EXCLUSIVE

Christmas cancelled: Valla Beach Tourist Park to remain closed over festive season

Christmas cancelled: Valla Beach Tourist Park to remain closed over festive season

The same day the NSW Government announced a sweeping set of relaxations to the state's COVID restrictions, one of the Nambucca Valley's best-loved holiday destinations made an announcement they would not be reopening over the festive season.

On Tuesday (December 1) the management from the Valla Beach Tourist Park published on the park's website and social media pages that the caravanning and camping sites would remain closed through December and January - what is usually the peak tourist period for our region.

"The decision was made due to the difficulties involved in ensuring the safety of our guests, residents and staff under the current Public Health requirements and proximity to the retirement village," Park General Manager Chris Johnstone wrote on behalf of owners Gus and Beverley Camilleri.

"We do understand that not being able to holiday at Valla Beach Tourist Park will be of great disappointment to you and many others at the end of what has been a very difficult year. We hope that 2021 will see a return to what we consider a normal lifestyle and that we can welcome you soon."

The notice also said the park would be making a full refund to anyone who had already booked.

Many angry holidaymakers took to social media to vent their frustration at the decision and its timing - less than four weeks before Christmas, when other campgrounds were already full to the brim.

"Your park has been a part of my family's Xmas holidays for over 20 years, so to say we are disappointed is an understatement. Your excuse is strange! I have tried to make alternative accommodation arrangements from Hervey Bay to Port Macquarie with every park fully booked over the Xmas period. So from my family to yours thanks very much for ruining our Xmas holiday!!" one person wrote.

A screenshot of comments on the tourist park's Facebook post

A screenshot of comments on the tourist park's Facebook post

Chris Johnstone said the park had sent out correspondence in August to inform anyone with bookings that they were still unsure whether they would reopen for Christmas, and offered full refunds.

"A number of people took us up on that then," he said.

But Mayor Rhonda Hoban said a number of distressed people had contacted council since Tuesday to express their disappointment at the decision and ask if anything could be done.

"Some of those representations were from people who had been coming to the Nambucca Valley for many, many years," she said.

"It's been an iconic park that has a wonderful history of accommodating holidaying families - many returning - from all over the country.

The decision is also disappointing because the Valla Beach Tourist Park has been a source of flow-on benefits to the community.

Guardian News spoke with local business owners who expressed their frustration and disbelief that the park's closure since March would continue through the peak tourist season.

"It beggars belief. I get very frustrated when I drive to other towns around the region and see their burgeoning parks full of people," one business operator who preferred not to be named said.

"We have missed out on so much trade this year and we'll continue to miss out on that trade."

Chris said he was fully aware and very regretful that the park's closure over summer would have ramifications for the wider community.

We know people are bleeding, but we're bleeding as much as they are.

Chris Johnstone

"If we were to let one COVID-infected person into the park and it was to spread to the community, we'd be the worst people in the world. We're just not prepared to take the risk. We're operating in the best way for this community."

When asked why the Valla park was seemingly one of the only parks in the state that remained closed, especially in the midst of a domestic travel boom, he said:

"Maybe we're the smart ones, I don't know. Our major concern is the welfare of everyone - social distancing is a major issue, and the amount of marshals needed to make sure that everyone does so.

"I want the place to open tomorrow, and it will the second we feel it's safe to do so."

This week's announcement has led to speculation on social media that there is more behind the decision than a fear for people's safety.

Some have wondered if there is an ulterior motive to convert the entire park into a prefabricated retirement village.

"It's absolute garbage," Chris said. "The owners have no intention of doing that."

Some permanent residents at the park were careful to distance themselves from the decision.

"Please be aware that none of the residents have had any say in this hideous decision. We in the residential areas appreciate the holiday makers attending the park as lots of us have friends and relatives staying in the caravan section. We participate in the fun that happens in the park with our friends and relatives," one person wrote.

Guardian News obtained a copy of an application for approval to run the park made to council last night. Attached is a plan which details the number of long-term and short-term sites at the park - neither of which has changed since the last plan was submitted over five years ago.

"The tourist park and the village are treated as two separate villages," Chris said.

But when we asked Council General Manager Michael Coulter if removing all holiday sites was a future possibility, he said there was "nothing that would prevent the owners from doing so" providing they submitted a new plan for approval by council.

Others have pointed out the deteriorating condition of some of the facilities, including the cabins.

Mayor Hoban said Council's Manager of Business Development had spoken with the park's owners and offered his assistance to develop business plans and apply for tourism grants to help restore the park to its former glory.

A recent announcement from the park stated the cabins were to be decommissioned, leaving many to wonder what would become of the Nambucca Valley's prized car events like the GT Falcons and the Valla Rod Run which are accommodated at Valla each year.

Guardian News spoke with Drag-Ens president Andrew McClelland today who said the Valla Rod Run held a special place in many hot rodders' hearts.

"We've got such a long history with that park; there are more than a few hot rodders who have had their ashes scattered there," he said.

Next year would mark the 44th Valla Rod Run, and Andrew said the event committee is "committed to putting the Valla Rod Run on at Valla in 2021".

"Our mission is to preserve it there," he said.

Chris Johnstone said both events would go ahead next year should COVID no longer be an issue.

"We want the hot rods back in there, we want the GTs - we love having them," he said.

We might not be doing it like everyone else, but there's no truth in the speculation on Facebook. The park's not for sale, it's not closing down.

"If we can be open 100 per cent for Easter, I'll be over the moon."

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