With visitor numbers down across the region, it's a great time to get out and do those touristy things - without the tourists.
Locals have a win-win opportunity. Support local operators, who are struggling with lower visitor numbers as a result of lockdowns, all while enjoying the thrill of exploring your own backyard.
We know that some of these activities are not cheap but, with many businesses offering discounts for locals on top of the Discover NSW Vouchers (that can now be used through to August 31), this is perhaps the most affordable time to explore.
Views from on high
If you think our region is magnificent from the ground, wait until you get in the air. Choose from the gentle movement of ballooning to the rush of hang gliding or even a helicopter ride. Taylor Miller, Chief Crew with Balloon Aloft, says that the recent July school holidays were their quietest in a long time for them and other similar businesses. "We are all feeling a big punch but are happy to still have flights, even if it's one balloon rather than two or three at a time," she says. "We always enjoy the vibe of a balanced mix of locals and visitors and think this is a great time for locals to enjoy their region."
In and on the sea
Are activities like whale watching, sea kayaking and snorkelling just for tourists? And what about having a go at a new activity like surfing or deep-sea fishing? Alice Livingston of Cape Byron Kayaks says it's a perfect time to enjoy the touristy things in Byron - without all the tourists. "It's a great time of year, especially with all the whales about," she said. Christina Dewhirst, from Lismore, went whale watching recently as part of a 'Plan B' week. "We had to cancel a campervan trip to New Zealand," she says. "So we're taking in the Northern Rivers instead and are feeling so inspired and delighted in the beautiful blue planet we live on!"
When was the last time you gave our mighty rivers more than a quick glance? Taking a longer look via a boat trip, a kayak or a SUP is a real joy - after all, our region is not called the Northern Rivers for nothing! Simon Freeden, who runs Byron Bay Eco Cruises & Kayaks on the Brunswick River, says that they've already welcomed lots of locals for their first cruise over the past year. "We've seen a lot of the vouchers coming through," he says. "Locals are loving feeling proud of their river and are complimenting us on our professional knowledge of the local area."
Get out and explore the hinterland on your own or with inside info from local tour operators. Wendy Bithell, from VisionWalks Eco-Tours encourages you to try a night vision walk. "It's one of a kind," she says of the military grade googles that allow you to see animals going about their nightly business. "We're offering locals a winter discount in addition to the NSW Discover vouchers so you can experience what visitors have been raving about for the last 14 years."
Like other operators, Harry Payton, from Behind the Bay tours has has been hit hard by the lockdowns. Bookings 'are almost non existent' compared to his once thriving new business, he says. Harry's tour is a trip to showing the secret gems the Byron region has to offer, including Killen Falls, Pat Morton look out at Lennox Head, Lake Ainsworth and Broken Head, with pick up and drop off provided in the Byron area.
Take this opportunity to learn your jingi wallah from your booglebah, plus a whole lot more about our oldest culture. "We've lost around $5,000 from COVID-related cancellations across June and August," says Tommy Cranmer, who coordinates Delta Kay's tours with Explore Byron Bay. One local who has loved the tours is Pia Jane Bijkerk of Suffolk Park. "Everyone who lives here needs to do this tour," she says. "Delta shares ancestral stories, language, songs and knowledge with seasonal bush tucker tasting along the way and at the end."
Get on the move
Whether it's jumping on a horse or a bike (e- or pedal), stepping out on a golf course or wheeling around a roller skating rink, the combo of cooler days and quieter visitor numbers make this an ideal time to get on the move. Kate Noller, owner of Zephyr Horses, who run day rides and overnight treks, says that this is an important time to support operators. "Some of my best experiences was doing local things when I had visitors staying," she says. "And now, with so few visitors, you don't have the crowds, so it's even better."
Maybe you tend to leave our local attractions until you have visitors? Now's the perfect time to go anyway! Shona Fuller from Tropical Fruit World says that, though they are feeling lucky compared with other areas of Australia, things have been tough as a result of the various lockdowns. "We already have a lot of local support but encourage others to come visit," she says. "Outdoor attractions are a safe and healthy place to go. With a 200 acre fruit farm, there's plenty of room to social distance!"
For the kids
Local kids are just as important as local adults! Take advantage of quieter visitor numbers to enjoy the Heritage Park Miniature Railway in Lismore or the Play Space at Circus Arts. "We do have locals who love the Play Space but have been missing kids of visitors who play while their parents try out a circus class," says Belinda Hultgren from Circus Arts Byron Bay. "We also encourage locals to use this time to try flying trapeze. It's a rare activity in that kids and adults can enjoy the adrenaline rush and confidence boost for a great bonding experience."