Whangārei’s first cruise ship visit has been welcomed, with tug boats spraying a water cannon salute and a pōwhiri from local hapū Patuharakeke.
The MV Regatta, a boutique vessel with 670 passengers on board, docked at Northport in perfect conditions at 7.30am on Sunday.
About half the passengers had pre-booked excursions, while the rest were bussed to the Town Basin in central Whangārei.
Whangārei mayor Vince Cocurullo said the Regatta’s visit was a chance for the city to start small and prepare for more and bigger ships in future.
Three ships were due at Northport, at Marsden Point, this season, with another seven booked the following summer.
The Regatta would make a return visit on February 22, followed by the Seven Seas Navigator on March 7.
Cocurullo said numbers were expected to grow to 30 ships a year within two decades.
“We see this as an important opportunity to showcase our place and welcome more visitors to our district. The economic benefits will grow as the number of visits and visitor volumes increase over the coming years.”
People in the city centre on Sunday would notice more buses and extra visitors at the Town Basin, but measures had been put in place – including cruise ship “ambassadors” to offer directions and answer questions – to help the day run smoothly.
Cocurullo said the game-changer that persuaded cruise companies to put Whangārei on their itineraries was the opening last year of the Hundertwasser Art Centre.
However, the city had many other attractions, including the Hātea Loop, the shops and cafés of the Town Basin, the Rolling Ball Clock, Hihiaua Cultural Centre, and Clapham’s Clock Museum.
Oceania Cruises’ MV Regatta was due to depart at 7pm Sunday. Its next stop would be the Bay of Islands, after which it would return to its home port of Sydney.
Further north, the Bay of Islands was expecting a record 92 ships this season carrying almost 160,000 passengers – surpassing even the pre-Covid peak of 83 ships in 2019-20.
Last season 43 ships called into the bay, with some visits cancelled due to bad weather or when ships were refused entry due to biofouling of their hulls.