VISITORS have flocked to the district in recent weeks, creating new sales records for local businesses, particularly food retailers.
“It’s been enormous!” said Joe Bucello, proprietor of Foster Foodworks supermarket. “It seems to get busier every year, but we have done our best to meet our customers’ needs, working hard to ensure our shelves remain well stocked and we can supply everything our customers want.”
Chris Bettles, proprietor of the IGA supermarket at Foster, estimates customer numbers have been 15 per cent up on those of the 2009-10 Christmas-New Year period.
“The week after Christmas was phenomenally busy. I think it was our best ever, and it has continued busy since. I guess it shouldn’t take us by surprise, but it always does!”
Mr Battles said that the most popular items at his supermarkets (he also runs one in Mirboo North) have been drinks, fruit and vegetables, suntan lotions, insect repellents, dairy products, chips and snacks – everything you would expect the average holidaymaker to buy.
“Interestingly, despite the high value of the Australian dollar, there seem to have been a lot of overseas tourists around,” added Mr Bettles.
South Gippsland Shire Council’s tourism coordinator, Christian Stefani, confirmed this impression, reporting that a lot of the enquiries at the visitor information centres at Foster, Korumburra and Leongatha have come from overseas tourists.
Mr Stefani said that visitor numbers at the three visitor information centres had exceeded expectations.
“We’ve been finding that a lot of people don’t book ahead, but staff have been doing their best to try to find accommodation for everyone – either locally or suggesting where to go elsewhere in the region. The demand has been particularly high for coastal areas and Wilsons Promontory.”
Mr Stefani said that the visitor information centres at Foster and Korumburra had seen an increase in the figures for December from 2009 to 2010. He said that Korumburra had 1303 visitors through the door in December 2009 and 1424 in 2010, while Foster’s December figures increased from 1610 in 2009 to 1896 in 2010.
“The weather has undoubtedly played a part in the increase in enquiries. Because there have not been a huge number of hot beach days, people have been looking for ideas for non-beach activities, so have come into town from the beaches or from neighbouring regions such as Phillip Island. The Prom is always a huge drawcard, but there has been lots of interest in other places in the east of the shire, such as Walkerville, Port Franklin and Agnes Falls.”
Mr Stefani said that staff at the information centres fielded a huge range of enquiries, everything from where to hire kayaks to where to go deep sea diving and, he said, visitors were delighted to find they could use the internet at the visitor information centres.
“It’s been a really successful summer in terms of encouraging people to stay longer in the district because there is so much to do here – so many unique attractions.”
Produce and craft market
One of the largest crowds ever attended the first Promontory Home Produce and Craft Market for 2011. It was held on Sunday January 2 and was, according to the service clubs which run it, one of the best markets ever.
“There was perfect market weather and a great turnout of stallholders and market-goers. Apart from our Easter markets, which are traditionally the largest, there was a record attendance, with about 4,200 adults through the gates,” said Max Parnell of Foster Rotary Club.
“The grounds were again in perfect condition, thanks to the hard work of a couple of dedicated volunteers.”
As well as nearly all the permanent stallholders there were 27 casuals, some of whom were new to the market, bringing new and varied products for sale.
Several stalls, mainly food, sold out by early afternoon, with most of those spoken to reporting good sales.
“As always, the Rotary train did great business with the children, creating at times long queues of eager would-be passengers,” added Mr Parnell.
“A big thank you to all the volunteers from Rotary, Lions and JayCees who help in all the various aspects of making the market work so successfully. All monies raised go back into the Corner Inlet community through service club projects.”
The next market will be held at Foster Showgrounds on Sunday January 23.
Prom and pools
Wilsons Promontory National Park is a perennial favourite among visitors to South Gippsland. With police, a doctor and life guards on duty all through the summer, the park is regarded as a family-friendly place for a holiday, and this season has been busier than most.
Customer service manager Scott Griggs said that there had regularly been 350 or so vehicles a day through the gate with day visitors, and one particularly busy day saw upwards of 650 carloads of people through. The campground and roofed accommodation at the Prom are fully booked until the end of the school holidays, as is the accommodation at the lighthouse. The other outstations – Sealers and Refuge Coves and Waterloo Bay – have also been very busy.
Most of the walks at the Prom have reopened since the massive fire of February 2009, with the Tongue Point walk (from Darby Saddle or Darby River) opening only in recent weeks, delighting walkers with all the healthy regrowth of vegetation.
Foster and Toora swimming pools have both been popular this summer, particularly with visitors finding the weather too cool for a beach swim.
“The water in the pools has been warm and pleasant even on cool days,” said Foster pool manager Alix Barrie. “On the hottest days we have extended our open hours and we have had the big inflatable pool monster up several times. It’s always a great hit.”
She reminds people that water aerobics sessions have begun at the pool on Sundays. They are run by Bec Kranen, a qualified instructor and cost $10 per person.
Wine and horses
Wine tasting has been enjoyed by many over the summer. Local options are Windy Ridge Winery, which is situated just out of Foster on the way to Fish Creek, with spectacular views of Corner Inlet and the Prom, and Waratah Hills Winery, on the Fish Creek-Promontory Road.
Graeme and Georgia Wilson, who run Windy Ridge, would like to thank all those people who bought wine at their winery in December and so contributed to raising $665 for the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Project at Foster Primary School. Windy Ridge will continue to be open daily (10am to 5pm) until January 30.
At Waratah Hills Winery, Neil and Judy Travers also have their cellar door open daily (10am to 4pm). Platters are available to be enjoyed under shelter in the conservatory at the cellar door or at a table in the shade near the acres of vines – or simply picnic on the lawn, while enjoying a glass or two of chardonnay, rose, pinot noir, merlot or sparkling wine.
Beautiful weather and lots of action in addition to horse racing was enjoyed by the people who attended Stony Creek Racing Club’s race meetings on December 28 and January 4.
Club chief executive officer Ralph Gallagher said there was a warm family atmosphere at both meetings, with fun for all ages, from the excitement of punting to the fun of the children’s playground.
Local wineries Koongunyah Vineyard and Windy Ridge Winery held tastings at the second race meeting, accompanied by gourmet sausages from Gippsland Natural Beef. This was popular, and for the children there was face painting, an animal farm and a jumping castle.
“I’d like to thank all those local businesses who have so generously provided sponsorship, enabling us to have a full book of sponsors,” added Mr Gallagher.
The next race meeting at Stony Creek will be the Betfair Stony Creek Cup on March 13.