Explore Expedition Cruises launches Hauraki Gulf voyages

Auckland and Northland-based Explore Group hopes a new range of expedition cruises in the Hauraki Gulf will help it bounce back from the punishing lockdowns of the last three months.

Explore Expedition Cruises will launch on December 31 with passengers able to take a two, three, or five-night cruise to visit islands in the Gulf, including Kawau, Rangitoto, Motutapu, Motuihe, Rotoroa, Ponui, Tiritiri Matangi, Waiheke, Coromandel and Great Barrier/Aotea.

Managing director William Goodfellow said the interest from the travel industry was strong and the voyages were aimed at Aucklanders who wanted to stay at the region over the holidays and Kiwis from outside the region wanting to explore the Hauraki Gulf when domestic borders reopen.

They are on track to open before Christmas and the first cruise will be on December 31.

He said the company was aware of the nervousness of communities on some outlying islands about the spread of Covid-19.If locals remained concerned cruises could be adapted.

”We were very aware of that and we’re appropriately.Whatever the new normal will be then we can we can be patient – there is an extraordinary number of places that are available.”

Explore earlier this year expanded, buying the five-boat, seven-bus Fullers Great Sights’ tourism operations in the Bay of Islands.

For its Hauraki Gulf cruises it would use a 45m boat, named Te Haerenga, being used for the venture has capacity for 60 passengers onovernight cruises.

The trips start at $750 a night per person which Goodfellow said was in line with the going international rate for expedition cruising where there is a high level of personal service for a small number of passengers who have access to gear such as kayaks, stand up paddle boards and tenders.

The style of cruising attracted more active guests.

“Unless you have your own boat the Hauraki Gulf is not easily accessible for local tourists and travellers, so the cruises are all about creating a way for Kiwis to explore their own backyard.”

He said with increased domestic demand it offers locals the chance to experience the beauty and history of the islands, but also to see a huge range of sea and bird life, and to do a range of water activities right on Auckland’s doorstep.

The new Gulf cruises would be attractive to international visitors when the country’s borders reopen.

The past three months had been tough for his company which had only been able to operate a few cruises in the Bay of Islands for Northlanders and those able to make it to the region between the introduction of localised lockdowns.

Goodfellow said his family-owned company had funding and long term plans to ride out the currentlockdowns.They were imposed following the August border failure when the Government’s mass vaccination rollout was moving slowly and vulnerable Aucklanders in particular were left vulnerable to Delta.

While there had been a few redundancies among Explore’s staff of about 70 since August, other parts of the tourism industry were doing it even tougher.

”From an industry perspective, it’s really tough. The operation and the whole of Northland tourism industry is slowly being suffocated,” said Goodfellow.

There would be tourism business casualties in Auckland and Northland but he was confident that the industry could rebuild based around the natural assets that were attractive to Kiwis and, eventually overseas visitors.

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