The first of a family of well-stacked queens will arrive in the Bay of Islands today, flying the Cunard Line's flag and signalling the cruise company's first visit to New Zealand this season.
She is the Queen Victoria, making a maiden visit to the BOI, the last port of call in New Zealand before heading across the Tasman to Sydney during a 30-port, 105-night World Voyage.
The fleet's youngest sister, Queen Elizabeth, also arrives in New Zealand this week but the Bay of Islands is not on that cruise itinerary.
However, Victoria will be followed on March 10 by the fleet's biggest ship and most supreme of three royal sisters, the Queen Mary II.
While Victoria and Elizabeth are the size of many cruise ships that call into the BOI, Mary, which will be making its second visit, is the biggest ship ever to enter the BOI, said Northland harbourmaster Jim Lyle.
At 345 metres long, Queen Mary II is 17 metres longer than Auckland's Sky Tower is tall, and the largest vessel to visit New Zealand, towering 60-plus meters above the waterline.
New Zealander-born Commodore Christopher Rynd will be at the helm when the supersized liner returns to local waters for the first time since 2011, calling into the Bay of Islands on March 10 as the first stop on her inaugural "Royal Circumnavigation of New Zealand".
Cunard Line managing director Peter Shanks said the ship's 12-day loop of the country under the control of a Kiwi-born commodore was something special for the pride of its fleet.
This season - between September 2012 and March 2013 - about ships 40 will visit the Bay of Islands compared to 54 last year, a number boosted by the Rugby World Cup. A shortage of berths in Auckland led to that boom.
There are already 46 booked in for the next season that starts in about September. Feedback from passengers and the ships' owners indicated the Bay of Islands was a popular port of call and is set to stay on the New Zealand cruise itinerary, he said.