Survey, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Otahuhu, Auckland.