Written by Staff Writer
Why have the New Zealand waters of the Bay of Islands become a hotspot for drug traffickers and human traffickers? And what exactly do the Chinese tourists flock to do there?
The double hulled Panga boats, affectionately called Pennywhale fish, have been providing cheap legal transport to immigrants to New Zealand for decades.
But as visa fees and security on the ferries increased, they have become much more popular with criminal gangs. Around 40 have been targeted in recent months.
In addition, the human traffickers are finding that they have more migrants than resources to move them out.
On a small boat tied to the pier, a notice is displayed on a large poster with those seeking work and are willing to relocate to New Zealand.
“They have people. What are they asking for? Careers and visas to Australia?” says Hui-An Euves of the Bay of Islands Regional Council.
The high numbers on the ferry have been attributed to reduced patrolling of the routes.
“An incentive from the police is the repatriation option, which we pay, which means these people are made very happy by being sent home,” says Geraldine Smith-Hui, a tourism official and coordinator of the Welcome of migrants event on the Pacific Islands Ballet’s Elaborate Tango, which performs in New Zealand on November 15.
The part of New Zealand’s Bay of Islands where migrants are taking up work is also known as Far North. In addition to horse riding, hiking and snorkeling, it has long been known as a popular destination for tourists.
Some 3 million visitors (2.7 million of them from China) come to the region each year.
Bay of Islands Regional Council
However, it is missing a whole lot of tourists from China, India and Russia.
And the local government thinks the equation is changing.
In autumn, some 15,000 Chinese nationals, all part of a survey that has been done for the past two years, are expected to come to see the Far North.
“They are bused up and down the coast, they are given a turquoise jacuzzi on the boat, a big meal. We got them cheap and there’s no mention of being held, so it’s a lot of jobs,” says Gerard Merino, executive director of the Bay of Islands Regional Council.
“And I think it’s all good. They’re coming. They’re coming to the Far North.”
Since February, the local government has started showing in hotels with glossy ads in China, that includes lots of reference to the economy of the region — a steep decline in the dairy industry.
We spoke to an entrepreneur who is hoping to capitalize on the growing Chinese tourism market in the Far North.
Cun Hong is CEO of Isle of Ewga Far North Ferry Company Limited
He offered a taste of what’s to come in the area: a start-up hotel in the pretty town of Haupapateka, a dive adventure at Horseshoe Bay, and the driest water in the country for the coming January ‘dry season’ harvest.
He also knows the problem firsthand. He says two of his family members had “caught in-between” as his sons worked on the Far North ferry, and were not allowed to catch any fish at all.
Armed with a past experience of Asian visa and tourism companies, he has gotten mixed feedback.