Night bathed in day at Oval

Rigger Stephanus Greyling alongside one of the Bay Oval light towers. Photo: Bruce Barnard.


They look like something straight out of Pacific Rim, the American science fiction monster movie.

Giant humanoid robots dominating the skyline down Totara Street. But rather than striking fear, they signal an historic summer of cricket in the Bay of Plenty.

They’re the new lighting towers at the Bay Oval – they will turn night into day, turn sports fixtures into spectacles and elevate the venue’s status as an international cricket ground to new levels.

“We have to pinch ourselves,” says Kelvin Jones, general manager of the Bay Oval Cricket Trust, as the last of the six-by-51 metre behemoths is lifted into place this week. “Lots of people tell me they can’t believe it’s happening in our town. But it’s all part of Tauranga growing up.”

Weekend Sun photographer Bruce Barnard was there earlier this week as a Pollock crane operator hoisted the banks of lights to the top of the standards. He says you had to see the lights on the ground to get a true perspective and to really appreciate what’s now sitting on our skyline.

At 51 metres, the lights are of average height by international standards. There are bigger ones at stadia around the world, but most of them have grandstands to reach over. “The higher the better with light towers,” says Kelvin. “We went as high as we could get consents for.”

No, a lofted ball should not get lost in the dark. “Reflected light from the ground should assist. So theoretically, it’s no problem.”

Six light towers house 64 lights on each tower for a total of 384 lights, and each light has over 200 individual LEDs.

And in excess of 3000 lux of light at the wicket. Without going into the complexities of the science of luminescence, that’s effectively enough light to create the equivalent of a mildly overcast afternoon out of complete darkness.

One of the big advantages of LEDs is their life – theoretically in excess of 50,000 hours, which makes for a lot of One Day International and T20 clashes.

“Theoretically speaking,” says Kelvin – and it seems there’s a lot of theory to light towers, luxes and luminescence – “they should outlast me. It’ll probably be more of a case of the towers falling down before the lights give out.”

Anyone with experience of LEDs at home would know that’s not entirely true. But, compared with the traditional metal-halide lights which diminish in efficacy by 10 per cent a year, our flash new LEDs reduce by just one or two per cent a year.

The lights will be run by diesel generators and should cost about $100 an hour to power. So we’re off the grid. “And the benefit of that is while running costs are higher, we don’t have to pay a line charge.”

Another important number – a tick over $3 million is the final cost. And it’s all ticked off with a big nod to funders like TECT, TCC, Community Trust, Lion Foundation and corporate sponsors. “We’ve had brilliant support from right across the community,” says Kelvin.

All going well, the lights will be flicked on for a test run next week. “Then we have a McDonald’s Super Smash game on Saturday, December 16, with Northern Districts versus Auckland.” That’ll be the first time the lights will be fired up in anger. So who’ll have the honour of turning them on?

“Good question,” says Kelvin. “We’re working with the council and Northern Districts Cricket to do something special. But it will be a fireworks occasion.”

So after five years of dreaming, planning and plotting, the Bay Oval will light up for a season that will see an unprecedented 12 international cricket matches this coming season. More than any venue round the country it seems.

The upgrade also includes increasing the seating capacity up to 12,000 - bigger than Hamilton’s Seddon Park - and installing biggest and best, state-of-the-art replay screen.

“There’s lots going on at Bay Oval,” says Kelvin. “The lights look quite good and Tauranga’s feeling more like a big city.”