7 Mar 2016

A pearl of a visit for Stewart Island

10:13 am on 7 March 2016

Stewart Island has hosted its largest-ever number of visitors, with a cruise ship's passengers temporarily quadrupling its population.

The Pacific Pearl cruise ship moored off Oban, Stewart Island.

A cruise ship - carrying 1700 passengers - moored off Oban, Stewart Island. Photo: RNZ / Peter Newport

Most of the 1700 passengers on board the P&O Pacific Pearl visited the island on Sunday.

In spite of the fact that the main town of Oban has only one pub and three shops, the tourists were kept busy with a specially-organised craft market and bus trips beyond the town limits.

The island only has 25km of roads, so the bus trips were necessarily short.

Oban's population is only 380 permanent residents - but, even outnumbered four to one by the visitors, Stewart Islanders spoken to by RNZ News rated the day a success.

Southland mayor Garry Tong flew to the island to personally welcome the Pacific Pearl, which was too big to anchor any closer than 2km offshore.

A fleet of ship's tenders were used to shuttle the passengers to the island.

Stewart Island Promotion Association head Jo Learmonth said the visit had been planned carefully, and she believed the town of Oban could cope with the invasion - and so it did, in some style.

The Pacific Pearl is making its first ever circumnavigation of New Zealand, and owners P&O said the ship would contribute over $3 million to the local economies of the ports visited.

Most of the passengers on board were New Zealanders, and for the majority it was their first visit to Stewart Island.

Tourism leaders on the island were expected to pitch for more big ship visits following yesterday's event.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs