Cruise passengers on the first ship of the season say the Bay is a great stopover destination, with visiting Australian couples hoping to come back for a longer stay.

The cruise liner Sun Princess docked in Tauranga at 7.15am yesterday and sailed for Napier at 7.15pm last night. It was the first of 83 cruise ship calls being made during the season.

Australian couple Craig and Jill Jollow from Narrabri, northern New South Wales, said they were visiting Tauranga for the first time although they had been to New Zealand before.

Mr Jollow, a retired primary school principal, said he visited Christchurch and Wellington in 2004/2005 for a principals' conference.

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When the Bay of Plenty Times caught up with the Jollows they were having a hot brew at local Mount Maunganui bakery.

The couple said they were asleep when the ship docked in Tauranga and awoke to overcast weather.

Mrs Jollow said after breakfast they caught a shuttle bus to Tauranga and looked around before coming back to Mount Maunganui.

"We spent some time walking along the beach, and watched the beach volleyball and the busking competition, as well as visiting some of your great shops," she said

"It's a nice, pretty lovely little town, people are very friendly and we have had a great time.

"We would love to come back one day and spend more time," she said.

Sydney couple Cyril and Joyce Tourneur said this was their first ever visit to New Zealand.

Mrs Tourneur said apart from the cool weather they were not disappointed by their first trip to Tauranga and the friendly people, the "beautiful scenery, and great shops" definitely made up for that.

Mrs Tourneur's only complaint was that she was spoiled for choice.

"There are too many great shops," she said.

Mr Tourneur said his arms were full once he and his wife got back to the ship.

"We would love to come back and hire a camper van and spend more time touring your beautiful city," she said.

Mount Trade Aid Trust retail assistant Debbie McBride said business really picked up once the cruise ship season started.

Sue Jensen, owner of The Gift Locker, said the cruise ship passengers always brought extra vibrancy to Mount Maunganui.

"We need that. There were a lot of ladies from Australia in the store today, who made a lot of purchases which is great. I'm sure there will be a lot of other happy retailers too."

Mount Mainstreet manager Ingrid Fleming said she could not be happier, with the tills ringing and lots of smiles on retailers' and visitors' faces.

"It's a fantastic start to the cruise ship season. This place was packed with about 5000 people this [Sunday] morning. I'm pretty confident that the retailers will be happy about how things have turned out. "