Lyttelton gearing up to host SailGP again this weekend

Lyttelton residents are remaining buoyant as SailGP returns this weekend, despite reports last year’s event was an economic let down for businesses.

It was the second time the port town near Christchurch was staging the two-day New Zealand leg after its debut twelve months ago.

A crowd of 22,000 was expected for the ninth round of the ever-growing competition’s 2023-24 championship.

Auckland withdrew its hosting rights last November due to the unavailability of a spectator facility, ensuing the event returned to Whakaraupo earlier than anticipated.

Parking restrictions and road closures, namely the Lyttelton Tunnel, halted an expected inflow of people into Lyttelton’s central hub on 18 and 19 March 2023, sparking grumbles from local business owners.

Twelve months later, business owners were eager to underline they are open for the party.

Music venue Loons was making a concerted effort to get behind SailGP. It will be providing two outdoor big screens and a free barbecue for both days of racing.

Even a “semi-professional” alternative commentary of the action on the water will be provided, courtesy of local radio station Rotten Radio.

Brenda Dargan

Event organiser and Loons’ vice president Brenny Dargan said she had a busy few days ahead.

“We want everyone, whether they’re local or from in town (Christchurch), to come and enjoy our venue and our facilities.

“We’ve got a lot of space, we’ve got the view, we’ll have two screens. It’s going to be huge.”

Last year the venue had a prior engagement, making this event-themed party a first.

Dargan said businesses were working hard to make SailGP a success for the town. But she conceded there was a flaw in the plan around the tunnel closure during last year’s SailGP debut.

“Lyttelton has the capacity for the influx … we had the Festival of Lights for years.

“You can always get a few extra loos can’t ya.”

The Lyttelton Tunnel will again be closed to traffic between midday and 6pm on both days.

Emergency vehicles, official event buses and shuttles, taxis and vehicles with a clearly displayed pass can access Lyttelton via the tunnel.

After some mixed sentiment coming from longtime residents and operators in the aftermath of the championship’s New Zealand debut, locals were tackling this year’s two-dayer with a sense of zeal.

Other spots, including Thorp Gallery, will be hosting viewing parties.

“We’re all pretty positive, and we’re all working together, and we’re all determined to make it a success.”

Despite this, some businesses will be hoping for greater returns following last year.

RNZ understands several businesses lost tens-of-thousands of dollars last year with Lyttelton “resembling a ghost town”.

Hope River Pies said on a community Facebook page that it had been “significantly busier than usual” over the past couple of weeks.

Bree Scott

Glamour Cake owner Bree Scott had also noted an increase in trade this week. But the bakery was opting to remain shut this weekend after opening last year to a fizzer.

“Last year I was expecting big things,” she said.

“Everyone was saying it was going to be the biggest thing in the history of Lyttelton. It was amazingly quiet … on the day of the event Lyttelton itself was like a ghost town.

“But the way they went about it, it was more for the centre part of the marina, being part of the atmosphere down there and it didn’t really do a lot for business here in Lyttelton.”

Maree Henry

Henry Trading store owner Maree Henry had bought into the hype and had seen a boost in patronage over the past few days.

“There’s a lot of people around in the weeks before,” she said.

“I don’t think it’s a time for gift shopping, I think it’s a time for watching the race.

“I think I’ll go home (on Saturday), I’ll just put a sign on the door ‘gone to watch the sailing’… like everybody else.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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