Queensland-based Kiwis share how to ride the reunion bubble in Queensland

After 394 days of international lockdown,* there’s a lot to celebrate when the first flights between New Zealand and Australia launch on April 18, 2021. And it comes as no surprise that visiting friends and relatives – a sector that accounted for almost 50 percent of the 500,000 annual Kiwi arrivals to Queensland prior to COVID – is expected to take up a large portion of air capacity in the first few weeks.

Here, Queensland’s kiwi-born tourism operators share their favourite ways to meet up with their nearest and dearest. 

Top of the list is Cairns and Great Barrier Reef, a region with a balmy climate and a dense rainforest that feels like a foreign country even to many Aussies. 

Peter Davidson, a New Zealander who has been based in the tropics for almost 20 years is excited at the prospect of international travel and believes it will boost confidence among local businesses. As a former chef-turned-dive operator and now owner of Port on a Plate guided food tours around Port Douglas, Davidson puts the Great Barrier Reef front and centre for all homecoming trips.

“It’s got to be the Reef. I’ve done over 5000 dives and I still get super excited every time I get in (the ocean). You never know what you will see – from huge stingrays to tiny Nemos and colourful corals. And the water here is warm. Kiwis won’t need to wear a wetsuit here, even in winter.”

Meanwhile, owner of the wildly popular Salsa Restaurant, Rhys Bawden, can’t wait to welcome his own family back to his adopted home of Port Douglas. Top of his list of things to do is a sit down meal at his own eatery followed by a trip to the hinterland and the world’s oldest rainforest.

“It has been almost two years and I can guarantee that all of my family will be coming over within the first couple of months; even my parents will be moving here for several months. The first thing I recommend is to sit down at Salsa for a fresh seafood dish; a must on any of my family’s wish list. Then it would be taking time to showcase the (Atherton) Tablelands and the Daintree Rainforest.”

Bawden said Kiwis have been a massive part of the tourism business and he can’t wait to welcome them back.

“We used to have five direct flights a week into Cairns and the volume of Kiwis who took up this offer was amazing. Kiwis love to come over here especially in winter when it feels like their summer. To be able to market to our fellow countrymen would be a massive shot in the arm for our industry.”

Down south on the Gold Coast, New Zealand-born Shelley Jeffery from Elite Holiday Homes has a long list of Kiwi clients waiting for the opportunity to stay at one of her waterfront holiday homes. 

“I am a Kiwi and it is coming up to 18 months since I have been able to see (family). To not be able to see your loved ones is one of the hardest things to deal with. Zoom is fine to a certain point – but nothing compares to a hug or just being close to them.”

After that initial embrace, Jeffery says the first thing she will recommend travellers do is catch up over a coffee at Custard cafe beside the beautiful Tallebudgera Creek. 

Making memories is what life is all about. That’s what gets us through the difficult times. Get your family and friends and come and enjoy time together in our little piece of paradise,” Jeffery said.

Any travellers still guarded after months spent in isolation should take heed of Alison Shaw’s advice and head to the Outback.

One of trio of teddy bear manufacturers in the remote Queensland town of Tambo, Shaw can’t wait to welcome Kiwis – including a daughter from Wellington she hasn’t seen for over a year.

“The rains have come, the grass is green, Tambo is a piece of paradise. We are also clean, green, and naturally socially distanced! We have space to spare. And Teddy Bears.”

Here are 10 spectacular backdrops recommended by Kiwis in Queensland for any reunion type of holiday.

  1. For a get together with a sustainability story to boot, Wavelength Reef Cruises sets the bar high, yet low. Certified to take 100 people to the outer Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas, the boat carries just 28 passengers allowing plenty of flipper space for the whole Kiwi gang. On the trip hear how Wavelength boss, John Edmondson’s own patented Coralclip® devices are helping nurture the Reef. Virtually impossible to spot, these unseen clips secure living coral fragments to the one-time bald spots on the reef and help grow new life. 
  2. Toast togetherness on a five-hour Heli Pub Tour over the Atherton Tableland and cross lush rainforest and volcanic lakes to chopper into four of the finest taprooms in the tropics. A sole charter from Cairns for a party of six costs around A$4000.
  3. Take a tour with a traditional owner in the world’s oldest rainforest. The Daintree Rainforest is home to 40 percent of Australia’s bird species, 62 percent of its butterfly species, 30 percent of its marsupials and almost one third of the nation’s frogs – some as big as a ham sandwich. Dip your toe in this prehistoric wonderland on a small group tour at Mossman Gorge and hear stories and legends that have been passed down for 60,000 years.
  4. Push the whole family off road and whizz across a 70km of pristine sandy highway between Noosa and Rainbow Beach on the Sunshine Coast. Take a private Great Beach Drive Tour for six people (A$985) or invite more cuzzies and book a 4WD Minibus that seats 11 (A$1795). 
  5. Calm down at the Noosa Everglades, one of only two Everglades systems in the world (the other being in Florida) for a small group paddle over slow-moving waterways and an overnight campout with Kanu Capers
  6. Sleep at sea. When it comes to out-of-the box stays, choose Reef Sleep and overnight on a pontoon in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef 80km out at sea. Venture out from Airlie Beach for a day of snorkelling or scuba diving, then hang back with the whole gang as sun sets over a dozen or so sleeping pods scaled for a prefect party.
  7. Book the entire seven-room Mysa motel on the Gold Coast and get back to the good times with up to 16 friends. Launched in March this year after a top-to-toe revamp, this retro roadside motel comes with a swag of nostalgia including pastel-coloured rooms and a vintage shaped pool.
  8. Celebrate your homecoming like at VIP at the hottest night clubs around. Grab the gang and fire up the Gold Coast with a Surfers With a Twist (S.W.A.T) bus tour for up to 30 mates.
  9. Train the whole family to hang ten. Slowly work your way from surfing the smaller waves to mastering the right-handers at the drop-dead gorgeous Currumbin Alley with five-time Australian surf champion Mark ‘Richo’ Richardson from Surfing Services Australia.
  10. Reconnect at the low-impact Wilson Island on the Southern Great Barrier Reef. At just 5.4 hectares in size – as big as five football fields – this micro bump is a cradle for just nine glamping tents and a healthy coral reef that’s home to IMAX sized marine creatures.

Editor’s note:

*Since March 20. Prior to COVID, Queensland welcomed almost 500,000 New Zealand travellers annually, with almost 50% of these travellers classified as Visiting Friends and Relatives.

For the latest information on COVID-19 travel restrictions and advice in Queensland, click here.

Noosa Everglades camping. Photo credit: Tourism and Events Queensland

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