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The New Zealand Boat Show has been held, under a variety of names, at the Auckland Showgrounds, every year but one since 1956, when it was first held as part of the 1956 Easter Show. (The 2020 had to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 nationwide lockdown.)

The decision to incorporate a boat show into the Easter Show followed an article in the February 1955 issue of Seaspray (the predominant marine magazine of the time), suggesting there was a need for a first class boat show in Auckland.

The initial show worked really well and, as a result, was promoted under its own name: The Auckland Easter Show Boat Show from 1957 until 1960.

Perhaps because of the success of these early boat shows, the Outboard Boating Club decided to run its own display of boats in the spring of 1958 and 1959, in the Farmers car park, and in 1960, at Campbell Motors.

The organisers of the two shows then got together and, along with the Auckland Water Ski Club and the R Class Squadron, ran the first Auckland Boat and Caravan Show in October 1961.

The following year, 1962, saw the introduction of the first of the famous boat show “lakes.” Based in the large naturally concave arena in front of the historic grandstand, the lake was an integral part of the boat show over the following decades. During this time it was home to a huge range of entertainment: from hilarious water ski shows and fiercely-fought powerboat races to a pirate ship giving rides; from performing chimpanzees to a helicopter dumping monsoon buckets of water into the cockpit of an apparently-unsinkable runabout.

In an era of little television and no professional sport, the boat show quickly became a must-see event and, as a result, stayed open for up to 11 days at a time!

In 1965, the Showgrounds added an impressive new pavilion, offering an additional 20,000 sq ft (about 2000 sg m) of display space. It was a timely addition as the boat show was now a national event, rather than just an Auckland one, attracting boat builders and marine businesses from all over the country.

Despite its national appeal, the show continued to go by a variety of names during the 1960s and ‘70s. From 1963 until 1968 it was known as the Boat and Caravan Show; in 1969 and 1970 as the Auckland Boat Show; from 1971 until 1975 as the Auckland Boat and Caravan Show and then, in 1976 and 1977, as the Auckland Boat Show again.

In 1978, the name New Zealand National Boat Show was tried for a year, before the “National” was dropped and the event became the New Zealand Boat Show. Although the show was again briefly known as the Auckland Boat Show in 1981 and the New Zealand National Boat Show in 1983, the name New Zealand Boat Show soon found favour and was retained right through until 2001 when the name of principal sponsor Hutchwilco was added

The show has been known as the Hutchwilco New Zealand Boat Show since 2001 and looks likely to remain that way until at least 2024.

The lake returned briefly in 2002 and 2003 and again proved popular with the crowds. However, the need to build it entirely above ground and from scratch each year meant it was not a financially-sustainable option long term.

Although the show was held for up to 11 days at a time in the 1970s, in 1983, it was shortened to five days and, in 1985, was moved to Queens Birthday Weekend.

In 2007, recognising that Aucklanders were increasingly tending to head away (either on their boats or to holiday homes) on long weekends — and faced with increased labour costs for both exhibitors and organisers thanks to changes in holiday pay for public holidays — the organisers moved the show to its present four-day date in mid-May.

Also in 2007, the show improved still further as the old 1160 square metre Hall 3 was replaced with a modern 5544 square metre pavilion.

Spurned on by the show’s constant improvements, exhibitors also stepped up and stands became more and more professional and appealing. By 2011, visitors from across the Tasman — and New Zealand marine companies who exhibited in both countries — were clear: the Hutchwilco New Zealand Boat Show was by far the best boat show in Australasia!

Recognising excellence

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the show recognised new release boats with a variety of Boat of the Show awards.

In 2001, keen to introduce a more professional and transparent system for the judging of these awards, the organisers made a number of far-reaching changes. These were primarily designed to bring credibility and cachet to the awards, to ensure all boats were judged equally and fairly and to encourage ever-higher levels of excellence in boat building.

Under the new rules, manufacturers and distributors had to consciously enter boats into the Awards. Restrictions were placed on how many boats each manufacturer or distributor could enter; boats were judged in distinct categories, each with their own set of detailed criteria; and the judging criteria was made available well in advance.

In addition, the show organisers no longer chose the winners. Instead, with feedback from the industry, they set the criteria and then appointed three respected, independent and knowledgeable people to judge the entered boats, using the well-publicised criteria.

To further encourage excellence in boat building, the organisers introduced a gala Boat of the Show Awards Evening where the various winners were revealed. Featuring a professional MC and AV presentation, a plated three course dinner and live entertainment, the Awards Evening quickly became the the largest and most popular social event on the marine industry calendar, attracting between 450 and 500 guests.

As a result of these changes, the Hutchwilco New Zealand Boat Show’s Boat of the Show Awards are now recognised as the most prestigious awards in the New Zealand marine industry, with Award winners extensively using images of their golden Award plinths in their various forms of advertising.

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