7 June 2023

Port Kembla ticks all boxes to be the state's next cruise terminal

| Kellie O'Brien
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Cruise ship off Wollongong

Port Kembla is the ideal location for the next big cruise terminal to help steer growth in the cruise ship industry. Photo: Supplied.

Location, infrastructure and strong community support make Port Kembla the ideal location to steer growth in the cruise ship industry now that Sydney is at capacity and the Yarra Bay terminal plan has sunk.

Destination Wollongong general manager Mark Sleigh believes Port Kembla should be part of the search for alternative ways to boost cruise ship capacity in Sydney after plans under the previous state government for a $600 million-plus terminal at Yarra Bay, near the Port Botany container wharves, were ruled out.

Cruise ship capacity reached breaking point in 2019 with the Overseas Passenger Terminal (OPT) full and White Bay unable to cater for the new super-sized ships that were unable to fit under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

“We have excellent road and rail connectivity already, which will improve over the coming years and we have a deep water port with available space for major expansion plans,” Mark said.

“There is no other location that ticks those boxes.

“Most importantly, we have a community that is incredibly proud of our city and loves to see Wollongong front and centre on the world stage.”

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He said when Radiance of the Seas marked its maiden voyage of a cruise ship into Port Kembla in 2016, thousands of residents lined the foreshore and hundreds signed up to become ambassadors to welcome visitors to the city.

“There will be no residents’ complaints, no action groups,” he said. “The only thing we will see or hear from the local community is how can we get involved to make the most of this incredible opportunity.”

Along with Port Kembla, the Garden Island naval base in Sydney Harbour was the other option being discussed.

Mark said while Garden Island provided amazing harbour views, it also had its challenges.

“The logistics of getting passengers, crew and provisions on board is problematic and would require significant investment and coordination with Defence,” he said.

“There is no reason why Sydney Harbour could not be included as part of the (Port Kembla) tour program, allowing guests to get their postcard moment with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge without having to physically dock at OPT.”

Mark said given the planning conditions in place around Port Kembla, it was realistic to think it would welcome the first ship into new infrastructure within three to four years of a commitment being made.

“While these projects always take time, a project anywhere in Sydney Harbour would likely take far longer given the amount of competing interests including the Navy, potential for residential obstruction and lack of planning regime for a significant project in a very busy and well-loved space,” he said.

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Mark believes the drive from Wollongong to Sydney wouldn’t be an issue, with several of the world’s largest cruise turnaround ports located over an hour’s drive from their respective capital cities.

“The port of Le Havre, the cruise ship berth that services Paris, is located 196 km away,” he pointed out.

Becoming a turnaround port would mean 3000‐5000 people transiting through Wollongong on every visit – a level the region has not seen before.

Mark said Wollongong valued such a visitor economy on two currencies – economics and reputational enhancement.

“There is no business in the region that doesn’t benefit from a rise in visitor numbers,” he said. “On previous cruise ship visits, we have sent guests to the dentist, to a chiropractor, to a jeweller to buy an engagement ring, to a hairdresser to name a few of the left field ones.”

He said this would bring investment in cruise and supporting infrastructure, which would provide a better guest experience for passengers and for the community year-round.

“In my view, and even more importantly, we cannot put a value on the reputational benefit Wollongong receives every time a cruise ship visits.”

He said this came from social media exposure from guests, ship photos taken by locals, the returned visitation from guests and the cruise lines posting about their visits.

“The cruise industry has helped turn Wollongong into an international leisure destination. We can’t wait to take that to the next level.”

Wollongong will host hundreds of cruise industry influencers at the Australian Cruise Association’s 25th annual conference in September.

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