It was once challenging enough to unearth gold in the hills near Orange, where Australia's first payable lode was discovered. But now the most elusive commodity appears to be a bed at one of the regional city's flash boutique inns.
Orange, renowned for its food and wine, has become an unlikely Byron of the bush, sans the golden beaches and the excess celebrities, with Sydneysiders flocking to the Central West city of almost 39,000 people. Pandemic? What pandemic?
Many are making a beeline to the 22-room Byng Street Boutique Hotel where occupancy rates are hovering at a giddy 95 per cent at up to $376 per night. The next available room on a Saturday night is not until October 12 (and with a minimum two-night stay, to boot).
"We've always felt that there was a real need and market for high-end, luxury boutique accommodation in Orange with a strong focus on personalised service," says proprietor Kristen Nock, who runs Byng Street with her husband, Thomas.
Many of the guests, at the swishly-designed hotel, with its car park full of prestige motors, said that had it not been for the pandemic and government imposed travel restrictions, they would have been overseas at this time of the year.
It's not only Orange that is enjoying tourism success thanks to interstate borders being slammed shut. In Mudgee, the upscale heritage-style Parkview Hotel ("modern country elegance"), with just seven suites, is available at up to $330 a night. Accommodation reservation site Booking.com has rooms at this Mudgee inn on a coveted Saturday night blocked out and unavailable until at least early June next year.
And in the village of Jugiong between Yass and Gundagai, the historic Sir George Hotel, a impressively-renovated country pub, weekend rooms are elusive, with few available until late October.
Clearly, Sydneysiders are eager to put some considerable social distance (259.5 kilometres of it in Orange's case) between themselves and their city and to do so with style.
Before the pandemic, Sydney itself enjoyed a healthy city "staycation" market but regional NSW 's new breed of hostelries has shed the perception that the countryside consists exclusively of stodgy motels and stuffy B&Bs.
Jenny Bennett, executive officer of Central NSW Joint Organisation, says upscale boutique hotels attract more affluent travellers so more money begins circulating through regional economies.
"These hotels are attracting the 50s-plus market and their higher expenditure," she says. "And what is also great about the success of these businesses is the example they offer for potential investors in regional Australia."
Perhaps the closest equivalent in Sydney in terms of style and size to Byng Street is the Little Albion Hotel, in inner-city Surry Hills. It is part of the Crystalbrook Collection chain of properties with rates from $225 per night.
Unlike its Orange counterpart, only two to three rooms out of 35 at Little Albion are typically occupied during the week with 10 to 15 per cent occupancy rates at weekends.
"At the moment regional hotels are performing better than Sydney hotels as people want a break from the city," says Geoff York, group director of the Crystalbrook Collection.
"But the opportunity certainly exists for Sydneysiders to come and rediscover their city with a staycation at a hotel like Little Albion and feel safe at the same time."
See also: The nine things you must do in Orange