For many destinations, an uptick in cruise tourism is something to celebrate because of the positive impact on the local economy. But in Auckland, New Zealand, some locals are upset by how the busy cruise season will impact their daily ferry commutes. 

In December of 2023, a total of 98 sailings throughout Auckland, New Zealand, were delayed or cancelled due to cruise traffic – and local commuters are not happy.

An uptick in cruise traffic is leading to scheduling conflicts with the local ferries because the smaller vessels cannot safely travel through the downtown ferry basin while cruise ships are arriving or departing from Princess Wharf. The cruise ships use engine thrusters that create strong underwater currents, which are dangerous to the ferries.

New Zealand’s cruise season, which takes place during the country’s summer months and typically lasts from December to March, has only just begun. However, it’s already proving to be one of the busiest cruise seasons in recent years, and the 2024 season is only expected to get busier.

There are exclusion windows for cruise ships, when the bigger vessels are prohibited from sailing through Princess Wharf, during peak commuting hours. These windows last from 6:30 a.m. to 9:05 a.m. in the morning and 4:30 p.m. to 6:05 p.m. in the evening. But for many ferry users, their commutes fall outside of these protected hours.

Auckland waterfront boats (Photo Credit: GagliardiPhotography)

The delays and cancellations have become a source of frustration for commuters, and they fear the problem will worsen as cruise season ramps up in the coming months. Some locals have gone so far as to suggest that Auckland Transport was giving preferential treatment to cruise lines. 

Sam Mojiel, who typically takes the 6 a.m. ferry to his job at Auckland Hospital, expressed his frustration to The New Zealand Herald.

“I think when an organization is offering a public service, and you then can’t rely on it and can’t depend on it, such as me and a lot of other people are finding, it’s a big problem,” says Mojiel.

“Whatever cruise ships require, seems to be what happens…tourists are being given preferential treatment over commuters,” adds Mojiel. 

But according to Rachel Cara, a public transport manager with Auckland Transport, the claim that cruise ships were getting preferential treatment is false. 

“I don’t think that’s the case, it’s more that there’s a balancing act of multiple parties wanting to use the same area within downtown,” explained Cara. 

According to Auckland local Mojiel, the cruise ship-caused delays have been steadily worsening over the past three years. North Shore Ward Councilor Chris Darby is working to find a solution. 

“When you have several hundred passengers lining up for the Waiheke ferry, the Devonport ferry, the Birkenhead ferry, and all the other ferry services, and they’re listening to the [speaker] saying nothing’s moving out of here for another hour, in temperatures of 27 degrees, the blood boils,” says Darby.

Photo Credit: Kolf / Shutterstock

Since 2022, Darby has been lobbying to extend the no-movement window for cruise ships. The current proposal, which is set to take effect in August of 2024, would extend the afternoon exclusion window by one hour. Darby’s next goal is to extend the morning exclusion window as well. 

Read Also: From Mishaps to Maydays – Cruise Ship Accidents

New Zealand Cruise Association Executive Director Jacqui Lloyd could not comment on the situation with the ferries, but did suggest building a wharf specifically for cruise ships could help support the growth of cruising in Auckland. 

“POAL has identified the need for more cruise ship infrastructure and has factored this into its long-term planning,” Ports of Auckland said in a statement.

Neither Lloyd nor Ports of Auckland specified if plans are already underway or not. 

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