Gloucester's tourism booms post-COVID lock down

Martin Watts, with his son, Nate and Hannah near Polblue. Photo Martin Watts
Martin Watts, with his son, Nate and Hannah near Polblue. Photo Martin Watts

A spur of the moment family trip to the snow on Barrington Tops has made a lifetime memories for Martin Watts.

After seeing there was actually snow on the ground on Tuesday (June 23), Martin said the suggestion was made by Hannah Dann to take their son, Nate on an adventure.

They packed up their car for a day trip on Wednesday (June 24), taking to the road for the three hour hike from Toronto in Lake Macquarie to Barrington Tops National Park.

"She has never seen snow in person in the 36 years of her life and my three year old son hasn't either, so I thought why not," Martin said.

They made their way through Gloucester, Barrington, past Copeland Tops until they came across a locked gate. But that didn't stop them from having their first adventure and they pulled into the rest stop near Polblue.

"We played around making a snowman and having snowball fights with each other for about an hour. By then Hannah and Nate had both fallen over a few times and were getting rather wet so it was time for us to leave," Martin explained.

On their way back home, they stopped for a walk along the cliff face at the Thunderbolts Lookout before making there way to the pub in Gloucester for a late lunch.

"It was cloudy but well worth it," Martin said.

Martin and his family are among the hoards of people flocking to the Gloucester region to not only get a chance to play in the snow, but to take advantage of the easing of travel restrictions off the back of the COVID-19 shutdown.

When reopening the campsites in the region, National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) opted to make it a requirement for all campers to book in, even for locations that didn't previously require a booking.

According to NPWS Barrington Tops Area manager Anthony Signor, the reopening has been a success.

"I'm really pleased that virtually all our visitors have heeded the need to pre-book all camping at our national park campsites," Anthony said. "There's been a lot of interest since we re-opened camping in time for the June long weekend."

The pre-booking requirement was put in place to ensure the organisation could better manage visitor numbers to help keep the community safe.

Pre-booking has been especially important for places like Barrington Tops National Park, where mobile phone reception is extremely limited to non-existent.

"We're getting a steady stream of bookings and most visitors find it's really easy to book and pay for camping via the national parks," Anthony said.

The June long weekend was very busy compared to most years.

Anthony Signor

"The June long weekend was very busy compared to most years. Our visitors were keen to get back to nature and into our national parks once we reopened camping following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions," he said.

"NPWS rangers check bookings during their regular patrols and servicing of camping areas, and are happy that our visitors, with very few exceptions, have been doing the right thing regarding both visiting a national park and maintaining social distancing and their own personal hygiene."

But visitor numbers haven't just increased on the mountain, Gloucester town has also benefited from the easing of restrictions.

According to MidCoast Council's manager of growth, economic development and tourism Deb Tuckerman, tourism has been very strong since the lifting of regional travel restrictions.

"The possibility of snow in the region has been an added incentive, with a large number travelling to Gloucester to continue on to Barrington Tops in the hope of catching a glimpse of the snow," Deb said.

"Both businesses and accommodation providers have reported that the (June) long weekend was one of the busiest weekends Gloucester has seen in a long time, and both visitor numbers and occupancy rates continue to be high."

Stroud has also reported strong numbers of visitors stopping over as they travel to and from Gloucester.

While typically, those chasing snow tend to only day-trip to the region, council believes there are a greater number of people choosing to stay overnight than normal.

"We are expecting the strong interest and visitor rates to continue for the school holidays period," Deb said.

We are expecting the strong interest and visitor rates to continue for the school holidays period

Deb Tuckerman

"Following the confinement of COVID, we are finding that many people are wanting to travel, and have a strong desire for nature-based experiences such as camping, walking, biking - which makes Gloucester a perfect destination."

If heading to the Barrington Tops, visitors are reminded of the key things needed to have a safe and comfortable visit:

  • Check weather and road conditions before you leave home and again before you leave Scone or Gloucester. Tell a friend or family member where you're going and when you'll be back.
  • Leave plenty of time for the return trip in daylight hours: travel time is up to 1.5 hours from Gloucester or Scone
  • For a trip to the snow here, leave the two-wheel-drive at home -- four-wheel-drives are best suited for driving in snow and ice conditions. During snow events, the status of roads on Barrington Tops can change at short notice. NSW Police may close the road at any time to ensure visitor safety.
  • Prepare for rapidly changing extreme weather including rain, wind and sub-zero temperatures. Pack additional warm clothing and extra food and water.

Bookings and enquiries have been steady for National Parks and Wildlife Service, but bookings are still available throughout the July school holidays and beyond. For bookings visit the website (nationalparks.nsw.gov.au) or call 13000 PARKS (1300 072 757).