Bizarre destinations NSW Schoolies are turning to
With Surfers Paradise off-limits to Schoolies revellers this year, Year 12 students in NSW are thinking outside the box with some new destinations for their end-of-year celebrations.
Coastal regions such as Byron Bay, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Eurobodalla and Eden are all readying for an influx of students when celebrations kick off on November 28.
Saxon Phipps from the school graduation service Year 13 said a coastal road trip "will be the most popular choice" for teenagers, with many planning stopovers at campsites and hotels.
New research from the company found 39 per cent of graduates are looking at holiday rentals, while 33 per cent are taking a road trip and 27 per cent are considering camping.
Byron Bay and Port Macquarie are both listed as official destinations on schoolies.com and many hotels have already booked out - with less than 2 per cent of vacancies remaining.
But some school-leavers are swapping the sea for the bush, with regional towns like Dubbo also experiencing a "significant uptake" of bookings during the Schoolies period.
"It's certainly something there's a big appetite for … And that's encouraging to see. It's great some people are taking the initiative to explore areas not as traditional," Mr Phipps says.
Eastern suburbs Year 12 student Maggie Carr has booked an Airbnb at Shoal Bay near Port Stephens with friends for Schoolies after COVID thwarted her plans to go to Fiji.
The 17-year-old said the travel restrictions have provided a good opportunity to explore NSW while supporting businesses in need.
"Rural NSW and the smaller towns have had the biggest hit with COVID and the bushfires so it's nice to be able to offer some support," she said.
The proximity to Sydney, nearby beaches and affordable accommodation also fed into the appeal of a local getaway.
"There's a national park so we're thinking of kayaking and doing bush walks or maybe going to the water park. Just taking advantage of what the location has to offer."
Year 12 student Amber Page is planning a more traditional getaway to Byron Bay after her Gold Coast holiday was cancelled.
Eurobodalla Shire Mayor Liz Innes said she was looking forward to welcoming students because it will help the region recover from the bushfires and pandemic - provided they stay COVID-safe.
"With 83 magnificent beaches, it's the perfect place to dive into nature - and there's plenty of space to be socially distant," she said.
"But we do need everyone to do the right thing and treat our beautiful shire with the respect it deserves - that also means being COVID-safe."
Quentin Long from Australian Traveller says this year's celebration provides a rare opportunity for the regions to boost tourism.
"Places like Coffs, Port Stephens, Jervis Bay and even Merimbula and Eden are going to get some benefit," he said.
"It would be good to see the inland regions of NSW try and make a play for this market to get more city slickers dollars in the regions and more kids exposed to the country."
But the rite-of-passage celebration will look markedly different this year because large beach parties and other gatherings of more than 20 people will be off-limits due to coronavirus restrictions.
Byron Bay Mayor Simon Richardson has asked school leavers to consider postponing their plans, warning that parties will be shut down if they are not COVID-safe.
"At any other time we would be preparing to welcome school leavers but these are extraordinary times and our message is that the beaches and the town will still be here when this COVID pandemic is over and we will welcome you then with open arms," Mayor Richardson said.
"Anyone coming to Byron Shire during Schoolies Week, or any time, is required to abide by all of the NSW Health orders including no gathering in groups larger than 20 people in public and private places."
But Mr Phipps has asked NSW towns to be lenient when considering whether to let Year 12 students in this year - keeping in mind how tough 2020 has been for them.
"This year has been quite a challenging year for Year 12s and being able to have the freedom to travel is really important."
And after a difficult year filled with COVID cancellations, Maggie couldn't agree more.
"Schoolies is the last thing the 2020 cohort shares together and even if we're not in the same space it's still an important celebration."
Originally published as Bizarre destinations NSW Schoolies are turning to