Port Chalmers’ example for our local tourism

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BY EDOUARD GARCIA

Downtown Port Chalmers (left) and the Iona church*

How I wish that our provincial and city tourism offices would take notice of these columns I’m writing during this pandemic so that they can learn a thing or two and plan ahead for the reopening of Negros Island to tourism when this purge that started from China is over.

From the 1990s onwards, cruise ships began calling at Otago Harbour, expanding with 153,000 disembarking of the 229,000 passengers brought on 115 vessels (104 into Port Chalmers) during the 2018-2019 season. Just multiply each passenger with a minimum $5 spending budget and you easily get half a million dollars!

When we docked in Port Chalmers, we passed through a huge, spacious, and clean warehouse that had several stalls offering local tours to nearby cities. As usual, we ignored these and opted to just have a 3-hour break on land for our sea legs. However, there was free Wi-Fi being offered in the warehouse and you could already see several of the Indonesian crew taking advantage of this and calling their loved ones or texting messages while eating local delicacies on sale. It was nice interacting with the locals manning the stalls, too.

As we ventured out, we realized that Port Chalmers is a small town. With a population of about 1,365, there was only a short span of a Main Street that was about 1.5 kilometers. We immediately took a turn to the high road that led us to the Iona Church built in 1871 in the Gothic Revival style-very much like our Lupit Church. The moment we stepped in, the lights automatically went on and a taped organ music played softly. Although it is not a functioning church, it is used for special services, concerts and, of course, the summer cruise ship season. I was actually looking for the St. Mary, Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church where Australia’s first saint – Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop – lived.

Venturing further up the road, was the Lady Thorn Rhododendron Dell, a former rubbish dump transformed into a garden park by a former long-time mayoress of the town, Lady Constance Thorn, now maintained by the Port Chalmers and District Lions Club in 1998. There’s a lookout point featuring old historic photographs of Port Chalmers over the years with a view of the town and Otago Harbour. The stairs brought us all the way down to the Main Street again where we found a large group from the ship eating on outdoor tables and benches from an Asian fast-food serving Filipino dishes!

I was not going to eat adobo yet and decided to eat lunch back on the ship. However, a couple of houses down, we chanced on an exhibit featuring homemade souvenirs and handmade crafts organized by the local community especially for our cruise. There were about 30 passengers already laden with shopping bags and I was heartened by the sight of smiling old ladies ringing up the cashier with lots of dollars! That’s why we should target cruise ships because they don’t stay long enough to bring bad influences to the locals and we keep their cash.

My prayer. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied.*

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