Bay of Plenty businesses are ready to welcome both domestic and international visitors with open arms this weekend, with reports Australians are already holidaying in the region.
Australians were able to start visiting from Wednesday this week, and some Bay of Plenty businesses say they are already booking Easter activities.
Destination Rotorua data shows Rotorua holiday homes are 96 per cent booked while Booking.com has revealed Rotorua is ranked third in its list of most-searched domestic destinations behind Queenstown and Taupō. Tauranga also made the list at number 10.
Todd Lacey, New Zealand area manager for Booking.com, said travellers heading to these destinations over Easter were mainly couples looking for a short trip away, followed by families or small groups.
"Taupō and Rotorua are popular as quick getaway drive destinations on Booking.com for those based in Auckland and Wellington and always feature high on the list for long weekends because of this."
Aucklanders were particularly keen on making the most of the autumn sun, heading to Tauranga and the Mount for one last taste of the beach, he said.
Secret Spot Hot Tubs Rotorua co-owner Keith Kolver was "quietly optimistic" about a busy weekend.
"I think it's on the cards to be a good one."
The business opened only a few months before the pandemic began, but he said it had been able to grow during that time. He said Easter was always a busy weekend and said it was a step in the right direction with the border open to Australians from this week.
"We're expecting everyone to hit the trails then drop in for a beer and hot tub."
There would be live music on Saturday afternoon and their new kitchen was planned to be ready for the weekend.
Hell's Gate general manager Paul Rayner said even though New Zealanders booked last minute, numbers were looking good.
"I can see already, we're seeing some Australian numbers which is really great to see."
Australia was its biggest market in 2019, so he was "stoked" to see that market return.
"It's not going to get us back in the black but it's a positive sign. Among the fog is a glowing light at the moment."
He said they were expecting a big weekend.
Blue Lake Top 10 Holiday Park co-owner Kelsi Hira said it had been fully booked for Easter weekend since early March.
She said previous visitors rebooked well in advance.
While most were from New Zealand, she said they were getting phone calls from Australia as soon as the Government announced its plans to open the border to them.
Prince's Gate Hotel acting general manager Seng Ang said it was fully booked over the long weekend.
"It's really good, we're hoping to host a lot of people."
They had been offering reduced rates with about a 20 per cent discount. Ang said the start of the school holidays combined with the long Easter weekend meant numbers were up.
There were also bookings "streaming in" from Australia.
"It's definitely creating an impact... we can't wait for all the hotels to be full again."
Rotorua president for the Restaurant Association of New Zealand, Sharon Wallace, said there was "excitement and anticipation" in Rotorua ahead of Easter.
"We need to get them here first of course, but there is definitely a feeling of positivity and I think there is a lot more confidence that our Australian visitors will return.
"We can't wait to welcome our international visitors back to Rotorua, we definitely need them."
Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Rebecca Ingram said New Zealand tourism operators were ready to welcome back Australian visitors with open arms.
"This is an exciting day for tourism businesses around the motu as they step back onto the front foot, setting their sights on a successful ski season, then summer 2022-23.
"The industry is reporting forward bookings are gaining momentum, and there's definitely a more positive feeling about the future and the opportunities to rebuild businesses."
Rotorua Business Chamber chief executive Bryce Heard said the chamber and Rotorua Economic Development had organised a "back to business" party at Eat Streat tonight.
"There is some real optimism around the hospitality sector for the first time in a very long while about the forthcoming Easter Holiday weekend. Several reports of full or near full bookings makes a pleasant change.
"People are ready to put the pandemic behind us and get on with life and living. The move to orange is positive and long may it last."
Rotorua Economic Development was approached for comment.
Booking.com's Top 10 Easter Hotspots
- Hanmer Springs
Seven things to do this weekend in the Bay of Plenty
Head to the netball
The Splice Construction Magic take on theTe Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse live in Energy Events Centre as round six of the ANZ Premiership kicks off at the Energy Events Centre on Queens Drive in Rotorua on Monday at 7.15pm. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster.
Both TWS Paradise Valley Speedway and Baypark Speedway are bringing all the action this weekend. Baypark has its final meeting on Saturday, The Oval at the Bay 20th Anniversary, which will close with a fireworks extravaganza. Gates open at 5pm, engines roar 6.30pm. Tickets at eventfinda.co.nz. In Rotorua, races run on both Saturday and Sunday with the Hickey Contractors Easter Meeting and Advance Steel Engineering Demolition Derby. Gate sales only. For more info visit rotoruaspeedway.co.nz.
The Echo Walking Festival is on until April 24 in Katikati and Waihī Beach. Visit the website to see what is scheduled.
To celebrate reopening Nga Hoa Tautoko Friends of the Rotorua Library is opening the boxes and having a book giveaway from 9am to 1pm at Kuirau Park on Saturday.
Easter is the last break we have before winter sets in and if you aren't going away, it's a good time to fix things around the house that you've been putting off.
Start the long weekend tonight at the Rotorua Thursday Night Market. This weekend there is also the Katikati Artisan Craft Market at Chrome Cafe from 9am to 1pm Saturday and more.
Katikati's NZ Mural Contest starts on Easter Monday and features nine artists painting in the theatre at the Arts Junction.