Geraldton is enjoying a mini cruising boom, with a dozen pleasure cruise visits scheduled for this year and that number set to increase by at least 50 per cent next year.
Such is the renewed interest that the City of Greater Geraldton, to give the Mid West city its new official title, has just recruited a cruise ship and visitor information officer at the Geraldton Visitor Centre.
The officer starts next week with the task of both promoting cruise ship visits to the city and ensuring passengers enjoy a day to remember in the region.
"We're becoming more serious about serving passengers on cruise ships and upping our efforts to attract more ships here," Geraldton Visitor Centre co-ordinator Ron Hayward said. "We have 18 cruise ships booked for arrival between January and November (2012). Compared to only four or five visits a couple of years ago, it's going quite nicely."
Geraldton has become an attractive Australian port of call for cruisers. In terms of ship visits to WA ports, it is second only to Fremantle, and Mr Hayward is realistic enough to accept that the top dog status of Perth's port is probably unassailable. But the economic benefits of cruise ship visits dictate that it's vitally important to maintain a high profile and Geraldton has calculated that the region benefits from a $5 million injection for every 10 ship visits.
Travel was in "Gero" last week and we saw for ourselves the impact a visit by a cruise ship can make. The Sun Princess and its 1900 or so passengers were in town as part of a 15-night cruise from Fremantle, calling afterwards at Bali, Darwin and finishing the voyage at Brisbane. Apart from the hundreds booked on tours to Kalbarri, Greenough and other out-of-town areas, there were scores more wandering the city's shopping centres popping into shops and cafes. We just missed a group of 80 on a visit to Chapman Valley Wines but ran into dozens more visiting the HMAS Sydney II Memorial and St Francis Xavier Cathedral.
George Buckingham, of Queensland, was among both those last groups. At the memorial, he located the name of a distant relative who'd served and perished on the Sydney. It could so easily have been him, too, but he signed on for the minesweeper HMAS Horsham.
Originally from Melbourne and now Brisbane, Mr Buckingham said he was last in Geraldton during World War II when he was a stoker aboard HMAS Horsham. Though the vessel was based in Fremantle it paid a visit to Geraldton and he recalled how the crew had played Aussie Rules at Christmas on the wharf - until a cyclone put paid to the fun and games.
This was his first visit to Geraldton in the ensuing 60-plus years and it was because the voyage called into this port that he took this particular cruise, he said.
Others had been before, too. One couple from NSW told me how they were last in Geraldton six years ago. "The city's seen some development since then," they said as they surveyed the city centre and port from Mt Scott, the site of the Sydney memorial and one that gives a panoramic view of the city and the ocean. We watched as a tender ferried passengers from the Sun Princess into town.
Some cruise ships - though not this one - pass the site where HMAS Sydney sank on November 19, 1941. For example, the Pacific Sun, part of the P&O Cruises fleet, will have called into Geraldton four times by the end of this year. It completed a sail-by of the HMAS Sydney site last month on her 16-night Flower of Asia cruise en route to Christmas Island and Indonesia, and did the same this week on the same itinerary.
It must be a sombre occasion but another ingredient to the holiday "mix" which helps make the cruise one to remember.