Karen Macdonald can barely stifle a laugh when she thinks about the irony of it all.
With Margaret River’s main street resembling a carpark and the town packed to the rafters over recent weeks, the locals are starting to complain about the number of visitors again.
Just months ago, as Margaret River grappled with the aftermath of one of Australia’s worst mass murders and the cancellation of the Pro surfing contest, Ms Macdonald said many locals had begun to wonder whether the town could ever recover.
“We’ve had a massive summer,” Ms Macdonald, co-owner of Riversmith Cafe, said.
“It’s been great for Margaret River because we had a pretty dismal winter with the murders and the surf comp being cancelled.
“There was a real gloom over the town, so it’s fantastic it’s been lifted up again and is back to normal.
“You suddenly feel as though everyone has got a bit more spring in their step and people are now complaining that there are too many people in town.”
It is a familiar theme right across WA’s South West, with holiday spots from Dunsborough to Esperance reporting surges of tourists rarely, if ever, seen.
In Denmark, shelves at the local supermarket were almost stripped bare of some staple items as thousands of visitors overwhelmed supply.
At Margaret River, traffic was so bad on Bussell Highway that pedestrians struggled to cross the road. And at normally secluded swimming spots from Greens Pool in Denmark to Lucky Bay east of Esperance, beachgoers were forced to walk hundreds of metres to the water as carparks overflowed.
The bump in visitors to the State’s southern coasts was reflected in official data released this week that showed significant growth in the number of people travelling within WA.
According to Tourism WA, the number of Sandgropers taking overnight trips within the State jumped 10 per cent in the 12 months to September 30, driven by a 19.3 per cent increase in those “visiting friends and relatives” and a 7.7 per cent rise people taking holidays. There were 9.07 million intrastate overnight visitors in WA during the period and they spent $4.1 billion, a slight 0.9 per cent increased on the previous year.
Numbers of interstate visitors rose 8 per cent over the same period.
Tourism Minister Paul Papalia said the figures, which came despite virtually non-existent growth in international visitors, were encouraging and suggested efforts to kick-start WA’s tourism sector were working. Key to that two-year strategy was branding WA as a road-trip mecca, while Mr Papalia said the Government was also promoting the state much more heavily on the east coast and had re-opened a marketing office there for the first time in seven years.
“It’s not just about the city, it’s all about regions as well and raising awareness on the eastern seaboard,” Mr Papalia said.