Busy June long weekend on horizon for Port Stephens but no Bluewater Country Music Festival in sight

With travels bans lifted in NSW, holiday rentals taking bookings and whale watching back on the agenda Port Stephens looks set to be in for a bustling June long weekend but one thing that will be noticeably absent is the sounds of the Bluewater Country Music Festival.

In what is believed to be the first time since the festival was established in 2006, there will be no boot scooting or country music flowing from the Port's venues or marina this weekend due to ongoing COVID-19 distancing and gathering restrictions.


"We've known for a few months now it wouldn't be going ahead but it's still strange not to be doing the things that I would normally be doing now to prepare for it," said Margaret Taylor, president of the Bluewater Line Dancers and one of the organisers of the festival's many line dancing events.

"A few of the regular dancers who make this weekend their big dancing trip for the year are upset that it can't go ahead but everyone understands. Everyone I talk to is very eager to come back next year."

TRADITION BROKEN: Line dancers and friends Helen Reeson, from Ulladulla, and Margaret Taylor, from Nelson Bay, following the final event in the 2017 Bluewater Country Music Festival - the longest line dance. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

TRADITION BROKEN: Line dancers and friends Helen Reeson, from Ulladulla, and Margaret Taylor, from Nelson Bay, following the final event in the 2017 Bluewater Country Music Festival - the longest line dance. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

The line dancing events of the annual festival are one of its biggest drawcards, bringing up to 300 people to Port Stephens specifically for the socials, workshops and demonstrations.

Some dancers, particularly a group from Ulladulla, make a week-long trip out of the festival while others from across the Hunter are known to day trip to Port Stephens to be part of it.

The festival was founded and previously organised by Tomaree Business Chamber but in 2019 was coordinated by a band of passionate volunteers with 16 of the Port's venues hosting gigs and events under the Blue Water Country Music Festival Banner.

Despite the festival not going ahead this year, early indications point towards the Port being one of the Hunter's hottest tourist spots for a long weekend getaway.

Since the lifting of the NSW travel ban - following three months of NSW residents being told to stay indoors to help stop the spread of COVID-19 - and gradual rolling back of restrictions, accommodation houses in the Port have reported a steady stream of bookings.

Holiday parks in Port Stephens also reopened on June 1, and more tourism operators across the area have began trading again following a period of shut down.

With restrictions on non-essential travel now lifted and the NSW Government encouraging people to visit the regions and stimulate local economies, the June long weekend is expected to be a busy one for police.

Port Stephens-Hunter Police District commander Chad Gillies.

Port Stephens-Hunter Police District commander Chad Gillies.

Port Stephens-Hunter Police District commander Chad Gillies said officers would be busy enforcing the annual long weekend operation Stay Alert as is usual but would have the added job of ensuring everyone was complying to the latest COVID-19 health guidelines.

"Police have an important role to play in the upcoming June long weekend," Spt Gillies said.

"We are excited that people again get to enjoy the many beautiful areas around Port Stephens but with that comes a shared responsibility in making good decisions on these holidays around alcohol consumption and driving.

"It's about making sure it's a safe and enjoyable long weekend for everyone especially in the context of coming out the other side of COVID-19 with some of these relaxed measures. It's important people remember there's still responsibilities around health and hygiene and social distancing and being across the most current regulations as released by the government.

"Police are here to support local businesses, residents and visitors and will be applying a pragmatic approach to the use of legislation around the public health orders.

"There will be an increased police presence in and around licensed premises to ensure people use these facilities for the first time in quite a while safely and responsibly.

"We'll have a lot of local police out with Highway Patrol on our roads. Not just on our main roads, but some of smaller communities and back roads to ensure that we can try to reduce serious injury and fatal collisions.

"People that are on long journeys to or from our area, I want to stress the importance of taking your time. Plan your trip and take regular breaks to make sure you arrive at your destination safely. What we do know is that these weekends are typically a higher risk for serious injury and fatal collisions because of the increase of traffic volumes on the roads."

Operation Stay Alert will run from midnight on Friday to Monday (June 5 to 8).

Police are urging anyone hitting the road and travelling during the long weekend to adhere to the road rules, monitor their speed, don't use mobile phones while driving and not consume alcohol or drugs before getting behind the wheel.

Double demerits will apply to motorists caught for speeding, seat belt, motorcycle helmet and mobile phone offences.