You can get a pretty good up-close view of some of the world’s most magnificent cruise ships courtesy of Fullers ferries.
Two weeks running now, as I’ve headed into the city on early morning commutes, we’ve had cause to either divert or tread water while first the behemoth Ovation of the Seas spat out its tourist-filled tenders from its at-anchor mid-harbour roost, and then the Celebrity Solstice churned up the ferry basin as it engaged its thrusters to nestle into Princes Wharf.
The delays, to be honest, were negligible – the Saturday 8am from Waiheke docked just around 8.40am and last Friday’s 6am hung around for nine minutes before tying up at 6.45am.
For those with narrow deadlines to get to buses or trains, that might be annoying. For me, it’s quite the sight when the orange pilot boat and doughty tug Hauraki marshal these floating skyscrapers into place.
The advent of these ships is a sure sign that summer is upon us. But it does beg a fairly sticky question about the busy-ness of our working downtown port.
Ports of Auckland’s cruise ship schedule details 20 visits between now and Christmas, and another 61 before the end of February. That’s 162 comings and goings, not to mention the refuelling tanker visits which can also disrupt traffic.
Sure, the majority of these arrivals and departures are pre or post commuter sailings but there are enough clashes to make it worthwhile checking – especially if you’re braving some of the height-of-the-summer weekend crossings.
Even Fullers CEO Mike Horne – while keen to push the “our operations team works hard to ensure disruption is minimised and customers are kept informed” line – has to admit that when it comes to the difficulty of working in such a crowded harbour, the rules of the jungle apply.
“Whilst Fullers360 has no control over the POAL cruise schedules, we collaborate and align with Auckland Transport and the Harbourmaster to keep customers informed of possible disruptions … Of note, cruise schedules are subject to delay and the expected times of cruise ship arrival and departure are not always achieved, further impacting ferry schedules.”
Mr Horne also talks about “purposeful shared planning” when it comes to sorting out how the port will be aportioned in years to come – although he knows where he wants to keep his main centre of operations. “Ideally, Fullers360 support retaining the ferry basin strictly for ferries.”
Regardless of what you think about where you put these giants of the deep ocean travel, they’re going to become more frequent visitors to our shores. Just look at the numbers involved: in the 12 months up to June 2017, Stats NZ counted 212,000 cruise passengers visiting nationwide and spending $366.9 million. This year, that had become 322,000 passengers spending nearly $570m – and of that $192.5m apparently disappeared into Auckland’s coffers (up nearly a third on the previous year).
Waiheke sees a fair amount of business, too, from cruise passengers. And much of it, business that puts dollars straight into islanders’ pockets. Plenty of pre-booked parties ferry over to scoff their way through high teas and buffets or quaff their way through wine flights and beer paddles. Come January 20, we’ll even be able to gaze at the overwhelmingly luxurious Seabourn Encore when it comes and anchors off Matiatia again. If you’re an Oneroa business, that’s a key date to make sure you’re fully stocked for the rush.
For a country struggling to come to terms with the economic and ecological realities of our traditional core industries such as agriculture, horticulture, forestry, mining and fishing, tourism is a no-brainer. Build it and they will come, seems to be the mantra of those angling for extended cruise ship facilities.
When news leaked this week that a government-commissioned working group reckons that not only should the cargo port be moved wholesale up to Whangarei, but that naysayers should be heaved out of the way and the deal should be inked in a year, it ruffled a few feathers in town hall.
Mayor Phil Goff worried on talkback radio that he didn’t “suddenly want 77 hectares of land dumped on [him and be told] ‘do something with this’,” but others must be champing at the bit. And certainly those more inclined to see the increasingly glamourous procession of modern cruise ships shuddering past North Head than the ugly slugs of car transporters and container ships must have pricked up their ears.
The owners of Seabourn Encore have recently announced their next generation of vessels will come equipped with their own custom-made submarines, fitted with embroidered leather upholstery, Bluetooth stereo … even a champagne chiller. And those left on deck will have their own Swarovski binoculars with which to watch the world float by.
I can’t wait to stare back at them as we wait our turn getting into the wharf.
• James Belfield