An increase in cruise ship numbers to Southland this season has led tour operators to explore smaller port destinations as they visit the region.
There was a 22% increase in scheduled cruise ship visits to Southland in the 2018-19 season – 118 compared to 96 in the 2017-18 season.
The season also included the very first visit of a cruise ship to riverton, with the Caledonian Sky bringing a tour of cycling enthusiasts to the town in December.
Southland regional harbourmaster lyndon Cleaver said visits to smaller ports were being explored as cruise ship operators looked to try out new routes.
“It’s all about providing something different. Cruise ships are always looking for something different to do and hence the reason they tried out riverton.”
The Caledonian Sky’s visit to riverton was believed to be the largest ship to visit the town in 117 years. passengers were tendered to shore with the assistance of the coastguard after the ship dropped anchor at a depth of 10 metres due to the shallowness of riverton’s harbour.
“The cruise ship was chartered out by a particular group of cycling enthusiasts and the day just went according to plan… once everybody had gone ashore the ship shifted its location around to Bluff and picked up the guests there. Then they continued that sort of similar theme up the coast. So everything went very well.”
The majority of cruise ships visiting Southland dock in Fiordland, with Mr Cleaver describing the region as “New Zealand’s jewel in the crown of the cruise ship industry”.
He said the visitors were taking advantage of the World Heritage areas as well as the Fiordland National park and a variety of other visits including overland treks and driving tours.
However, the safety and preservation of the region was paramount when it came to the visiting ships, with restricted access based on environmental conditions secured in a deed of agreement in place between the cruise industry and Environment Mr Cleaver said.
The agreement includes a set of conditions around emissions, as well as ships having nil discharge. it also sets out sections of Fiordland into “red and green areas”, which control access to various parts of the region.
There is also a cap of visitors in certain ports, with Milford Sound capping passengers at 200 due to the size of the terminal.
Mr Cleaver said Environment Southland was constantly monitoring the visitors to access to the region by cruise ships.
“There is a steady increase in scheduled visits but where the ceiling is i don’t know. That’s something we need to take into consideration, as well as that from a safety point of view we certainly need to be mindful of the numbers of vessels going through there, and we’re very carefully monitoring that and controlling that.”
The cruise ship season runs from October to April, with bookings for future visits taken up to three years in advance.
Mr Cleaver said that bookings for the 2019-20 season were already on track to be higher than this season, with Bluff set to become more of a prominent destination in the future.
“There is interest at the moment from, not sure next season but maybe the season after, cruise ships wanting to come into Bluff… from Bluff there’s an amazing amount of opportunity that they can do once they get out of Bluff. invercargill, the Catlins, you’ve got the Southern Scenic route, you can even go up through to lake Manapouri…so lots of options there.”
This article was originally written for The Advocate. You can read the published version here