Queensland border reopening: Holidaymakers begin entering the state from NSW

In a nondescript car park in Tweed Heads, NSW, only footsteps from its twin city of Coolangatta, Queensland, Steven Lewis and Diane Marshall were waiting obediently to join the parking lot-like queue to cross the border at the official opening time of 12.01pm on Friday.

Their Lexus sedan, though Queensland maroon in colour, bears Victorian number plates, which in these tremulous times are more alarming to an average Queenslander than even a light blue NSW State of Origin jersey.

The couple acquired the vehicle in Victoria after returning from several years living overseas (Queensland authorities please note, they also completed the requisite self-isolation period).

Originally from the Sydney suburb of Greystanes, they have been in NSW for the past month, awaiting their foray into Queensland.

Mr Lewis, 63, and Ms Marshall, 58, were among the thousands of tourists who on Friday made a historic crossing from NSW into Queensland, the first time the border, after closing on March 26 for the first time in more than 100 years, reopened.

It had been a nervous wait for many interstate visitors due to poor communication by the Queensland Government over border pass permit arrangements that had been updated to encompass regulations adopted following the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in Victoria.

The correct information for applying for a permit was not available on an online portal until 6pm on Thursday after the Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk had promised it would be accessible as early as Wednesday morning.

"We've just been waiting to do the right thing and cross the border at the official time," Mr Lewis said. "But we've been checking the website about the permit for a few days to download the right one for interstate visitors."

A little further down the street, past the car park, was the Scholz family, heading to Rainbow Beach on the Sunshine Coast. They're not unaccustomed to borders, hailing as they do from Albury, from where they departed on their annual winter holiday last Sunday night.

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"We'd been stressing about the permit," said Benita Scholz, 42, mother of Lucas 14, Spencer, 11 and Julia, 10.

"We did find the delay in the details becoming available a bit inconvenient but the owner of Dee's Retreat at Rainbow Beach, where we're staying, has been keeping us up to date."

As it eventuated, Queensland Police, perhaps mindful of the feared lengthy cross-border queues, allowed many motorists across the border earlier than the official reopening time.

For the embattled Queensland tourism industry, the procession of holidaymakers was a welcome sight.

"Naturally we are delighted that the border to NSW is reopening," said Nick Clarke, director, sales and marketing, at the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort, Gold Coast.

"Our business is primarily supported by the NSW leisure market who traditionally travel to the Gold Coast for school holidays and seasonal vacation periods," Mr Clarke said.

"The increased transportation and access to our destination by road and air is pivotal to our business and the broader tourism sector in Queensland."

Hal Philp, the general manager of W Brisbane Hotel, said that while reservations from interstate had begun to start to "steadily trickle in" with the prospect of them building up once people had settled on their holiday plans, the pandemic has been the most difficult time the tourism industry had endured.

"We've enjoyed this past month connecting with our Queensland intrastate travellers but we certainly have room for more guests from around the country, and beginning again with NSW, this weekend is a great new milestone to continue to open back up the Australian and south-east Queensland tourism industries."

So, how did Mr Lewis and Ms Marshall get on in the end, with those unfashionable number plates?

Well, the maroon car paint-job didn't help, Ms Marshall reports, and when they passed through the checkpoint a police officer, spotting the couple's Victorian number plates, directed them to turn into an adjacent side street.

There they had to explain their somewhat complex state of origin circumstances and produce their new NSW driver licences acquired last month. But, having entered the sidestreet, the officer, apologetically, asked them to rejoin the queue and by 12.40 pm they were well on their way to their destination of Nerang on the Gold Coast.

See also: Seven of the strangest things about Australia's state borders

See also: Tasmania seeks ways for travellers to bypass Victoria

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