A record cruise ship season is set to pump up to $30 million into the Northland economy with up to 150,000 passengers expected to come ashore.

At any one time there are up to 230 cruise ships operating worldwide and this cruise ship season in the Bay of Islands runs from this week until April 15 with 64 visits expected. In total 28 cruise ships will visit the Bay, with the Celebrity Solstice visiting nine times.

Some cruise ships will visit the bay on more than one occasion and the numbers expected are well up on the previous record - the 56 visits in the 2015/16 season - and the number is expected to be even higher for the 2018/19 season with 74 visits already booked.

The busiest day will be December 20 when three ships tie up in the bay - Maasdam, Caledonian Sky and the first visit of the season from the largest ship ever to visit, Ovation of the Seas.


Estimates from the Cruise Ship Association are that the average spend by cruise ship passengers is $200 per person per day, meaning 150,000 would equal $30 million.

But it's not just the immediate benefit that comes for the passengers, with research showing that up to 25 per cent of passengers return within the year of their cruise for a more in-depth visit.

Anika West, whose business Blah Blah Blah Marketing helps cruise ship passengers with on-shore activities when they arrive in Paihia, said the whole region benefited from cruise ship visits.

"They go on bus tours, wine tours, they even go over to the Hokianga," Ms West said.
Russell was one of the most popular destinations, she said, as was the craft market in Paihia.

"It creates a real buzz in Paihia when those ships are in."

Far North holdings spent $350,000 on an additional pontoon last year and $250,000 this year on a wharf extension and other upgrades to cater for cruise ships.

The Cruise Ship Association's chief executive, Kevin O'Sullivan, said there were problems with port infrastructure in some centres but the Bay of Islands was not one of them.

"The Bay of Islands is wonderful. It's one of the highest-rating destinations in New Zealand. Of course, Whangarei's not available yet, but it may be in the future."


Northland's tourism sector wants to get a cruise ship berth at Marsden Pt then bring passengers into Whangarei and surrounds via boat or bus. It hopes the building of the Hundertwasser Arts Centre at the Town Basin will be a catalyst for the cruise ship berth.

Cruise ships spent 49 days in port in the Bay of Islands last summer, but that was set to increase to 64 in the 2017/18 season and increase again in 2018/19 to 74.

Larger cruise ships have also begun to visit local ports, including Ovation of the Seas, the largest cruise ship ever to visit New Zealand waters.

The 348m long ship was due to visit again this summer, stopping three times in the Bay of Islands. It could carry 6500 passengers and crew and visited New Zealand ports for the first time at the end of 2016 and has three visits lined up this summer.

Visits to New Zealand ports would soon rise significantly, according to the Cruise Ship Association - ships would spend 980 days in the country's ports in 2018/19, up from 747 last season.

Some ships would be making multiple trips to the Bay of Islands and other ports around the country. The ships would typically visit ports such as Napier, Tauranga, Wellington and Auckland before or after the trip north.

Mr O'Sullivan said Auckland in particular did not have good enough infrastructure for the new, larger cruise ships.

"The ships are getting larger, and in some ports such as Auckland we currently lack the infrastructure for some of these ships to berth - they have to use tenders to transfer passengers to shore, which impacts on the visitor experience."

Nationally, cruise tourism's economic contribution would rise from $447 million to $640 million, according to the Cruise Ship Association's projections.

Another 3000 jobs would be created in the cruise sector by 2018/19, Mr O'Sullivan said.

There has been a worldwide increase in cruise ship passengers in recent years and that trend is set to continue.