Amelia Wade is a court reporter for the New Zealand Herald

Love boats' romance with shores of Aotearoa

With New Zealand high on international passengers' wish lists and cruise ships getting bigger and visiting more frequently, the country's popular ports and visitor amenities are being stretched to their limits

Both Tauranga and the Port of Auckland had days during summer when three cruise liners were berthed, putting a strain on the ports and attractions popular with passengers. Photo / Alan Gibson
Both Tauranga and the Port of Auckland had days during summer when three cruise liners were berthed, putting a strain on the ports and attractions popular with passengers. Photo / Alan Gibson

With more than 1.1 million passenger days spent in New Zealand, the country's ports have survived the biggest cruise season on record - but only just.

The summer is expected to have generated $474.5 million in direct expenditure from the cruise industry, up 15 per cent on the previous season.

But New Zealand ports only just got through and when bigger ships from China and Europe berth in the next few years, the industry stresses it's vital port cities can cope.

"It was our biggest season and we just got through it. We did have some issues where we had three ships in port on a number of occasions and coaches taking people on excursions were stretched, but we managed. Some of the ports certainly found it challenging to accommodate two or three ships," said Cruise New Zealand chairman Craig Harris.

On four days this summer, Auckland had three cruise ships in port simultaneously.

The cruise industry is the fastest-growing tourism sector and Tourism New Zealand said it had a huge amount of potential for growth. New Zealand's popularity as a cruise destination has skyrocketed - the number of cruise passengers has increased by more than 250 per cent in the past five years. Mr Harris said New Zealand is consistently rated in the top quartile of destinations in passenger surveys.

Total annual cruise visitor numbers have now outgrown the country's fourth-largest inbound tourism market, China.

Mr Harris said the 2013/2014 season isn't expected to bring many more passengers, but it would bring larger ships.

And by the 2014/2015 season, the widening of the Panama Canal will be completed, allowing some of the biggest ships in the world to venture into our waters. Mr Harris said it would also see larger ships coming from China where the cruise market is experiencing immense growth.

Mr Harris said tourism operators in port cities needed to make sure they could accommodate the increased foot traffic.

In smaller towns the growing cruise industry put pressure on shops, cafes, taxis and coaches.

"And in terms of some of the attractions popular to visitors, we have to work a little bit smarter to schedule visitors to put them through," Mr Harris said.

To cope with the expanding size of the cruise ships, Northland will be adding Marsden Pt in Whangarei to the cruise schedule because it can accommodate larger liners. Smaller ships will still dock at the Bay of Islands, said Jeroen Jongejans, the chairman of the Northland Tourism Development Group.

This will also solve the issue of multiple ships in port at the same time.

Mr Jongejans went to Tauranga earlier this year to see how their port managed that problem.

"It's great because we're not competing we're all sort of working together. So we can make use of their learnings over the years, so we can put in place a really positive way forward," he said.

Northland Tourism was also talking to the cruise liners to see if they could extend ships' stay so they could "maximise the benefits" of having passengers in the region.

Tourism Bay of Plenty's general manager Rhys Arrowsmith said 84 ships berthed at Tauranga this season.

He said the season went very smoothly with the new welcome facilities in place ensuring there was no bottleneck for passengers gathering information.

But one of the key lessons learned for the next season was that they needed to provide maps showing free Wi-Fi spots and refine local maps to better identify the historical story the Bay has to tell, Mr Arrowsmith said.

There are already 84 ships booked to berth at the Port of Tauranga with 13 double ship days and one triple ship day.

Mr Arrowsmith said the 2013/14 season was longer with the first vessel arriving on October 12 and the last on May 13 next year. They're also expecting 25,000 more passengers than last season.

The continued growth of our cruise industry is vital, Mr Harris said, because its economic impact is massive.

The most recent cruise season was expected to generate $474.5 million in direct spending.

A report on the 2011/2012 cruise season found 63 per cent of passengers' local spend went directly to goods and services with 37 per cent being paid to foreign-owned cruise lines and travel agents.

It also found that during that season, on average each adult cruise passenger was worth $887 to New Zealand-based businesses.

And at the heart of it is Auckland, the country's only exchange port where people fly into New Zealand before boarding a ship or fly out at the end of a cruise.

There were about 163,000 passenger days spent in Auckland this summer, making up 16 per cent of all passenger days in New Zealand.

Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development's tourism manager, Jason Hill, said the city was highly regarded as a cruise destination.

"We enjoy an impressive average passenger satisfaction rating of 84.7 per cent. Cruise passengers and crew love the fact that the ships berth right in the heart of downtown Auckland and they can walk from the wharf straight into the city."

Some of the highlights of the season were the visits by the Carnival Spirit, the newest and largest ship to be home ported year round in Australasia, in February and the return of the Queen Mary 2. At 345m, the luxury cruise liner is the largest ship to ever visit New Zealand and is the length of 3.5 rugby pitches.

The season also saw the largest exchange that has been done in Auckland. The Celebrity Solstice had an exchange visit where 3000 passengers disembarked and 3000 passengers embarked. "Visitors to Auckland have been welcomed by outstanding summer weather and friendly people and Auckland has had a great buzz about it as cruise passengers have flowed throughout the city and region," Mr Hill said.

A staff member on the Queen Mary 2, which docked in March, was overheard by the Herald joking Australian passengers had come to New Zealand for a summer holiday because their country had been plagued by fires and floods.

And work is now back on track to complete the upgrade of the century-old Shed 10 into a cruise ship terminal and events centre following the collapse of Mainzeal Construction in February.

Commercial construction firm Macrennie took over the job and is due to complete the $18.6 million upgrade in June.

Many of the historic features of Shed 10, including the dense, heavy matai floors and steel roof trusses, are being restored.

At the southern end of Shed 10, a 4.7m by 4.7m bay window is being installed in which a 3m waka, carved from puriri, will be suspended to greet cruise visitors.

The southern end is being turned into a modern entrance foyer with a staircase and lift to the first floor.

Queens Wharf will replace Princes Wharf as the main berth for cruise liners from next season, although it is too small for a new generation of bigger ships and may need a $10 million top-up from ratepayers.

Waterfront Auckland and Ports of Auckland have commissioned the engineering consultancy firm Beca to consider bigger cruise ships, which are more than 300m long and carry more than 3000 passengers.

The Queen Mary 2 berths at Jellicoe Wharf at industrial Ports of Auckland when it visits the city. Queens Wharf is limited to ships up to 290m. Ships up to 320m berth at Princes Wharf.

- NZ Herald

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