Town records ‘biggest season ever’ for cruises

Cruise ship Silver Whisper in port at Bluff on January 21. Nearly 20 cruise ships have visited...
Cruise ship Silver Whisper in port at Bluff on January 21. Nearly 20 cruise ships have visited Bluff this summer. PHOTO: SOUTH PORT
A record year has been notched up for cruise ship visits to Bluff.

There have been nearly 20 cruise ships at Bluff this summer, which is the highest number of visits on record, according to South Port. The ship passengers and their wallets were having an impact right across the province.

According to the New Zealand Cruise Association schedule, 18 cruise ships had booked a stop at the port between November 2023 and February 2024, carrying more than 6000 visitors to the province.

Bluff publicity and promotions officer Lindsay Beer said the industry was a good thing for the town as well as the province.

"This year was the biggest season ever."

He told locals when a ship was due to allow business owners and stall holders to prepare for the visit.

"We get a lot of people wandering around the town and seeing some of the attractions.

"We’re working to offer them more options in Bluff for the coming seasons," Mr Beer said.

"Many of the disembarking passengers and crew linked in with package trip deals that travelled to iconic Southland locations."

But South Port’s island-harbour had safety limitations which prevented passengers from disembarking and walking to the town centre, he said.

Great South tourism and events general manager Mark Frood said Bluff, Stewart Island/Rakiura and Fiordland were frequented by the cruise industry.

Great South no longer held data on how much the industry was worth to the province.

"Many tourists just look around and don’t spend a lot, but others do. And there’s more and more opportunity for us to build inter-shore itineraries."

Great South was working to expand opportunities available to passengers while visiting the South.

But it was equally important to work with local operators to ensure they were "trade-ready".

"Places like Bluff, who don’t see so many cruise visitors in the community, [could] have the opportunity to build experiences that cater for the market. We can develop these from the learning we get over the season," Mr Frood said.

The cruise industry helped to diversify the region’s visitor mix and brought the opportunity to grow international visitor numbers in some of our stronger domestic regional markets, Mr Frood said.

Daytime shore trips to Riverton, the Catlins, Stirling Point and Bluff Hill as well as heritage expeditions were frequent.

Bluff attracted smaller ships because it was unable to cater for larger ones, he said.

The 181m Regatta, with a 5.95m draft, had the most passengers (650), and only had one scheduled stop at Bluff this season, while the 212m Silver Muse and her 190m sister ship Silver Whisper had seven stops scheduled.

The smaller 125m Heritage Adventurer, carrying 140 passengers, had eight stops planned.

Up to 28 cruise ships were scheduled to stop at Stewart Island/Rakiura, bringing a potential 7586 passengers to the island.

The largest ship, the 219m Vasco Da Gama, carried 1260 passengers.

"Spending by cruise ships means more to some regional economies than others," he said.

Up to 122 ships, including one of the world’s largest, Ovation of the Seas, were scheduled to visit Fiordland, carrying more than 23,000 passengers to the sound.

Ovation of the Seas, with a capacity of 4180 passengers, was due to make 10 trips to the region, while the famous Queen Elizabeth with her 2092 passengers, would visit three times.

But the future of heading into Milford Sound is up in the air.

Considered a jewel in the visit for ship passengers, the visits have been opposed by the initial Milford Opportunities Project, when released in 2021.

The project wanted the ships banned, saying cruise ships detracted from the beautiful natural setting by blocking key sight lines, releasing "smog" and interrupting the overall experience and environment of Milford Sound.

The project is due to deliver its final recommendations to Cabinet in the middle of the year.

By Toni McDonald