Iconic race to ring in the Chinese New Year

Dragon boats from Dunedin and Christchurch will take on the TSS Earnslaw in a ceremonial race...
Dragon boats from Dunedin and Christchurch will take on the TSS Earnslaw in a ceremonial race this Saturday. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Lake Whakatipu will be the venue for a battle royale this Saturday, as Queenstown’s Lady of the Lake goes up against a host of other ladies on the lake.

RealNZ, in conjunction with the Aoraki and Otepoti Dragon Boat Clubs, has organised a ceremonial race between the steam-powered TSS Earnslaw and two or three dragon boats.

The standing start race, from the Earnslaw’s berth at Steamer Wharf at 11am, will finish at One Mile.

Paddle Otepoti Inc team captain and co-coach Madi Gyde says their only real tactic is to try to pip the 111-year-old vessel at the start, and hold on for dear life, given the dragon boat’s top speed, crew abilities-dependent, is about 9kmh.

"Hopefully it [the Earnslaw] will take a while to get up to speed — I think we have to get the start and then hold it off."

The event’s being held to celebrate Chinese New Year and the Year of the Dragon — the ‘Dragons’ will play their drums at the front of the boats to help further celebrate the Chinese culture.

Gyde, who started dragon boating in Auckland nine years ago and established the Otepoti club, in Dunedin, says 20 paddlers will be in action in each boat on Saturday, sitting side by side, with a swoop standing at the back, steering with a large oar.

While hoping to put on a show, Gyde says it’d also be awesome if, from the Queenstown-first event, a club was spawned here.

RealNZ chief revenue officer Scott McNabb says Saturday’s celebration is the company’s way of welcoming international guests during the Chinese festive season.

"This Chinese New Year is the year of the Wood Dragon, said to be a time for rejuvenated beginnings and long-term success, which feels appropriate as New Zealand welcomes back the Eastern market.

"This celebration connects the symbolic zodiac sign with both a traditional Chinese sport and an iconic Queenstown attraction, in a memorable experience in the heart of the Whakatipu Basin."