Grey nomads celebrate Queensland border opening as they migrate north

Thousands of grey nomad travellers are preparing to cross into Queensland and continue their migration north as border restrictions lift on Friday.

The border opening comes just in time for the restless caravanners who have been stranded in northern NSW waiting for their annual trek to resume.

Grey nomads – retired travellers who holiday in caravans or motorhomes – traditionally travel north during winter to escape the southern chill. Nomads comprise up to 70 per cent of bookings at some caravan parks outside school holidays, providing a welcome boost to domestic tourism.

Gary Kennedy and his wife Karen hail from Shepparton in Victoria. They are heading for Bowen in North Queensland this winter to visit their daughter and grandchildren who they haven't seen since September.

But their trip stalled in Ballina where they set up camp at the caravan park until the border opens.

"It is quite stressful for a lot of people," Mr Kennedy said.

Earlier in the year the Kennedys were preparing to "do the lap of Australia" before the pandemic struck.

"We unpacked the caravan, did everything in the garden and painted the inside of the house."

But when the number of cases in Australia stabilised, they got on the move.


"When it's minus 1 degree in Shepparton and your granddaughter's complaining it's 23 degrees and cold in Bowen, you can understand why we'd want to go," Mr Kennedy said.

"It's like the whales swimming up the east coast going to the warmer waters - we go to the warmer climate."

However, when the border opens next Friday the couple plan to wait a week or so before continuing their journey.

"If they open the gates on the 10th [of July] there's a lot of people who will be on the road and it'll be dangerous."

The Kennedys' caravan park neighbours include Dorelle Dunn and husband Ian from Albion Park Rail near Wollongong in NSW who are heading to Maroochydore on the Sunshine Coast.

They too are biding their time in Ballina, but they are looking forward to continuing north.

Before the pandemic hit, the Dunns planned to leave home on May 1 and travel around the country including to Carnarvon in Western Australia and Lawn Hill in Queensland.

"It was inconvenient," Mrs Dunn said. "We had to rearrange the full thing, cancel everything."

The couple trimmed their itinerary and pushed back the departure date until June, with a more modest six weeks at the Sunshine Coast on the cards.

"The majority of people in our park are all Victorians -- they're all waiting to go up. They've been sitting there a while."

Grant Wilckens is chairman of the Caravan Industry Association of Australia and chief executive of Discovery Parks, a large network of caravan and holiday parks. He says about 80,000 grey nomads from the southern states migrate during winter.

"We just need to get the nomads moving north. They're worth about $3.5 billion annually to the industry, they're pretty important to our market," Mr Wilckens said.

"The benefit of that sector is they stay for a lot longer - families go away for a long weekend and nomads go for three to four months at a time."

Despite many hitting the road despite the uncertainty, Mr Wilckens estimates the majority of nomads are "stranded in their residences" as they shiver through winter.

"Victorians are some of the best northern travellers. To not have that in the market is quite devastating up north [in Queensland]."

Lisa McRae is the business development officer at Tweed Holiday Parks which has seven sites from Pottsville to Tweed Heads. She says grey nomads comprise up to 70 per cent of customers in the parks during winter.

"We started off a little bit slow but we've started to see a real flow-on now with the nomads, so they are on the move," Ms McRae said.

"We do have quite a few nomads parked up in anticipation, just waiting for that date to come around."

Mrs Dunn said there has been one benefit to a shorter trip. While their superannuation has declined amidst the broader economic slump, their finances were far healthier from not travelling.

"We have saved so much money because of this - it's unbelievable the amount of money we've saved," she said.

See also: 'Heartbreaking': Victorians scrap winter escapes to Queensland, seek refunds

See also: Five new trips explore wonders of Australia we take for granted