Enhancing Napier’s sporting status

McLean park Napier sporting status

Above: One of the first rugby games to be played on the new ground gets underway.

McLean Park has undergone a significant upgrade with specially graded sand trucked in from the Wairarapa. By Richard Silcock.


Since opening in 1911 McLean Park in Napier has seen a fair number of cricket matches and rugby clashes played on its hallowed turf at both provincial and international level.

The two-hectare park is named after Sir Donald McLean, who as Minister for Native Affairs, (1) purchased land on the southern outskirts of the town from local Maori in the early days of European settlement. A trust was established with 10 acres set aside for recreational purposes.(2)

Over ensuing decades and a number of upgrades it has developed into one of the country’s best cricket grounds and is now regarded as the jewel in the crown of Hawke’s Bays sportsgrounds.(3)

Last year, in response to ongoing drainage issues which prevented several cricket matches being played, the Napier City Council decided to substantially upgrade it with new drainage, a state-of-the-art in-ground irrigation system, resurfacing with ‘special’ sand and hard-wearing grass.

Project manager for the redevelopment, Jamie Goodsir, says it took the best part of five months to complete at a cost of nearly $5 million under a design/build contract.

“Back in the 1900s the area was swamp. It was drained to allow for the creation of the park, however it suffered drainage problems so our plan was to fix the issue as part of this redevelopment and upgrade it,” he says.

“While cricket and rugby are the main fixtures played at the park, it being a multi-functional facility we’ve had to provide for a number of other sporting codes and uses including concerts and the like.

“The park’s playing surface has traditionally been earth and grass, with the wicket area hard clay. However, for rugby the hard clay has been a problem, so we wanted to address that as well.”

In preparation for the redevelopment, 9000 cubic metres of earth to a depth of 500mm was removed from the field and trucked to a vacant site just south of Napier.

Bidim was laid over the subgrade and then overlaid with 3500 cubic-metres of Holcim, grade-six drainage gravel to a depth of 200mm. TIC Contracting then laid 170mm and 450mm diameter megaflow subsoil drainage pipes radiating out to the boundary.

Laying bidim over the subgrade as drainage pipes are being laid.

Melbourne-based HG Sports Turf was the main contractor. Specialising in the design and development of sports fields it has been instrumental in constructing grounds for a number of high profile Australian venues, Auckland’s Eden Park, FMG Stadium in Hamilton and Wellington’s Westpac Stadium.

HG Sports Turf’s Erik Kinlon says the turf for McLean Park now comprises a sand-based turf, rather than earth-based one, as this provides superior drainage, resulting in a better year-round playing surface.

“The sand needed to consist of a particular granular size and angular shape that met USGA grading specification to achieve optimal performance criteria, be free-draining and not be so fine that it could be washed into the foundation gravels by rain and irrigation,” he says.

“We were able to source the sand from the Wairarapa and it was spread over the gravel layer to a depth of 260mm.

“A motz eclipse hybrid grass, which was pre-grown offsite at our Pukekohe facility, was selected for the surface as it has been thoroughly tested at other stadiums over many years, has a long life and is both strong-rooted and hard wearing making it ideal for both rugby and cricket.”

It took some 18,000 square meters of grass to cover the park. The sand was sourced from Fulton Hogan’s two quarries in the Wairarapa: Featherston and Waiohine (near Carterton).

Quarry divisional manager, Ruan van Deventer, says over 8800 tonnes of river sand was extracted from the Ruamahanga River using its 18-tonne Hitachi loader and then trucked to its screening plant.

“To achieve the sand specification, meticulous processing and grading was required,” he says.

“The raw product was initially screened to remove any oversize material and debris, then washed and rescreened using Locker fine screens on our Keestract Explorer screening plant.

“The throughput, screen elevation and water pressure was carefully monitored to ensure the product met specification.”

Ruan adds that the company is one of the few suppliers in the country able to provide sand to this particular specification.

Ninety-five percent of the sand came from the Wairarapa, with the remaining five percent sourced locally in Hawke’s Bay. Due to the sheer volume of sand required over such a short period, the Featherston quarry dedicated its entire production to the project.

“It took just over 300 truck and trailer units to transport the sand to Napier over a 12-week period and we worked closely with HG Sports Turf to ensure supply was timed to their requirements and tested independently,” he says.

The boxing and concrete frame for the drop-in wicket trays.

To overcome the cricket pitch issue, a ‘change-out, drop-in tray’ system has been used.

Jamie Goodsir says these replaceable pitch trays allowed them to choose between five different surfaces, depending on the game being played.

“They are around 25-metres long by three-metres wide and lifted by a 40-tonne crane into a concrete box 200mm deep shallow trench.

“Each tray comprises a foundation of gravel overlaid by various depths of sand and clay and when placed in the trench a seamless join with the surrounding ground is achieved.”

The sub-terrain irrigation system was subcontracted to Parkland Irrigation who laid just over 1.5 kilometres of irrigation pipe below the surface.

There are 93 individually controlled pop-up sprinklers and a number of moisture sensors which are operated by a ‘smart’ technology system that monitors the ambient weather conditions and when required activates and regulates the sprinkler run-time and application rate.

The park made its return to the provincial circuit with a rugby game in September last year followed by an international cricket match last January, with Jamie saying all concerned are; “Absolutely wrapped with the result.

“The revamp of McLean Park has certainly enhanced Napier’s reputation as an international standard cricketing destination.”

The park boasts four main spectator stands. New rugby and soccer goal posts have been installed and it is planned to upgrade the floodlights and build new practice nets.

At full capacity the park can accommodate up to 19,000 spectators.


(1) McLean was MP for Napier and Minister of Native Affairs and Defence between 1866-74. Scottish by birth, he arrived in NZ in 1840, became fluent in Maori and learnt their customs/culture. He led a number of land purchase settlements with Maori in both Taranaki and Hawke’s Bay where he owned a number of large sheep stations. He was knighted in 1874 and died in 1877.

(2) The Highland Society Trust was established in 1905 to manage the development. Initially the park was used for highland games and athletic events.

(3)  McLean Park is regarded as one of the top cricket grounds in the country. Its close proximity to the International Date Line makes it the world’s most eastern international test match ground.
The first cricket test was played in 1979 (NZ-v-Pakistan) and the first ODI in 1982 (NZ-v-Sri Lanka). The park is regarded as having one of the ‘friendliest wickets’ in the world, with the average number of runs per wicket being 39-40.
The most runs scored to date at the park were achieved by Brendon McCullum. It has also hosted a number of rugby tests, with the first played under floodlights in 1996.


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