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By DAVID HILL

Kaikoura’s marine tourism is operating, but at “winter levels”.

Local tourism operators remain optimistic about the future, despite the realisation they will effectively face three “winter seasons” in a row, following November’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake, Kaikoura Mayor Winston Gray says.

Mr Gray says Finance Minister Steven Joyce visited Kaikoura last week to meet with the Kaikoura District Council and local businesses.

“We gave him an update on where local businesses are at. Tourism, or at least the marine operators, is at a ‘winter level’, so we are talking about having three winters in a row. So it’s going to be tough for them.”

However, Mr Gray says there was some respite on Monday, January 16, with cruise ship Caledonian Sky making a return visit to town, having visited on December 27. Caledonian Sky carries up to 114 passengers plus crew.

“Everything has gone very smoothly for them. They all came ashore and went off doing stuff, either walking or back out on the boats with either Whale Watch or Dolphin Encounter.”

Mr Gray says he is still hopeful the larger cruise ships Seabourn Encore and Azamara Journey, which carry more than 600 passengers plus crew, will visit Kaikoura as planned during February and March. Another cruise ship Bremen, which carries up to 164 passengers plus crew, is also due to visit in March.

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel also visited Kaikoura last week, meeting with staff and offering advice from the city’s earthquake recovery experience.

“We invited Lianne up because of the huge amount of support we’ve had from Christchurch and we wanted to acknowledge that.

“She also came along to our community meeting with GNS scientists, talking about the event and updating the community on what to expect. We are still getting quakes, but hopefully going forward they will be smaller and fewer.

“Lianne spoke about the Christchurch scenario and how they are going through their recovery, which of course is still ongoing.”