Lyttelton cruise ship facilities needed

FAIR WEATHER PORT: Cruise ships can only use Akaroa in good weather due to the reliance on tenders to get passengers ashore.
FAIR WEATHER PORT: Cruise ships can only use Akaroa in good weather due to the reliance on tenders to get passengers ashore.

The number of cruise ship visits to Canterbury dropped in the 2013/14 season, with some vessels unable to call into Akaroa because of poor weather.

Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism spokeswoman Caroline Blanchfield said the number of visits to Akaroa dropped from 85 to 67 in the season about to close.

Another three or four cruise boats called into Lyttelton, which has only been able to take smaller vessels post the damaging 2010/11 earthquakes.

"What we had was a lot of wet weather days where they couldn't make calls, because Akaroa is very weather dependent, being a tender port," she said.

Akaroa has become the default port since the earthquakes damaged Lyttelton, however visiting ships cannot tie up at the wharf but instead must rely on smaller tender boats to relay the passengers to shore.

Blanchfield said the 2013/14 season had also been impacted with some shipping lines taking vessels off the circuit for refurbishment.

These vessels were expected back in the next season. For 2014/15 there were about 77 visits already scheduled for Akaroa and a further eight or so for Lyttelton. It was important that infrastructure, damaged by the earthquakes, was reinstated, particularly as some vessels without tenders were unable to stop at Akaroa or Lyttelton at this point, Blanchfield said.

CCT and Cruise New Zealand have been lobbying Lyttelton port for progress on restoration of a dedicated cruise facility.

"The cruise ships (without tenders) would like to berth their ships," Blanchfield said.

The port was not available for comment yesterday and previously had said it wanted to allow larger cruise ships into the inner harbour by the summer of 2015/16.

Cruise New Zealand committee member Debbie Summers said the cruise lines were looking forward to Lyttelton coming back online but Akaroa was seen by Princess Cruises, for example, as "one of the highest rated ports they visit in New Zealand".

New Zealand-wide cruise ships brought in the order of 233,000 passengers and 78,000 crew during the 2013/14 season.

High Country Explorer Tours director Rod Bennett said he understood there was a lot of pressure on Lyttelton to reinstate better cruise facilities. The cruise industry was vital for tourism operators like himself in Canterbury. "Cruise ship work is certainly something that a lot of operators are reliant on just to stay afloat."

The number of passengers that stepped off cruise ships in Auckland in the 2013/14 also dropped, but early indications show numbers will recover next season.

Ports of Auckland said 95 ships had already booked for the next summer season beginning on October 1 and running until April. That compares with 79 liners that called into the port this summer and is up on the record 91 calls over the 2012-13 summer season.

The 2015-16 season is also looking promising with 93 ships already scheduled to visit Auckland.

Ports of Auckland spokeswoman Dee Radhakrishnan said the reduction in the number of ship visits was because cruising companies were using larger ships.

Radhakrishnan said Carnival Cruise Line's (which owns the Carnival, P&O, Princess Cruises and Cunard brands) decision to drop three cruises to New Zealand this summer and fewer round-the- world cruises calling into New Zealand had also impacted on total passenger numbers.

Carnival Australia chief executive Ann Sherry said New Zealand was well placed to become one of the fastest growing cruise markets in the world. Investment in infrastructure upgrades to support the growth of cruising would be recouped through increased tourism revenue.

Cunard's luxurious liners, the Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary and Queen Victoria, will all visit New Zealand as part of the company's 175th anniversary next year.

Royal Caribbean said it would bring the 3800-passenger superliner Explorer of the Seas from Singapore in October 2015 to be based in Australasia to support increased passenger demand.

The Press