Sitting at Snug Cove at Eden with fish and chips, watching the machinations of a working port in the midst of a stunning coastal wilderness has been a simple pleasure for many for a long time. That spectacle was supercharged on Sunday (September 14) with the first of 22 towering white cruise ships berthing at the town’s new purpose-built wharf.
The Eden community gathered early to witness this special day in Bega Valley history, including students from Eden Public School who waved handmade red flags to welcome the 2,000 passengers on board the Pacific Explorer. It was also a personal victory for the many locals who have fought for more than a decade to make this day a reality, including Marge Snijder, Jenny Robb, Deb Meers, Natalie Godward, and Gail Ward.
With Eden’s skillful fleet of tug boats and seaman, the 77,000-tonne Pacific Explorer edged towards her safe harbour.
Built at a cost of $44 million, the wharf is a partnership led by the NSW Government which made a $32 million contribution to the project, $10 million came from the Australian Government and $2 million from Bega Valley Shire Council. The result is an extension of the breakwater wharf and dredging so the sight can now accommodate cruise ships up to 260 metres long.
“Everybody is jumping out of their skins. Congratulations to everybody who has pursued this so passionately for so many years,” says Dr Mike Kelly, Member for Eden Monaro.
Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories Nola Marino, says “the project supported around 240 jobs during construction and it creates 86 ongoing positions – a big win for Eden”.
Philip Holliday, Chief Operating Officer – Sydney, Port Kembla, Eden and Harbour Master Sydney says the cruise wharf ensures the region is safe, open and accessible.
“We are looking forward to welcoming the other 21 cruise ships forecast for this cruise season, along with more cruise vessels in the years to come including the prestigious Queen Elizabeth in the 2020/21 cruise season,” Mr Holliday says.
Minister for Transport and NSW Member for Bega Andrew Constance says, “the Eden Breakwater Wharf Extension is a fantastic piece of infrastructure that will put Eden on the world cruise map, and open the entire Far South Coast to more tourism to support jobs and our economy”.
President of P&O Cruises Australia Sture Myrmell says it was an honour for the cruise line’s flagship Pacific Explorer to be the first cruise ship to berth in Eden.
“Over the years, Eden has written the textbook for communities on how to embrace cruise tourism and the economic activity that it generates,” Mr Myrmell says.
“Today, we especially acknowledge the shore tour operators who do so much to enable our guests to explore the beautiful Sapphire Coast.”
“Anytime a cruise ship comes in its a huge sugar hit to our economy on that day,” Bega Valley Mayor Kristy McBain says.
“But the real boom is when those return visitors come. We now have people driving back to the region having been to Eden for a day on a cruise ship.”
Passengers today were welcomed by the ever-present ‘red army’ of Cruise Eden volunteers, an outdoor market at the wharf, buses to take them into town, local tour operators and a local food extravaganza across the waters of Twofold Bay at the Seahorse Inn.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity we have,” says Jenny Robb, who has been providing kayak tours to cruise passengers for four years through her business Kiah Wilderness Tours, “but we’ve got to think quick to be able to meet the demand that’s coming”.
“The wharf makes Eden easy for disembarking, which comes with that small-town meet and greet you don’t get in big ports. Passengers love coming here,” she says.
Before the construction of the wharf extension, passengers were ferried from the ship to shore in tender boats of about 70 passengers. The new wharf gives passengers an extra hour to explore Eden and the Sapphire Coast during their day-long stopover.
Dillon and Rhiannon from Sydney disembarked ready to explore Eden for the first time.
“We are here to see what Eden is all about and do all the touristy things,” Rhiannon says.
Pam, Leslie, Kim, Jenny and Jane come from Jervis Bay and Wagga Wagga.
“I came to Eden a long time ago,” one of them says.
“And I came here on the cruise in February and we had to get punted in,” says another.
“This is a much better experience, it’s wonderful.”
“We’re off to the local food festival now and to have a wander around the town – it’s going to be a lovely day.”
To a visitor, the response is beyond positive.
“This is my tenth cruise; we are having a wonderful time – I love Eden,” says Micheal, who is pushing John in a wheelchair. Without knowing it, he’s highlighting the work done to ensure the wharf is accessible to all visitors.
Eden residents Colin and Jenny Hunter saw their home town from a different perspective today – from the deck of the Pacific Explorer!
Cruising into Eden was too good an opportunity to miss for Colin who was a surveyor on the $44 million project.
Colin and Jenny say they wanted to be on board as maritime history was made in their beautiful town.
Glenn Vardy was the Senior Engineer on the dredging and construction project. “He built the wharf,” Natalie Goward, Cruise Manager for the NSW Port Authority chirps in.
Glenn also built the port’s familiar breakwater in 1984, which the new wharf sits alongside.
“This is a terrific outcome for the labour of a lot of people,” he says.
“There are always technical challenges on a job of this nature – marine engineering is pretty complex – but this is one of the best projects I’ve ever worked on as far as cooperation goes. It was a pleasure to work on, and the project’s involvement with the Aboriginal community and workers was highly successful.”
Eden has been rising to the challenges and opportunities that come with cruise ships for 14 years, and with the new wharf now christened comes the next step.
According to Eden Chamber of Commerce President Peter Whiter, an average cruise season has seen 18 ships drop anchor. This year, with the new wharf in use, 22 ships will tie-up.
“I think we need to be prepared for a rapid escalation,” Peter says carefully. “The following year, we already have 21 international ships booked and no confirmations from domestic ships yet.”
The Eden Chamber of Commerce’s next priority is to undertake research about passenger expectations and how local businesses are handling the ‘sugar hit’ of customers so they can use that information to provide training for prospective and current businesses.
Mr Whiter says he is in the process of forming a subcommittee of the chamber which will focus solely on working with Regional Development Australia to do surveys and put together some information which can be put into action next season.
Jenny Robb and Peter Whiter both express a desire to share the economic pie that cruise ships offer as widely as possible.
“We are trying to get the message out there that it’s not just tour providers and cafe’s that benefit,” Mr Whiter explains.
“For instance, my nephew runs the butcher in Eden and you think, how does a butcher benefit from a cruise ship? Passengers aren’t exactly going to buy a kilo of sausages to take back to the boat, are they? But he got in a lot of biltong and all kinds of jerky, like emu jerky and he sold out.”
Making sure cruise ship passengers leave satisfied is a big job.
“What I recognise,” Mrs Robb says, “along with a lot of people in this town, is that we are moving towards readiness but we aren’t there yet.
“We definitely need more tours. We’ve got someone doing tricycle tours now, people love quirky stuff and we need pop-up shops.”
Mr Whiter agrees that more creative tour providers are needed at the current level of visitation and more will be needed to meet demand in the future.
“We look after people quite well now but it’s not just the tours, it’s the way the town is organised,” he says.
“If people tell us it’s difficult to get off the shuttle bus because it’s on a busy street, then we need to find a different place the shuttle can stop. We want to make sure we’re not missing anything.”
If you have an idea for a tour or service to offer cruise ship passengers, contact Cruise Eden for more information.
“We’re all doing what we can to prepare,” Mrs Robb says with a laugh. “It’s a good problem to have.”
The next cruise ship is due to arrive on 27 September.
Original Article published by Ian Campbell on About Regional.