Dixie jazz on the Tauranga harbour


On Easter Friday in the late afternoon, I joined the Kewpie as it set off on a cruise across the Tauranga harbour.

The one-hour sunset cruise turned out to be a special highlight of the Easter Jazz Festival.

For three evenings over the weekend, lovers of Dixie jazz were able to step back into days gone by on board the historic boat.

Skipper Brandon Stone has used kauri to beautifully restore the 52-foot solid kauri classic cruise boat. As I came on board, placing my hand on the wooden railing, for a moment I felt connected with its past.

The sun was still high above the horizon, the harbour perfectly calm and blue. Climbing the ladder to the top deck I enjoyed the view across the Tauranga waterfront, while below on the jetty, Ross Culver, Kelvin Roy and Wendy Caldwell were being greeted by Tauranga’s National Jazz Festival manager, Mandy Ryan.

The trio, all members of the Hawke’s Bay art deco jazz band Twin City Stompers, were coming aboard with trumpet, megaphone, double bass and saxophone. Immensely popular with local audiences, they have performed at the 50th, 51st and 52nd Tauranga Jazz Festivals. They joined me on the upper deck and started setting up their gear. Originally forming in the mid-1990s, they take their name from the twin cities of Hawke’s Bay – Napier and Hastings.

I’d missed them playing at the Tauranga Airport the day before and it was rather delightful seeing them help create the ambience of yesteryear on the Kewpie.

Soon, with music playing and 50 passengers on the lower and upper decks, we headed down the harbour, going under the harbour bridge, past the marina and shipping channels, taking in the sights of the port.

Gliding along to Pilot Bay, we sailed past the bronze Tangaroa statue and across the harbour entrance to Matakana Island, the sun setting and music playing.

Brandon was delighted with the sunset jazz cruises.

“It was very successful,” says Brandon. “It was a booked out event.

“Next year we’re looking at putting on two vessels – the Kewpie and the Bay Explorer which has a bigger capacity and room for a larger band.”

He has received tremendous feedback from the public who came aboard, despite the cruise on Easter Sunday beginning with rain.

“It just rained at the start, and was magical after that,” says Brandon. “People were downstairs chatting and having a drink at the bar.”

After the weekend I asked Mandy what she thought of some of the newly introduced features of the festival like the Vintage Parade, Jazz at the Movies and the sunset cruise.

“There were more people downtown on Saturday than Sunday,” says Mandy. “They arrived for the vintage parade at 11am then stayed on in town. We think there were about 12,000 plus on Saturday.

“There were about 35 cars from the Bay of Plenty Vintage Car Club. They loved it and have ideas for what they’d like to do next year.”

The collaboration with Rialto was the first time for Jazz at the Movies, which Mandy says sold well.

“We’ve always collaborated with the bars and cafes down town, but it’s great to be collaborating with other groups too that are now joining in like Bay City Swing, Rialto, Hotel Armitage and BOP Vintage  Car Club”.

“I was very happy with the whole festival,” says Mandy. “I’ve received so many emails from  people saying ‘thank you so much we had such a wonderful time’. People from Northland, from  down south, thanking the Jazz Society for putting  on the Jazz Festival.

“I’m going to start working on new ideas for  next time but we’ll be building on what we’ve  started now.”

She plans to meet with Brandon and look at what options they have with including the Bay Explorer boat alongside the Kewpie next year. The Twin Stompers were perfect for playing on board the Kewpie, as they don’t need power or a PA system.

“That’s the beauty of them being a self-contained band,” says Mandy. “They have their instruments, and they use a megaphone for their vocals so you can put them into some unique places where you couldn’t put other bands.”

“There were so many highlights on the weekend,” says Mandy. “Seeing the first Jazz Sunset Cruise off was a special feeling. It had been a beautiful day on the Friday and it was a beautiful evening with the sun going down and the full moon coming up. It couldn’t have been more spectacular.”

Many passengers on board the Kewpie over the last year’s scenic harbour cruises have reviewed their experience on TripAdvisor, with the result that in May, the Kewpie received a 2019 Certificate of Excellence. This award is justly deserved.

Both the Kewpie and the Bay Explorer finished up their summer seasons at the end of April. They’ll be back again at the end of October. For now, over winter, there’s maintenance, restaffing, staff training and marketing.  And for me – dreaming about going on a Dixie Jazz sunset cruise once again.