As year 12 students approach their final-year exams, you can be sure the schoolies break is not far from their thoughts.
Schoolies has become a rite of passage for young Australians. It began humbly enough 30 years ago on the Gold Coast when a group of friends got together after their exams to let off steam.
This year, schoolies is a three-week marathon from November 21 to December 13, with events planned around the country. In Victoria, Lorne and Torquay are the main schoolies towns; in NSW it's Byron Bay; and there are events planned in South Australia and Western Australia.
The Gold Coast is still the biggest schoolies' venue and more than 43,000 school leavers are expected this year. Daunting prospect, isn't it?
Parents will be relieved to hear much thought and attention goes into the planning of schoolies. The Queensland Government has led the way, establishing guidelines that have reduced the incidence of headlines and sore heads.
At Surfers Paradise, most activity takes place at what's known as Schoolies Hub, an alcohol-free area of central Surfers Paradise beach to which only genuine schoolies, identifiable by a wristband, are admitted. This is a ploy to keep out toolies (previous schoolies, aged up to 20), droolies (oldies) and foolies (next year's school leavers).
Other measures have made schoolies safer, such as a strong police presence, free transport at night and a volunteer group ready to help those who haven't learnt the fine art of restraint, have made schoolies a whole lot safer.
And while former year 12s might be busting to break free from familial shackles, they tend to stick to what they know when partying, preferring to holiday with their peers rather than mix with new chums. Consequently, the first week of the Gold Coast schoolies belongs to Queenslanders and the second and third weeks to students from NSW and Victoria.
John Dudgeon, of the Byron Bay Chamber of Commerce, says Melbourne and Sydney teenagers comprise the bulk of his town's visitors.
"The Queensland kids like to party at home. The Melbourne private schools own the second week and then it's the Sydney kids," he says.
He estimates there are about 4000 schoolies in Byron at any one time.
"A lot of the businesses, especially the good restaurants, aren't all that keen on it because [students] don't want to spend a lot of money, at least not on food," he says.
The manager of the Byron Bay Visitor Centre, Katherine Myres, says there are few real problems during the celebrations. "It's usually about boys who have lost their phone or run out of money and need to ring home," she says.
Each year, about 2 million foodies apply for a reservation at the legendary El Bulli restaurant in Spain's Costa Brava. Most are disappointed.
The venue, which has been named the world's best by Restaurant magazine five times, is open from June to December.
Reservations for 2010 aren't being taken until the end of the year but you can guarantee a place at the legendary table by joining Toujours France's Gourmet France and Spain tour next year.
It transpires that chef Ian Parmenter, who is leading the tour, got to know El Bulli's owner, Ferran Adria, when he invited him two years ago to Tasting Australia, the premier food and wine event in South Australia.
The two got on well and Parmenter has been able to make a booking for 16 people on June 3.
The Toujours France 16-day Gourmet France and Spain tour leaves Paris on May 21 and ends in Barcelona on June 5. The tour costs $14,299, twin share, from Paris.
The Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, will launch P&O's superliner, Pacific Jewel, at Sydney's Circular Quay on December 12.
The chief executive of Carnival Australia, Ann Sherry, says the company is honoured that the Governor-General had accepted its invitation.
"It's a tradition that dates back centuries to a time when ships provided the only link between continents, with the naming conducted by a female – usually a member of royalty or a prominent citizen," Sherry says.
The superliner, which has a carrying capacity of 2053 passengers, will leave on its maiden voyage, a five-day cruise to Tasmania, the following day.
Tales from the Tasman
Justin Jones and James Castrission, the first people to kayak from Australia to New Zealand across the Tasman Sea, will relive their adventures in talks organised by World Expeditions.
You can hear them recount the harrowing details of the 6318-kilometre journey, in which they braved 10-metre swells and howling winds of more than 50 knots, at the Maritime Museum in Sydney on November 17 at 6pm and at the State Library of Victoria on November 20 at 6pm. Entry costs $19.50.
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