Tourism operators on South Australia’s Limestone Coast are reporting a season “far beyond” any other New Year period.

Key points:

  • Coastal and inland businesses in SA say it’s been a remarkably busy summer
  • It is a relief for tourism operators after months of closures
  • Forward bookings remain strong

Kirsty Balnaves says Balnaves of Coonawarra has welcomed an “amazing amount” of people through the cellar door.

“We were having people at the door at nine o’clock in the morning, which is a touch surprising, but they were that keen to get out and about,” she said.

Victorian visitor numbers were low throughout 2020 due to restrictions, but they have been returning since the border reopened late last year.

“We’ve been welcoming them with open arms — we love seeing them back,” Ms Balnaves said.

“Because people can’t travel overseas, we’re definitely seeing people traveling intrastate and interstate, and I have no reason to think that it will get quieter.”

Diners enjoy a sunset meal at a Coonawarra winery.(Supplied: Ockert Le Roux)

Natural drawcards

The Limestone Coast is known for its natural attractions, including caves and sinkholes.

Kilbsy Sinkhole owner Graham Kilsby said there was no shortage of visitors from Adelaide and Melbourne.

“There was just more bookings and a better flow of people through over that Christmas period, which was lovely to see,” he said.

“Our bookings have sort of slowed a little bit since probably Monday this week.

Divers explore Kilsby Sinkhole at night.(Supplied: Ockert Le Roux)

It was a similar story for the coastal town of Robe.

Council chief executive officer James Holyman said the town was essentially booked out from the end of December and that things were looking positive moving forward.

“Our bookings are extremely strong right through until May at this stage,” he said.

Mr Holyman said some 13,500 visitors passed through Robe over Christmas, filling all its accommodation services.

Robe has always been a popular holiday destination in a region, a trend that is continuing.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

Inland towns busy too

Destination Development Manage for the Limestone Coast Biddie Shearing said she was surprised to hear business was booming in inland towns like Mount Gambier.

“Mount Gambier, traditionally, has been recognised as a sort of business or commercial hub — people come here for business,” she said.

Mount Gambier has a population of almost 30,000.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

“The operators deserve to be congratulated because they’re the ones that have really been creative during the COVID hibernation, working out ways to entice visitors.”

With many driving from Adelaide or Naracoorte, Ms Shearing said visitors were stopping off at different places along the way.

“That really does well for us as a region, because we have so many different experiences and we tend to need to have a car to get around to a few of those,” she said.

Ms Shearing said forward bookings were also looking positive, giving operators confidence in the industry for the coming months.

“It has a really big ripple effect through our communities on the Limestone Coast, because forward bookings give confidence,” she said.

“That helps businesses to be able to commit to employing people or re-employing people.”