Akaroa Named Tack-aroa Following Cruise Ship Boom

By ,   January 2, 2017 ,   Cruise Industry

Akaroa was dubbed by locals "Tack-aroa" concerned about the figure of tacky souvenir shops that pop up in the village. 

Before port of Lyttelton was damaged by earthquake in February 2011, Akaroa hosted around half a dozen ships per year.

Between October 2016-April 2017, a total of 77 cruise ships will dock at Akaroa harbour. Ships have up to 4200 people on board and some days two cruise ships can berth, bringing more than 7000 into the Banks Peninsula township.

Cruise ship Emerald Princess parked in Akaroa Harbour with around 3000 passengers. Tourists flood through the region off cruise ships like this on a weekly basis during cruising season.

In just the eight days up to December 29, 14,348 cruise ship passengers and crew visited Akaroa. 

Environment Canterbury deputy chairman and former Akaroa tour guide Steve Lowndes said five years of cruise ship visits had altered the "ambience" of Akaroa. 

Akaroa

"Huge numbers of visitors are coming to Akaroa. Akaroa has always been a holiday town for people driving over the hill from Christchurch but we are now dealing with a really massive influx of sometimes 3500 people coming onto the wharf. Retailers and shops which before catered for locals are now turned into souvenir tourist shops and some of them are pretty awful," he said. 

"What was once a bakery selling croissants and French bread is now a sort of Gothic tourist shop.

"People are beginning to call it Tack-aroa because it's so tacky. It has upset people who live here and are just waiting for Lyttelton to establish its wharf. On the other hand the retailers and cafe owners are ecstatic and it has created jobs and injected money into the economy but it's been at the cost of the amenities and the community," he said. 

"Akaroa is a colonial town. It is the oldest planned European settlement in New Zealand and has a unique collection of colonial buildings which adds to the romantic and dramatic backdrop. The cruise ships love it," he said.

The council had upgraded the water supply and added temporary public toilets which had helped cope with the demand on the town's infrastructure, he said. However, the State Highway was very busy with bus tours bringing the passengers on day trips to Christchurch and elsewhere.

Mike Norris, chairman of the Akaroa Civic Trust, which aims to preserve the beauty, history and character of Akaroa, said the trust was not "anti-progress". 

"Akaroa has always been a tourist town and it's not totally negative but we feel the balance is slightly wrong. I think some locals who live here don't see a great deal of benefit from cruise ships," he said. 

The buses picking up passengers were creating traffic problems.

"An influx of 5000 people is pretty unappealing for people trying to move around town. I think there will be a little bit of relief when Lyttleton reopens. What we used to have were interesting boutique shops selling imported goods from France. Now we have tourists shops selling knick-knacks from China that have little interest for the locals," he said. 

The trust had suggested charging cruise ship passengers a $5 levy each to help pay for needed infrastructure.

Chris Sharp blamed Tack-aroa on creeping commercialism and brand warfare. 

"It's an erosion of what essentially was a very attractive seaside village," said the 12-year resident. 

"In the early days of the cruise ships, passengers voted it one of their favourite destinations.They could stroll along the beachfront, licking an ice-cream, remembering what a seaside village looked like. We need the cruise ships, no doubt, but we've ended up with Coke banners and Streets banners and sidewalk boards all over the place. It's an imbalance." 

He said for the roughly 250,000 cruise ship passengers who visited each year, Akaroa was their their first impression of Canterbury, and as it had become more commercial, it was "spoiling their impression of Canterbury."

Akaroa District Promotions executive officer Hollie Hollander said a very small percentage of residents were upset by the increase in visitors from cruise ships. 

"They are retired and do not need to work and are not reliant on it for their livelihood. They have the time to write letters and be vocal about their opinions. The rest of us are too busy working. Fifty per cent of our employment relies on tourism and it's very seasonal so we have to make hay while the sun shines. The cruise ships are only in town between October and April. Ninety-five per cent of people are happy to keep the cruise ships and make the most of the summer season," she said. 

Souvenir shops were necessary for a tourist town and the old bakery had been vacant for three years before a gift shop moved in. 

"In order for shops to survive they have to be able to provide for the locals and to have products for tourists. They have to have products that sell. [Cruise ships are] bringing the town alive. On those days the town is buzzing with activity and action. We are hoping that we will keep some cruise ships when Lyttelton does reopen."

Akaroa Village Inn co-owners Kerry and Shane Mitchell-Bathgate said tourists were the "lifeblood" of Akaroa. 

"Everybody's focused on cruise ships. Half love them, half don't," said Kerry.

"Some of the locals think that it's not the old Akaroa of 1950. They come in and they've made it bigger and busier. But then a lot of people love it, because I for one, sitting here during winter when there's nobody out there, all of a sudden seeing people on the grass and just enjoying Akaroa, it's beautiful," she said. 

Black Cat Cruises chief executive Paul Milligan said he had benefited from the cruise ships. 

"The cruise ships, there's no doubt they're good for the town. I think if you talk to any business owner they'd be quite happy to have them here." 

Source: stuff.co.nz