Tourists meander along the Viaduct Harbour's edge. Spying fish feeding around a mooring, all four lurch over the rail to watch, enthralled. The water is green and calm in the basin today, mirroring the atmosphere around the harbour. Maybe here but not elsewhere: on the wide footpaths seagulls peck and fuss, having flown inland, signalling a storm out at sea.
Near the former Emirates Team New Zealand base, Stuart Dwight stands on Te Wero bridge as thunderclouds loom behind the city. He's an event planner who started his company at the age of 16 and is contracted to Mayo And Ltd, the company that won the rights to host our Volvo Ocean Race stopover from Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED). It's become Mr Dwight's job to turn the now-sleepy harbour into an 11-day Global Party zone that kicks off on March 8.
ATEED's manager of major events, Jennah Wootten, says the organisation hopes hosting the stopover will reinforce Auckland's position as an internationally recognised sailing and major events destination.
She wants to build on the interest sparked by the Rugby World Cup.
"The Rugby World Cup 2011 engaged a variety of audiences, through a range of vastly different activities. In the case of the Volvo Ocean Race, it's more than just a yacht race. Our aim is to build Auckland as a global events destination resulting in economic benefits for the region, while also shaping it to be a more interesting and vibrant place."
It's been a decade since the race last moored in Auckland. The home port of Sir Peter Blake, Grant Dalton and Chris Dickson lost the rights to Wellington in 2005 and New Zealand was overlooked in 2008, so the honour of hosting the event is not lost on Mr Dwight.
"People remember the Whitbread [now the Volvo Ocean Race], the excitement of that. The best thing will be if the boats arrive in at night when this place is busiest. I've spoken to people who still haven't been down to Wynyard," he says of the latest addition to harbourside entertainment. But with his something-for-everyone exhibit, he hopes people of all ages will be drawn to the waterfront.
As we're forced off the bridge by the blaring horn that warns us the bridge is about to rise to let a yacht through, Mr Dwight paints his vision for the opening ceremony.
"As the boats round the corner," he says navigating an imaginary line into the basin, "we'll have canoes with sails and guys who will blow on their conches. And at the top of the tower we'll have a lone Maori maiden. As they come through she'll be doing her thing," he says as the bridge splits upwards and a trimaran glides by.
"What I try to do with my events is create lots of wow factors, to appeal to everybody. It's going to be a real variety show," says the man who has recruited the likes of the Peter Urlich Band and Russell Hamilton's Brown Brothers Motown troupe."That's the sort of good-quality Kiwi entertainment people will see."
He's organised each day to be themed around a competing nation or one of the 10 stopovers.
For example, USA day is on a Sunday and opens with a gospel choir followed by Kiwi country singer James Ray. "There'll be a tribute to the US with Elvis, Frank Sinatra and Cher [impersonators], and the day will end with Diana Harris singing Chicago blues.
"The next port of call is Brazil, so we'll have a Brazil day. The whole Brazilian community here, they have such great parties, so let's bring them down to the Viaduct. Then they race to Ireland, this place is going to go off for St Patrick's Day," says Mr Dwight, flapping his arms in enthusiasm.
He does this a lot as he explains the various features of what will become his pop-up theme park, near the racing yachts moored in front of the Viaduct Events Centre.
"We have to do it differently from the Rugby World Cup. We don't have that kind of budget," he says. So it's a family-oriented party, and all access is free.
Confessing to harbouring a bit of an obsession with Disney characters, Mr Dwight has written and recorded the theme song that will accompany the host of sea creatures in the twice-daily King Neptune parade. "It's like a jingle. I want the kids to go home singing it."
Thursday March 8 Race village opens and fleets arrive (depending on weather). Official welcome and beginning of the Global Party.
Friday March 9: Variety show featuring NZ artists singing blues, Motown and pop.
Saturday March 10: France day - Cancan dancers, cabaret and cafe music.
Keep the Oceans Clean beach clean-up.
Sunday March 11: USA day - Gospel choir, country music, blues and the music of Elvis, Frank Sinatra and Cher.
Monday March 12: Abu Dhabi day - Arabian and Middle Eastern dance and music performances.
Tuesday March 13: Spain day - Castanets, guitars and flamenco dancers.
Wednesday March 14: China day - Traditional and modern culture including dance, musical performances, martial arts and games.
Thursday March 15: Brazil day - Samba, drum beats and mardi gras.
Friday March 16: New Zealand day - Local talent performing rock, pop and old Kiwi favourites alongside a celebration of our maritime history. Pro-Am race starts at 10.45am.
Saturday March 17: Ireland day - Marking the race finish venue of Galway with a St Patrick's Day parade. In-Port race starts at 12.10pm.
Sunday March 18 - Fleet sails to Itajai, Brazil.
THE IN-PORT RACE, held from 12.10pm on Saturday, March 17, is a chance to catch the world's fastest monohulls in action. The course has been set with prime viewing for spectators in mind. It starts and finishes in front of the Viaduct Harbour basin; the Volvo boats tack down the Waitemata, looping past North Head at one end and just beyond the bridge at the other.
Top spots away from the water's edge are Hinemoa Park in Northcote and Mt Victoria in Devonport. If you're keen to get as close to the action as possible, spectator boats will be allowed in designated areas out from Okahu Bay, Stanley Bay, Torpedo Bay and Shoal Bay.
The In-Port race includes points for the overall competition and, with Camper in second place, punters can expect an exciting battle in home waters reminiscent of famous races from days past.
THE PRO-AM RACE, which follows a slightly shorter course, will be held from 10.45am the day before.
KEEP THE OCEANS CLEAN: education is an important aspect of the race. Incorporated into the stopover is a schools' programme whereby 800 students can learn about sailing and the ocean. Devised by the Voyager Maritime Museum and headed by its schools' coordinator, Meredith Graham, a national Skeleton Sea Art sculpture competition is being held along with guided museum tours, a beach cleanup and the chance to try sailing. "Volvo is very environmentally focused. Using recycled materials, children will work with three artists - who are also surfers and passionate about the environment - to create sculptures."
Meredith says there has been a huge response from schools. The guided tours programme is full but teachers can bring students and use the museum's guided maps. "We're keen to encourage people down to the village. We really want to have as many people [as possible] down here getting involved."
THE VOLVO RACE - A HISTORY
The Volvo Ocean Race began life as the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973-74; Volvo took over in 2001. Spanning 39,270 nautical miles, the race is considered the toughest test of sailing. The 2011-12 race began at Alicante (Spain), headed to Cape Town, Abu Dhabi, Sanya (China), and now to Auckland. It continues to Itajai (Brazil), Miami, Lisbon and Lorient and finishes in Galway, Ireland, around July 7.
Sir Peter Blake was the only sailor to compete in the first five races. In 1989-90 he skippered Steinlager 2 to victory.
One of New Zealand's most influential boat designers, Jim Young, designed the Canting keel - banned in racing until a few years ago but now used on all Volvo racing boats. He remembers when his hometown was abuzz with the crowds and pandemonium that has come to surround international sailing regattas.
"I think it'll be a very exciting event. A lot of people in Auckland and in New Zealand have become very interested in yachting. It has really gone a long way since I started," says Mr Young, who began as an apprentice in 1940, aged 15. "With Peter Blake, New Zealand was taken by storm. So many people who didn't know the first thing about yachting started to take an interest."
He says it's fitting the race is returning to Auckland. "We have possibly the best cruising grounds in the world here. Auckland is naturally a yachting town. I've been yacht racing most of my life - and cruising, of course. Yachting is certainly part of our culture."