The operator of the biggest cruise ship to visit this country says Auckland should move quickly to build facilities for massive vessels or risk losing visits.

Royal Caribbean has pulled a ship out of Sydney for the 2018-19 season because of a shortage of berthing facilities and says that if wharf extensions are delayed at Auckland there is a risk of the same happening in this country.

During the past summer the line carried 75,000 people to New Zealand ports and estimates this injected $40 million in passenger spending into the regions.

But in Auckland its biggest ship, Ovation of the Seas, had to anchor in the harbour because cruise ship wharves were not long enough to accommodate it.


Auckland Council is assessing a $10m extension of Queens Wharf which would allow Ovation, which is coming back to tie up alongside.

Royal Caribbean's managing director for Australia and New Zealand, Adam Armstrong, said the current arrangement in Auckland was "embarrassing".

"My message is that we're coming next season and we want to be tying Ovation up alongside. We don't want a solution in two or three years' time - we need a solution in six months' time," said Armstrong.

"The biggest cruise ship in the Southern Hemisphere embarrassingly has to anchor in the middle of the harbour."

Auckland City's planning committee has heard that the growing cruise industry provides significant benefits to the regional economy of $220m annually and nearly 4000 jobs. Ship visits have grown from 40 in 2006 to 104 in 2016 and passenger numbers have increased from 60,000 to 220,000 in the same period.

The Ovation of the Seas is the largest cruise ship to visit New Zealand. Photo / Michael Craig
The Ovation of the Seas is the largest cruise ship to visit New Zealand. Photo / Michael Craig

While council staff have recommended the construction of a "mooring dolphin," it would not be operational until the 2018/19 cruise season, subject to resource consent approval.

Armstrong said Royal Caribbean was taking Voyager of the Seas - capable of carrying nearly 3900 passengers - out of Sydney because of a lack of space and suitable slots in the 2018/19 cruise season.

"We have been warning this day will come in the last decade - Sydney is full and Australia's ship will stay in Asia instead," he said.


Megaships were the future of the mainstream cruise industry and infrastructure for them needed to be built.

"We are unique in that our assets are movable so if the infrastructure is not there or doesn't meet our needs we will find somewhere else to go."

Armstrong said New Zealand would see more of the 166,000 gross tonne Ovation during the next two summers and another of its ships, Radiance of the Seas, would increase the number of turnarounds - where passengers start and finish a cruise - in Auckland.

These are most valuable to the local economy as passengers fly in and out and many stay in hotels either side of their journey.

Cruise New Zealand says that during the past summer 41 ships have made 760 calls to 31 locations, with an expected benefit to the New Zealand economy of $490m spread across the regions.