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The cruise ship Pacific Pearl will arrive there on Sunday. Depending on the weather, most of its 1800 passengers were expected to land on the island, Stewart Island promotions officer Jo Learmonth said.
‘‘We're gearing up for 1500. It's going to quadruple our population. We don't know exactly what to expect so there is some trepidation, but we think we are pretty well sorted. We have 1200 visitors a day here at the height of the [tourist] season.''
Owned by Carnival Australia, the 247m-long Pacific Pearl sails out of Auckland and is the only cruise ship based in New Zealand.
Because of its size, it will berth 1.5 nautical miles off Halfmoon Bay, ferrying passengers to and from the island in tenders carrying 100 people at a time. Mrs Learmonth said the trip would take about 20 minutes each way so locals were ‘‘holding our breaths'' for a fine day and calm seas.
The first visitors were expected mid-morning and the ship is due to sail at 8pm.
A market day will be held featuring the work of local artists, carvers, jewellers and crafters. There will also be food stalls, including locally-farmed Foveaux Strait oysters.
Many visitors were expected to book tours to the Ulva Island bird sanctuary, or on wildlife and sight-seeing cruises. Sea kayaking, visits to the Oban museum and bush walks were also likely to be popular, she said.
‘‘I am sure there will be a few people partaking of beer and oysters on the foreshore, too.''
Southland Mayor Gary Tong will be on the island to greet visitors. He said he was ‘‘excited for Stewart Island''.
‘‘It will be a great thing.''
Southland harbour master Kevin O'Sullivan, who is also the chairman of industry group Cruise New Zealand, said Carnival New Zealand approached him to see if it was possible to bring larger vessels to Stewart Island. He had helped with logistics such as navigation to ensure it was possible.
‘‘Having cruise ship passengers visit the island is a big advantage to Southland economically. ‘‘If this visit is successful there will be two more in the next six months.''
Long-term, other larger ships could visit as well, he said.‘‘Everyone wants to come to Stewart Island.''
After leaving Halfmoon Bay Pacific Pearl would head up the West Coast of New Zealand via some of the Fiordland sounds, he said.