It seems that the one thing that was constant in the Queen of the Isles' illustrious career, was change. So, leaving more than a decade of cuising the Tongan Islands behind her, Olovaha steamed into the sunset, bound for another change.
A trip to New Zealand saw a major refit, a new name in Gulf Explorer and a glamerous new role as a cruising Casino!
In 1980 the Olovaha was sold to G.L.Wright Co by the Tongan Government. The same year she was sold on by G.L.Wright, Tonga, to Trans Tours Gray Line - Morgan Shipping Corporation, New Zealand. So a fter 10 years of hard work for the Tongans, the Olovaha had outlived her usefulness. The ship was weary at 17 years, an age when many contempory ships have made their last voyage to the breaker's yard. Despite this, the ship became an attractive opportunity for the Morgan Shipping Corporation of Auckland. She arrived at Whangarei on 27 December1980 as Olovaha, towed by the tug Pacific Salvor.
After purchase the ship underwent a major refit and modifications in Whangerei, New Zealand; and was pressed back into service as the tsmv Gulf Explorer. During the refit the ship's profile was altered somewhat. The original funnel which was apparently modelled after a P&O liner was replaced with a smaller, more practical model. An upper promenade deck was added and the cargo hold was transformed into permanent accommodation for passengers. The ship was effectively converted from 'large capacity short voyage' configuration to 'moderate capacity extended voyages' capacity.
Initially she ran short cruises around the Hauraki Gulf, but this was unsuccessful. A re think on the owners behalf saw the newly named Gulf Explorer run short pleasure cruises out of Auckland and the owners had hit on a new plan to increase the Queen's popularity!
Part of the attraction was an onboard casino which could operate legally despite New Zealand's strict gambeling laws, once she was in international waters. Initially it appears that the ship ran profitably, giving the local population a much needed outlet from the humdrum of city life around Auckland.
Eventually the Gulf Explorer ran into trouble with the New Zealand Seaman's Union and became the subject of a writ issued by the N.Z.High Courtand On 2nd/3rd August 1986, she was arrested with several large debts.
The Gulf Explorer was laid up in the South Western port of Tauranga awaiting disposal, not for the first time in her life. It is interesting to note that in 1987 a new road bridge was being constructed over the inner harbour of the port of Tauranga where the Gulf Explorer lay with a writ on her mast. It was vital that the ship be removed before the final section of the bridge was installed
As the time ticked away, a Queensland based company called Royal Tropic Cruise Line came in with a bid and the Queen was sold to Australia for a nominal amount, basically to get her out of there as nobody was quite sure what to do with her next. So there closed the New Zealand chapter in the story of the little ship that didn't quite fit.
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