It does not seem very long since the Queen Mary 2 was the largest cruise liner to visit Auckland. Today, cruise holidays are a bigger industry with even bigger ships. Queen Mary 2 was too big for Auckland's passenger terminals, Queens or Princes Wharf, and had to be berthed at an industrial wharf. When the largest of this summer's record number of cruise ships arrives in December, the Royal Caribbean line's Ovation of Seas will be too big to berth at Auckland. It will anchor in the harbour and passengers will be tendered ashore. This is not ideal.
It is not ideal for passengers and it is certainly not ideal for Auckland's economy. These ships are floating hotels. They are so big now they are the equivalent of three or four flash hotels, full of well-heeled guests, landing on the Auckland waterfront. Except if they have to anchor in the stream they will not be on the waterfront. Passengers will not be able to simply take a walk to the shops, cafes and tours of the city. They will have to get into another boat, and that makes a difference.
If Auckland wants to reap the maximum benefit from cruise tourism it needs to ensure passengers can stroll ashore at whim. Even an industrial wharf is far from ideal, presenting them with an unlovely path past cranes and containers and carriers. The city needs to provide a pleasant and convenient terminal, which it had thought it had done by converting Shed 10 on Queens Wharf for the purpose. But it seems the ships have outgrown the wharf.
Extending any of the wharves further into the channel is out of the question, as the leading mayoral candidates agree. Whatever the political complexion of the mayor and council that will be elected on Saturday, it is unlikely to tolerate the port's further creep into the harbour. A survey of small business in Auckland has found 54 percent would like the port's activities moved to another location but that is not an option for a cruise terminal if the city is to attract these ships.
Somehow, the council must make it worthwhile for Ports of Auckland Ltd to provide a suitable terminal within its present territory. Clearly cruise ships do not pay as well as car carriers and container vessels or the port company would be providing for them of its accord. But when it comes to a comparison of value to the retailers and service industries of Auckland, cars and bananas probably cannot match the spending power of a small city arriving by sea.
The first ship of this bumper season arrives today. An unprecedented 33 are scheduled to call before the end of April. They will visit several ports around New Zealand, injecting an expected $484 million into the economy. The megaship Ovation of the Seas will be calling first at Milford Sound and then Port Chalmers, where $180,000 has been spent strengthening the pier. If Dunedin can bring this behemoth alongside, what is wrong with Auckland?
The city's tourism, events and economic development agency, Ateed, warns of a decline in visits unless these ships can be accommodated. It must be possible, without further compromising Auckland's prime attraction.