5 December 2021

Merimbula throws out the welcome mat for curious sea changers

| Katrina Condie
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merimbula air services. Photo Carlos Garcia

Merimbula Air Services will be one of many local organisations on show at the Merimbula Sea Change Expo in January. Photo: Carlos Garcia.

Have you ever been on holiday and stared longingly at your dream home in the local real estate office, wondering what it’s really like to live in such an amazing place?

Well, one town on the NSW Sapphire Coast is taking steps to reveal itself to potential new residents with businesses, community groups, schools and even the local residents jumping on board.

The Merimbula Seachange Expo is a unique marketing concept devised by the town’s Chamber of Commerce president Nigel Ayling, who moved to the coastal village 17 years ago and hasn’t looked back.

The event will showcase everything Merimbula has to offer new residents on the weekend of 21-23 January 2022, with an expo on Saturday featuring exhibitors ranging from builders, aged care organisations and health facilities, to schools, sporting teams and community groups.

On Sunday, the town will open its doors and potential sea changers can check out what’s on offer by visiting the local breweries, eateries, galleries and trying one of the recreational pursuits such as bushwalking, kayaking or a fitness class.

Mr Ayling says it can be difficult for sea changers to make the big move from the city to a coastal town and the expo is designed to be a one-stop-shop so they can see what it’s really like to live on the Sapphire Coast.

“We’re trying to deliver that local experience – the things that locals like to do, like going down to the Pambula Surf Club and talking to the Nippers, or meeting the locals down at Merimbula Wharf, having a coffee and chatting to them about what’s on offer,” he said.

“We’re not talking about the tourism stuff – although the locals are lucky to be able to enjoy those things all year ’round – it’s about giving people a taste of what it’s really like to live in one of the best places in the world.”

Visitors will have an opportunity to taste produce at the local breweries and restaurants.

Visitors will have an opportunity to taste produce at the local breweries and restaurants. Photo: Merimbula Chamber of Commerce.

Mr Ayling said that since the COVID lockdowns, more people have realised they can escape the city to regional areas and take their work with them.

“People can sell their shoebox-sized home in Sydney and buy something twice the size down here, on a big block near the beach,” he said.

“They can work remotely or travel three hours back to the office in Canberra once a week.

“The great thing about Merimbula is the airport which, pre-COVID, offered daily flights to Sydney and Melbourne, so even though we’re remote from the capital cities, we’re still very accessible.”

He says the reality is, people can move to Merimbula from the city, have nature at their back door and be financially better off.

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With a population of around 30,000, the Bega Valley Shire boasts a new hospital, a Wollongong University campus and a selection of public and private schools.

There’s no Westfield shopping centres, but there’s everything sea changers could want, from trendy coffee shops and cafes, to award-winning restaurants, boutique clothing and homewares stores and loads of community events.

“We’ve got most facilities that people want,” Mr Ayling said.

“I know so many people that were hesitant about making a sea change, but now they rave about it.”

He says the chamber is looking to attract more permanent residents to Merimbula to secure the region’s economy.

“Over the last two years, with bushfires and then COVID lockdowns, we’ve seen how volatile the tourism industry is and how much our businesses have struggled,” he said.

“If we have 10,000 more people living here full-time, and spending money throughout the year, the town will be much better off.”

Local sporting groups and community organisations will open their doors during the expo, so visitors can meet the locals.

Local sporting groups and community organisations will open their doors during the expo, so visitors can meet the locals. Photo: Merimbula Water Dragons.

During the expo, guests will be treated to guided walks of the area, sample the local seafood, including fresh oysters shucked straight from the lake, and have an opportunity to meet the locals and find out what they like doing,

The event will be held at the tail-end of the school holidays for NSW, Victoria and the ACT and at a great time of year with warm weather, warm water and plenty of activities.

Club Sapphire will host a welcome dinner on the Friday night ahead of Saturday’s expo, also at Club Sapphire, and Sunday’s local tours and experiences.

The Merimbula Seachange Expo is not ticketed, although accommodation options are filling up fast and is open to anyone considering moving to the Sapphire Coast including families, retirees, business owners.

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