Island ready for visitors

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THEY coped with hoards of well› wishers and media during the visit of Prince Harry last year, and now Stewart Island locals are preparing for an even bigger challenge — the biggest›ever influx of visitors on a single day.
The Pacific Pearl cruise ship will arrive on Sunday and, depending on the weather, most of its 1800 passen› gers were expected to land on the island, Stewart Island promotions officer Jo Learmonth said.
‘‘We’re gearing up for 1500. It’s going to quadruple our population. We don’t know exactly what to expect so there is some trepidation, but we think we’re pretty well sorted. We can have 1200 visitors a day here at the height of the [tourist] season.’’
Owned by Carnival Australia, the 247m›long Pacific Pearl sails out of Auckland and is the only cruise ship to be based in New Zealand.
Because of its size, it will berth 1.5 nautical miles off Halfmoon Bay, ferrying passengers to and from the island in tender boats carrying 100 people at a time.
Mrs Learmonth said the trip would take about 20 minutes each way so locals were ‘‘holding our breaths’’ for a fine day and calm seas.
The first visitors were expected mid morning, with the ship due to sail at 8pm.
Photo: ODT files
A market day would be held featuring the work of local artists, carvers, jewellers and crafters plus food stalls including mussels and locally›farmed Foveaux Strait oysters.
Many visitors were expected to book tours to the Ulva Island bird sanctuary, go on wildlife and sight› seeing cruises, or try sea kayaking. Visits to the Oban museum and bush walks were also likely to be popular, she said.
‘‘I am sure there will be a few people partaking of beer and oysters on the foreshore too.’’
Southland District Mayor Gary Tong will be on the island to greet visitors.
He said he was ‘‘excited for Stewart Island’’.
‘‘It will be a great thing.’’
Southland harbour master Kevin O’Sullivan, who is also the chairman of industry group Cruise New Zea› land, said Carnival New Zealand approached him to see if it was possible to bring larger vessels to Stewart Island. He had helped with logistics such as navigation to ensure it was.
‘‘Having cruise ship passengers visit the island is a big advantage to Southland economically. If this visit is successful there will be two more in the next six months.’’
Long›term, other mid›sized ships could visit as well, he said.
‘‘Everyone wants to come to Stew› art Island.’’
After leaving Halfmoon Bay the Pacific Pearl would head up the West Coast of New Zealand via some of the Fiordland sounds, Mr O’Sullivan said.

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