AN INFLUX of southern visitors determined to enjoy Easter in the tropics and make the most of local eateries has provided a surprise respite for many Far North businesses over the four-day break.

Villa Romana restaurant duty manager Eric Kim said people had been queuing for tables at the Esplanade eatery.

"We've been unexpectedly busy. We thought the Brisbane COVID lockdown would impact us, but it has been really good, really surprising," he said.

Restaurants across Cairns and the Far North have seen an increase in patronage over the Easter holidays. Louise and Stephen Lewis, who are holidaying in Cairns and the Tablelands for a week from Newcastle, enjoy a steak lunch at Villa Romana restaurant on the Esplanade. Picture: Brendan Radke
Restaurants across Cairns and the Far North have seen an increase in patronage over the Easter holidays. Louise and Stephen Lewis, who are holidaying in Cairns and the Tablelands for a week from Newcastle, enjoy a steak lunch at Villa Romana restaurant on the Esplanade. Picture: Brendan Radke


"We'd spoken to hotels who said they had full occupancy, but then with the Brisbane lockdown we thought it would affect us, but we got a surprise on Friday - it turns out a lot of people have shown up in Cairns," he said.

Local businesses were apprehensive after the state government imposed a lockdown in Brisbane and restrictions throughout the state from 5pm Monday, March 29, to noon on Thursday, April 1.

But Easter has provided a welcome boost.

At signature Cairns restaurant Ochre, owner and chef Craig Squires said brisk Easter business was a welcome reprieve.

"It has been very busy from Friday. For dinner the last three nights have been fully booked before the beginning of service, with quite large tables of 10 to 14 people," Mr Squires said. "Hopefully, it will continue with school holidays and cheaper flights."

He said 50 per cent of business over the weekend was locals enjoying a meal out.

Daintree Heritage Lodge near Cape Tribulation is booked solid for Easter and the school holidays.
Daintree Heritage Lodge near Cape Tribulation is booked solid for Easter and the school holidays.

"For me after 25 years, Easter has traditionally been a flatline period as tourists start to come in and locals go camping, but this Easter has been stronger than normal. I think we had a real influx once Brisbane got back to normal - it was extremely quiet last week as locals didn't want to go out wearing a mask, so we have gone from one extreme to another," Mr Squires said.

He said guests came from southern Queensland, NSW and Melbourne.

"It has been a good three days, but it doesn't make up for the last three months - we have a long way to go, and without international tourists, it will be a rollercoaster, and certainly not profitable," Mr Squires said.

Heritage Lodge near Cape Tribulation is also bursting at the seams, with manager Vicki Bidwell saying the Destination Daintree website, run by a local marketing cooperative, was a key tool.

"We are booked out for Easter and the school holidays and forward bookings are looking good - we are stoked," Ms Bidwell said.

Louise and Stephen Lewis, of Newcastle, were among those enjoying lunch at Villa Romana ahead of a trip on Skyrail and Kuranda Scenic Railway.

Mr Lewis was born and raised in Mareeba but said his wife was from Scotland so this was her first taste of the Far North.

"We went to the aquarium this morning and that was fantastic," he said.

Federally subsidised discounted flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Darwin to Cairns went on sale at midnight on Wednesday, helping to fuel Cairns' tourism growth beyond the Easter revival.


Originally published as Surprise visitor influx delights Cairns tourism businesses


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