TOURISM: RV visitors falling for charm of Fraser Coast
WHEN their car broke down on Fraser Island, the Norman family wasn't expecting it would be the start of a love affair with the Heritage City.
But for the past two weeks while their car gets repaired, the family has set up in the city's RV parks and explored the sights and sounds of Maryborough.
Mark Norman hails from Wellington and is the chief executive officer of two clothing brands.
Mark and his family are exploring Australia while meeting up with business contacts and working from the road.
With his wife Emma and their two children, Levi, 10 months and Penelope, two-and-a-half, they have discovered the beauty of Queens Park and visited the birthplace of PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins - now known as the Story Bank after the council's extensive renovation.
When the couple arrived in Brisbane a month-and-a-half ago, they bought a car, purchased their stunning family caravan off Gumtree and hit the road.
They have travelled throughout the Sunshine Coast, visited Tin Can Bay and spent a day on Fraser Island splashing in Lake McKenzie and exploring its many tracks.
But the car began to malfunction as the family drove back to catch the last barge of the day.
The family spent two days at the Alan and June Brown carpark before heading to the RV park in Wharf St.
"We've become random locals," Mark said.
"What a great little place for us to do it.
"It's so accessible for us, being stranded without a car."
Their visit to the Heritage City highlights the many and varied reasons why tourists choose to stay and play in the region - and the vast majority are loving what they are seeing during their visit.
Using Maryborough as a base, many visit Fraser Island, explore Hervey Bay and the outskirts of the region or go whale-watching.
Then in Maryborough, they take advantage of the easy accessibility to shops and cafes while also marvelling at the historical buildings and museums, taking tours of the city, checking out the markets and meeting new people.
It's all part of Maryborough's steady transformation into a destination-of-choice for RV tourists.
For RV travellers, there's no need to leave the creature comforts at home.
Decked out with a generator, gas and solar power, the caravan has a bathroom, a queen size bed for them and bunks for the kids as well as a complete kitchen.
All their water goes through three filtration systems to ensure its purity.
They have a TV inside the van and on the outside with an antenna capable of picking up every channel.
Since they also need to work, they have an RV WIFI system and phones with enough data to ensure they can be in contact and work from where ever they are.
When their car is fixed, the family will continue their journey, with the final destination of Western Australia in mind, but no concerns about how long it might take to get there.
"We've embraced the chaos," Mark said.
In March 2017, Maryborough finally gained RV-friendly status from the Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia.
In 2016, the Fraser Coast Regional Council voted to allow more free or low cost camping sites for travellers - a change to the existing policy that would be the first step towards putting the region on the RV map.
Councillor Anne Maddern likes the idea of allowing RV travellers to stop in the area for an extended period to let them get a taste of what the region has to offer.
Last month she moved a motion to extend the length of stay at the Burrum Community Centre RV site from 20 hours to 48 hours - a move she said would allow visitors to get a real sense of the region.
Some were simply passing through, but others would find a caravan park or make the most of low cost options in the region, Cr Maddern said.
As an RV-enthusiast herself, Cr Maddern has taken note of what other regions offer.
She believes Maryborough compares well in terms of things to do and places to stay.
In terms of the economy, being an RV-friendly region had been a boon for local businesses, she said.
"It's absolutely amazing what they say about how valuable it is for their business in small towns," Cr Maddern said.
"We absolutely need to be tapping into that."
There's no doubt history was one of Maryborough main draw cards, but the climate, its close proximity to beaches and whale-watching, and the range of activities for tourists also helped bring people in.
Cr Maddern said the Story Bank was proving to be a big tourism asset.
Free or low-cost camping was a vital part of the broader picture when it came to tourism, Cr Maddern said.
"My personal view is that we need to have free and low-cost camping with some limitations on time," she said.
"Free or low-cost camping gives people a taste of what we have to offer to continue to keep them in the community."
She said word-of-mouth was vital to the success of such initiatives and encouraged people in the region to be tourism ambassadors for the Fraser Coast when they travelled around.
"It's absolutely the best advertising you can get," she said.
Councillor Paul Truscott said the city had been brought to life by the travellers, with businesses across the region benefiting.
Tourists visited our doctors, had coffee in our cafes, used our shops and pharmacies and got their cars or vehicles serviced along the way, he said.
Cr Truscott said surveys had shown 90 per cent of self-contained campers would not stop in Maryborough without low-cost or free camping on offer.
He said the market that preferred to stop at caravan parks was separate to those in RVs.
"It's increasing the pie for the whole region and the whole community benefits," he said.
For Cheryl Ramsey, the annual migration of RV travellers to the region has given her business a boost.
The owner of Cheryl-Lynn's Cafe in Adelaide St, Maryborough, said she had noticed the increase in visitors from outside the region stopping in, checking the place out and having a cuppa.
With the Maryborough Heritage Markets proving to be a main attraction, the entire CBD was benefiting.
"We've had a lot of older people in that are well travelled. The information centre refers a lot of them too, they want to find out the places they can go," she said.