Our 2016/17 Cruise Ship season has now finished – and what a great season it was!  Kiah Wilderness Tours is located just over 10 minutes by car south of the little township of Eden, which sits on a beautiful big deep harbour called Twofold Bay. This magnificent harbour offers passage into and out of the open ocean and is the third deepest in the southern hemisphere, so it can accommodate some pretty big ships.

Over the last 10+ years, there has been a steady growth in the number of large cruise ships anchoring just off the breakwater wharf and unloading passengers by a short tender ride to explore this pretty little Australian fishing village. Ships are both domestic and international, with a diverse demographic of passengers on board.

For many years, co-ordination for visiting cruise ships was an ad hoc arrangement carried out entirely by community volunteers with an interest in tourism. Over time, funding was sourced and Cruise Eden moved to a new level. Partnerships developed between Cruise Eden and TAFE to engage tourism students to assist with ‘meet and greet’ duties; workshops were held to train keen community members the basics of tourism guiding and suddenly there was an army of excited and enthusiastic people ready to make the most of this new tourism market.

The cruise industry phenomena has been a steep learning curve for tour operators, local businesses and the general community. But the town has embraced it – its challenges and its opportunities. Eden is now a key regional port and gaining interest from across the globe as an ideal cruise destination.

Almost surreptitiously, tourism and the potential of this place to embrace new markets, has sparked a rush of new events and tours across the region to showcase all that makes the Sapphire Coast so special. Our kayak tours are just one of many new activities and ‘things to do’ within an hour of the port and when a cruise ship is in, the wharf is a hive of activity.

Greeted by an enthusiastic – and loud ‘Town Crier’ dressed to the hilt in maritime theme (also a volunteer!), happy passengers disembark their tender and are whisked away to enjoy one of the many shore excursions on offer. Or they just jump on a shuttle bus and head up the hill to town, where happy locals make them feel welcome.

Eden has quickly built a reputation amongst all of the Australian regional ports as being one where the passengers are greeted by young tourism students, all in their bright red and white ‘volunteer’ clobber. This is unique and refreshing – young blood is what we want to showcase here! Eden has also established itself as a port where a huge majority of passengers disembark the cruise ship – far outweighing what was initially predicted. But who could blame them? The ships anchor not far from the wharf and passengers can see that the tender ride is very quick; they can see the town from the ship – it’s so enticing to get off and explore it.

“I was absolutely flat out – what a surprise! I was considering not opening late but the American ladies said they heard about our shop in New Zealand and were told it’s much easier and more pleasant to shop here than in Sydney! I sold quite a few pairs”, Jo from the shoe shop.

Every year we welcome more ships, and once the breakwater wharf is extended (a project worth $44 million which is about to commence shortly), there will be no need for tender rides; the ships will pull up alongside and passengers can come and go as they please.

Is Eden’s economy changing as a result? Without doubt. Many retailers and tourist attractions report massive increases in sales on cruise days – the local art and craft shop and the Eden Killer Whale Museum have both reported up to 300% increase in sales. The shoe shop (who would have known?!) does a romping business with international tourists who just can’t face trying to buy in Sydney and find that our little shop keeps all the right brands!

We are thrilled to have established ourselves with a number of shore excursion agents and this year we had almost a full tour each time a ship came in. We will now reflect on how we could do things better – and look forward to welcoming even more ships next year.