The tender, with 90 passengers aboard, ran into problems while attempting to transport passengers to the beach to join afternoon tours.
An attempt was made to pull the boat off the reef using another tender, but it proved unequal to the task and the Ports Authority tug boat Toa was summoned from Avatiu to free the vessel.
Six passengers were initially brought to shore aboard a lifeboat, but when conditions became too rough, the cruise ship’s captain and crew took water out to the tender, then helped the remaining passengers walk to shore.
Turama Pacific Destination Management, Nina Webb said afternoon tours had been cancelled as a result of the incident.
Bill Murphy and Robert Rye from New Jersey in the US were aboard the tender when it struck the reef.
“The tender was coming in. It got right into the passage way and then a wave came and pushed it onto the reef and it got stuck,” said Murphy.
“Once we were stuck on the reef, the waves would come and just push us further onto the reef.
“Originally when we came in, the boat was stuck facing the island, but each wave kept pushing it, causing to turn the opposite way.”
Said Robert Rye: “They sent one tender to help pull the tender out but there was too much weight so they had to call in the tug boat.
“The crew asked if people could possibly leave the boat and swim to shore to make it lighter to pull it off, but the tender still didn’t seem to be moving.
“The ship’s captain, first mate, hotel manager and other crew members came out to bring water to the people stuck on the tender then helped offload some of them on to the reef so they could walk to the shore.
“Everybody was fine on the boat and made a good laugh out of the situation as we all put on our life jackets.
“It was totally unexpected, but it was a good adventure and something to talk about.
“We are all just very thankful that no-one was seriously injured; just a few cuts and dents from walking on the reef, but nothing too bad.”
A spectator watching the dramatic incident said the tug boat had done a good job of freeing the tender.
“They were fighting an outgoing tide and I didn’t they’d be able to get it off, but they eventually did it.”
Earlier in the day the MS Amsterdam attempted to disembark passengers off Avatiu harbour, but was forced to travel on to Arorangi as the sea was too rough.
The ship was carrying 1150 passengers and 650 crew members on day 21 of a 115-day world cruise.
The ship’s next destination is New Zealand.