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Passengers on the 109,000-tonne Golden Princess, including about 400 who boarded it in Auckland on Monday and the rest from Australia, were disappointed to hear late yesterday that the ship was turning back to Cook Strait rather than heading to Melbourne via Port Chalmers and Fiordland.
The ship had been due in Dunedin today.
Aucklander Anna Farrell, booked for the 13-day cruise to Melbourne and back with her husband, said the captain warned of bad weather on its way for today.
"He said there were reports of bad weather coming over the country, and by tomorrow [Saturday], Port Chalmers [Dunedin] is going to be pretty bad," Mrs Farrell said.
"And the [Fiordland] Sounds will be closed - it will be pretty bad around the bottom [of the South Island] so they don't want to take a chance with the passengers or the crew."
She said many passengers - particularly the Australians - had already been disappointed that they had missed Gisborne on the way down the east coast from Auckland, again because of bad weather.
"It got very windy in Tauranga and they said seas were going to get very rough, so we would bypass Gisborne and head on to Wellington."
Mrs Farrell acknowledged that the captain had to make a call based on the weather outlook, but said passengers were unimpressed that Princess Cruises was indicating their only compensation would be a 30 per cent discount on a future cruise.
"A lot of them are going, this might be a one and only - we'd rather have some of our money back because we have booked to see New Zealand and we haven't actually seen New Zealand."
A Princess Cruises spokeswoman said an intense depression in the southern Tasman Sea was expected to serve up strong head winds and seas of up to 7.5 m. That had forced calls to Port Chalmers and Fiordland for scenic cruising to be cancelled.
MetService warns of rain across much of the country today, including heavy falls in Auckland late this afternoon after early scattered showers. Rain in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki will include some heavy falls, easing this evening.