New South Wales is well on its way to meeting its vaccination targets and regional tourism operators are more than ready to welcome visitors.

The theatres are already in rehearsal. Hotels, guesthouses and Airbnbs are being dusted. Even the animals in the parks and zoos are pacing impatiently. 

At last, the phones are ringing and dates are being set. The tourists are coming, and they are as welcome in regional New South Wales as a downpour in a drought.

“It’s music to the tourism industry’s ears,” says Margy Osmond, CEO of the Tourism and Transport Forum Australia.

And ironically, music industry stars were among the first to publicly welcome the news that the state is reopening this month.

Country superstar Gina Jeffreys told Explore she expects to make her return at the Tamworth Country Music Festival with the Country Girls’ Night Out Tour. The festival is celebrating its 50th birthday in 2022 and the 10-day event will see hundreds of country artists perform across several venues, kicking off on January 19. 

Ms Jeffreys said: “Tourism and the music industry and food have been hit so hard, so it’s going to be great to get back out and get everyone out and hopefully people spending money in the towns. 

“There’s nobody who hasn’t been affected. Regional Australia is where I’ve spent my touring years and that’s where we’re going to focus our tour and just celebrate and have fun. The album [Beautiful Tangle] is going to be fun, there’s one song called ‘Champagne on Mondays’ we just need to enjoy today.”

Fellow country singer Amber Laurence is also looking forward to getting back to performing. For country audiences, she said, “this time around, where they’ve been in lockdown, I think it’s hit everyone so much harder. Hopefully, we can get back there and go on holidays and help the regions. From bushfires to droughts to COVID – it’s been tough.”

It’s been nearly two years since Australia’s border was shut, cutting off the $65 billion revenue stream brought by international visitors. Since then, state borders have opened and closed like a jack-in-the-box, leaving a trail of disappointment and business decimation in their wakes.

But now, tourism operators are welcoming the news the states will likely re-open once the 80 per cent double-vaccination target is reached – October 18 is anticipated for New South Wales, with a December date pencilled in for our first foreign visitors. Note: NSW residents  not in lockdown can already holiday regionally.

Here’s what’s ahead as regional operators reactivate events and recall staff.

The Shoalhaven

Shoalhaven City Council Mayor Amanda Findley told Explore: “As soon as regional travel is permitted, we expect to see lots of people returning to the coast visiting family and taking a break in the Shoalhaven.”

The South Coast region’s highlight events include the Highland Valley Forage in Kangaroo Valley, 20-21 November 2021 and the Red Hot Summer Tour, which will bring rock music to Berry on  February 12. In March, Mollymook will be treated to the South Coast Food and Wine Festival and Meet Me in the South Coast (a celebration of music, fitness and food). 

Sydney

Over at Taronga Zoo Sydney, staff are excited to be able to show off their newest residents: five African lion cubs.

The first cubs ever to be born at the zoo were welcomed by experienced mum Maya and first-time dad Ato on August 12, which also coincided with Ato’s fourth birthday. See them online on the Cub Cam.

Taronga Zoo has also launched a competition to choose a name for one of the cubs. Enter your choice of name (will it be Luzuko, Khari or Mahiri?) by October 6 and you could win one of 20 family passes to the zoo. Visit taronga.org.au for details.

Back on the boards, the award-winning musical Hamilton is preparing to return to the Sydney Lyric stage on October 19 with audiences limited to 75 per cent capacity. Tickets are currently on sale through Ticketmaster (ticketmaster.com.au).

The cuteness is waiting for you at Taronga Zoo.

Kiama

With daylight savings around the corner, Kiama in the Illawarra, south of Sydney, will start up its Farmers’ Market again this month, running every Wednesday. 

It’s a celebration of local producers and visitors will find the likes of South Coast oysters, Wagyu beef, and milk and gelato from the region’s dairies.  

Last December, the former chef of London’s Ottolenghi Belgravia restaurant, Emily Herbert, opened her new eatery Miss Arda to accompany her deli offering, Otis. The Middle Eastern menu is inspired by her former boss, chef Yotam Ottolenghi, and has an emphasis on big bold flavours. 

Kiama farmers market.

Newcastle

New South Wales’s second-largest city, Newcastle, is a great place to spend a few days, especially if you’re a fan of surfing.  

The city is home to a new five-star hotel, Crystalbrook Collection’s The Kingsley. The 130-room hotel in the city’s former Roundhouse Civic Administration building boasts a fabulous rooftop restaurant and bar designed after the city’s olive groves. And all produce served at the hotel will be grown or sourced within a three-hour radius. 

A throng of comedy, classical, sporting and family events await the city. Funny man Arj Barker will be performing on November 25, while a 24-piece orchestra will perform Queen’s greatest hits as part of Bohemian Symphony – The Music of Queen on November 18.

Dubbo

In the Central Tablelands, the main tourist attraction is Taronga Western Plains Zoo, but there are plenty of new things to do. 

The events are ramping up with author Anh Do kicking off his tour of The Happiest Refugee Live. Anh Do’s stage show takes it a step further, combining stand-up comedy with real-life stories, photos and filmed pieces to retell his amazing story.And in December 2021, the Outback Dragons Regatta will be held at Sandy Beach on the Macquarie River. The public
is welcome to watch the race.

Get ready for the Regatta.
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