Billed as having the world’s whitest sand, Hyams Beach has long been a favourite with Southern Tablelands farmers seeking a coastal break, along with overseas tourists and millennials in pursuit of the perfect Instagram shot.
But thousands of disgruntled drivers have been turned away at the border of the south coast village over the past fortnight, as traffic controllers informed them it was at capacity and there were “plenty of other good beaches” to choose from.
Shoalhaven Council has taken the extraordinary step as new figures show the number of vehicles queuing to enter the village has soared to record highs.
The council is consulting with residents searching for a permanent solution – including parking meters or a shuttle-bus service – to deal with the beach’s popularity.
“The parking capacity in the Hyams Beach village is around 400 vehicles,” a council spokesperson said. “With traffic counts showing movements of around 4000 to 5000 vehicles per day in the peak holiday period, effective traffic management is essential to ensure the safety of residents and visitors entering and leaving the village.”
The village’s traffic woes date back about five years, when a wildly successful Destination NSW campaign promoted the beach’s “squeaky” white sand to the world.
Traffic bedlam ensued in the village, which has one road in and out, a general store and cafe, and a permanent population of about 110 residents.
Frustrated locals complained their patch had become a “nightmare” and was being “loved to death” by armies of day-trippers arriving with the warm weather.
Narrow streets became jammed with cars and drivers parked illegally in no-stopping zones and across driveways, while rubbish was left strewn across bushland reserves.
Relative order has returned this holiday period, with traffic controllers stationed at the intersection of Booderee Avenue and Naval College Road, turning cars away once the village reaches capacity each morning.
The president of the Hyams Beach Villagers Association, Mark Crowther, said the measures were “working brilliantly” and came as an enormous relief to residents.
“The village is a great place to live again and tourists are having a fantastic experience. If they get in, they get a car spot,” Mr Crowther said. He blamed the chaos on the beach becoming a “social media phenomenon”. But he stressed that with kilometres of pristine coastline in the area, residents were not opposed to visitors coming in and staking their claim to the sand.
“It’s not a people problem, it’s a car problem. We’ve been saying to council some alternative form of access is needed,” Mr Crowther said. Council canvassed several short- and long-term options during community consultation last month.
Proposals included the introduction of parking meters, bus drop-off zones or a carpark at the top of Booderee Avenue, with a shuttle bus or walking track to transport visitors the one-and-a-half kilometres down to the shore. A survey found the most popular option was a car park with a walking track to the beach, while bus zones were met with opposition due to the village’s quiet ambience and narrow streets.
There was a mixed reaction to the paid parking proposal, which was favoured by full-time residents of the village but opposed by ratepayers living in other parts of the Shoalhaven and beyond.
Some residents argued Hyams Beach should be left off marketing material and and other nearby beaches promoted, an approach which appears to have already been adopted by Destination NSW.
Its official website urges people to visit "one of the 15 other equally beautiful and less busy White Sand beaches in Jervis Bay".
Several respondents to the survey complained that day-trippers put a strain on local infrastructure, while contributing little to the local economy.
“Most day-trippers put fuel in their cars and fill theirs eskies before they leave home,” one wrote. Another suggested a permanent boom gate grace the village entrance. “This place has, and continues to be, promoted to death and if the current council response remains incipit the actual death of Hyams Beach is virtually imminent,” one resident wrote.
The council spokesperson said traffic measures were necessary to ensure emergency services could reach the village.
During the Easter long weekend there were reports a traffic controller was punched in the facewhile he worked to ease the gridlock, but the council spokesperson said the road closures this summer had been well received. “Feedback from our traffic control staff has been positive, with visitors appreciating the advice about exploring other locations in the area,” she said.
“Council is also working collaboratively with the Hyams Beach community on developing long-term strategies to improve the amenity and experience of Hyams Beach for both residents and visitors.”
The traffic control will cost the council $150,000 this financial year.
Mr Crowther argued state funding was “badly needed” so the small number of local ratepayers were not slugged with the bill.
“We would like to see something more permanent in place by Christmas 2019,” he said.