The Northland city of Whangārei is gearing up to welcome its first cruise ship visits in decades this summer.
Mayor Vince Cocurullo said three ships were due at Northport, at Marsden Point, this season, with another seven booked the following summer.
The first, MS Regatta, with just under 700 passengers, was due to visit on 4 February.
“It’s the first time in a very, very long time we’ve had cruise ships in Whangārei. Now they’re back, which is absolutely wonderful, and what it means for the economy in Whangārei and Northland as a whole is amazing.”
Although the visits were starting small – none of the ships carried more than 770 passengers – they followed years of effort by tourism leaders to persuade cruise ship companies to add the district to their itineraries.
Mayor Vince Cocurullo said one key factor had lured them back after a decades-long absence.
“The biggest thing that has changed has definitely been the Hundertwasser Art Centre. Having the Hundertwasser created and developed as a tourist attraction has set the cruise ships’ connection back to Whangarei,” he said.
“We’ve got loads of other things in Whangārei, as anyone who lives here knows, however the Hundertwasser is an internationally renowned art gallery, and realistically that was the key thing.”
The Hundertwasser Art Centre was designed by the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who spent much of the latter years of his life near Kawakawa.
The centre was hugely controversial prior to its construction and finally opened in 2022.
Cocurullo said welcoming cruise ships to the district was a chance for Whangārei to share its history and culture with visitors through experiences, great products and services, and local food and beverages.
He said regional development agency Northland Inc, business group NorthChamber, the council and Northport were working with tourism operators to ensure a positive experience for visitors that also respected Whangārei’s environment and culture.
“We’re also very mindful of any potential impacts on residents, but with a very manageable number of ships arriving over the next few years, we expect minimal disruption for the community.”
Cruise ship passengers would be encouraged to pre-book excursions before arriving at Northport.
The rest of the passengers would travel by bus to Whangārei’s Town Basin.
Markets, ambassadors and an i-Site team would be based at the Town Basin to entertain and support them.
Cocurullo said an increase in buses on the day could lead to minor delays.
Northport chief executive Jon Moore said being able to start small, and build up to manageable levels in years to come, was a great option for Whangārei.
Further north, the Bay of Islands’ cruise ship industry is on a different scale.
This season the Bay is expecting a record 92 ships carrying just under 160,000 passengers – surpassing even the pre-Covid peak of 83 ships in 2019-20.
Last season 43 ships called into the Bay of Islands, with some visits cancelled due to bad weather or when ships were refused entry due to biofouling of their hulls.