Scheduling of cruise ships angers Akaroa residents - 'It's just chaos'

The haphazard scheduling of cruise ships has angered some residents in the seaside town of Akaroa, near Christchurch.

More than 90 cruise ships will visit between now and April next year, up from 75 last year, leading to some locals fearing the small village will struggle to cope.

Akaroa is home to about 600 people, but its population increases by 4000 during the peak of the cruise season.

Residents have been vocal about potential problems for years, but the chaos may continue until a $67 million cruise berth is completed at Lyttelton Harbour in 2020.

Akaroa Village Inn owner Kerry Bathgate, who lives near the wharf, said poor scheduling, including multiple ship visits on the same day 11 times this season, will put the town under pressure for another summer.

"It's just chaos. The wharf is tiny. You've got all these operators trying to sell their tours, then you've got three more lots of buses coming in because every cruise ship will do their own bus. They all might be going to Christchurch, but, no, they can't go on the same bus, they've got to be in different buses.

"It's three times as much as if there is one cruise ship in."

The city's economic development agency ChristchurchNZ said cruise passengers spent $34.745m in Akaroa from June 2017 to June 2018, while $28.931m was spent in the central city from August last year to August this year.

Kerry Bathgate was confident of hosting 1800 passengers per day if pushed, but said people don't go into town when they are around.

"The locals know when a ship's coming in, so they'll come in the day before, get what they need and then go home and just stay there. A lot of people from Christchurch won't come - they know how chaotic Akaroa is.

"The thing is you can't go out for lunch, you can't go and get a coffee, even going into the supermarket is just chaos because of the amount of people in town in one day."

Resident Mike Norris wants only 35 ships during the cruise season, and said it was distressing having multiple visit on the same day.

"There's anger now. We were perfectly happy to accept that while Lyttelton was undergoing repairs for a terminal we would have to accept the diversion of ships to this village. We did say that we didn't want to have any days where you have two ships coming in."

The New Zealand Cruise Association says there is no national body which decides how many cruise ships can enter the country.

Its chief executive officer, Kevin O'Sullivan, said ports determine the number of ships they want, although, decisions are made a little differently in Akaroa.

"In the case of Akaroa my understanding is the decision is made by the Canterbury harbourmaster and the owner of the Akaroa infrastructure, which is the Christchurch City Council."

Regional harbourmaster Ian Fox said he does not create the cruise ship schedule and assessed bookings based on maritime safety risks.

Meanwhile, Lyttelton Port Company chief executive Peter Davie said the large cruise ships were already lining up.

"We've already had cruise ships saying they'd like to come in [the 2020-2021 cruise season]. I think we've got in excess of 10 bookings already. Our expectation is particularly the very large ones will come here - some of them can't get into Akaroa just because of the volume of passengers they have."

Mike Norris said they were hopeful Lyttelton would help ease the pressure.

"We're going to have to survive next season with 120 ships. When there's hope that things are going to change, people will find ways of adapting. If we thought there's going to be 10 years like this... I think you'd find a lot of people packing up and moving out."

The city council said it charged cruise ships $300 to $23,000 to visit Akaroa - and made $715,000 in anchorage fees last year.

It said it would install more toilets, road markings and signage, while $1.6m had been set aside next year to look at upgrading the town's wharf.

rnz.co.nz

By Dan Dalgety

The cruise ship MS Dawn Princess at anchor in Akaroa Harbour. Source: rnz.co.nz