Louise Alexander dons shades, shorts and sandals for a day at the races. Arguably Auckland’s most iconic beach event, the fantastic Onetangi Beach Races on Waiheke Island have been drawing crowds for over 100 years, and this year’s races were once again the centerpiece of the Island’s social calendar as locals and visitors gathered in the sunshine to watch ponies, tractors and gentlemen jostled for the prestige that accompanies first place. Last year’s event was called off due to a deluge of horse mussels washing up on the beach, but on Saturday nothing stood in the way of the traditional fun and frolics. The day dawned bright and still and Onetangi Beach was it’s usual sparkling self when we arrived to pick our spot amongst the growing sea of brightly coloured sunshades.
Some say that Onetangi’s style is a little more laid back than at other equally historic race events around the world, but this year the big names of the fashion industry again dominated the sunglasses on display while hats were of course compulsory (as there was barely a cloud in the sky). Those who had had a flutter on the races by purchasing their $25 race packs were the quickest to line the course in anticipation of the first contest, featuring members of the Pony Club. Our pony trotted into the winning position, and the first $5 was in the bag. We began to feel a little flush but with only three wins and a near miss in the tractor race, we were still $15 down as the meet came to a close. Maybe it’s not so hard to believe that the races were temporarily stopped by authorities in 1924 because people were gambling too much!
These days the event culminates with a Sealegs race; there are about 50 of these amphibious marine craft on Waiheke, which stakes its claim as the Sealegs capital of the world. They certainly made an exciting splash in the water, however I suspect even I could have outrun them along the beach. Once the winner was announced and the loser had been pulled out of the shallows by a four-wheel drive, it was time to supplement our picnic and blow our winnings on the stalls selling a range of delicious delicacies. In between races there is no shortage of things to do, should anyone get bored of basking on the warm sand. Aside from cooling off with a dip in the ocean, there are silent auctions and raffles to enter, colourful stalls to peruse, children’s races to cheer on, a sandsculpting competition and much more – all raising money for the Waiheke Rotary Club which supports local community groups and charity projects. And then there’s the Tug-of-War, which we are proud to note was won by our men this year, officially making them the strongest and toughest lads on the Island. But our favourite element of the Onetangi Races is the atmosphere. It’s a fabulous day out for families, for groups of friends, for everyone. The beach is buzzing, the crowds are cheering, the stalls are doing a roaring trade but there’s still plenty of space to kick back and relax with a good view. All this at such a stunning location. See you there next year.