Cruise ships return to Auckland after COVID-19 hiatus

Auckland is celebrating the return of cruise ships, with the first vessel in more than two years entering Aotearoa waters on Friday morning.

The Pacific Explorer and its 2000 passengers have become the first cruise ship to sail into Waitematā Harbour since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

City Mayor Phil Goff said it marked the beginning of a much-needed boost for the CBD.

"Auckland was locked down twice as long as everywhere else and no area in New Zealand suffered more than central Auckland; the spending levels, the visitations there," he said. "This is part of regaining the vibrancy of Auckland central and the tourist industry, the hospitality industry and people just seeing visitors on the streets again - it's going to be great."

New Zealand's borders fully reopened to visitors from around the world late last month, paving the way for cruise ships and foreign international yachts to dock at our ports again. 

Most visitors arriving in New Zealand on cruise ships need to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said in a statement on Friday that Auckland retailers would be celebrating the return of cruise ships.

"The absence of cruise ships has left a big gap in many port towns around the country and their return is good news for retailers, many of whom are facing difficult economic circumstances. Retail NZ hopes that visitors to Auckland today will make the most of their retailing opportunities at some of the great shops in Auckland's CBD."

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said the return of cruise ships would be a boost for local communities.

"Pre-pandemic their visits were worth in excess of $500 million a year, of which $356 million was spent onshore, providing a valuable economic contribution to our regions," said Nash. "We're expecting cruise numbers to be similar to pre-COVID levels."