By ANN-MARIE MAY
THE days of Coffs Coast residents and passing tourists having to travel to the Gold Coast for a day of wet and wild fun will soon be over, with a $6 million water park attraction planned as part of the Big Banana redevelopment.
The joint venture between The Village Building Co and the Rubie family, formed to expand and revitalise the iconic attraction, yesterday made the announcement that it would move forward with the planning and design of the water park, an associated tourist village, and on-site tourist accommodation.
Construction of the water park is expected to begin in early September, and will include several body flumes, a six-lane aqua racer, a lazy river tube ride, an aqua play area for younger children, and other facilities.
The aim is to have the park fully open by spring or summer 2008, but in the meantime a temporary three-storey high inflatable hippo beach slide will be installed at the Big Banana in time for the upcoming Christmas school holidays.
Complementing the water park will be a tourist village precinct linking the existing Big Banana attractions with the proposed park.
Planning is also under way for tourist accommodation to turn the Big Banana into a destination for family holidays, not just a stop-over for tourists on the way somewhere else.
Not even trying to contain his excitement, mayor of Coffs Harbour, Cr Keith Rhoades, said the void left by the closure of the Aquajet would finally be filled.
"This is fantastic news for the city, exactly what it needs," Cr Rhoades said.
"Coffs Harbour will greatly benefit from this addition, enhancing what we have already got.
"Along with providing somewhere to go for locals, it will help cement Coffs Harbour as a major tourist destination.
"This will directly benefit local business and help generate additional jobs for the local community."
The CEO of the Village Building Co, Bob Winnel, said he had great confidence in the future of Coffs Harbour and its continued growth as both a tourist destination and a desirable place to live.
"The water park is just part of a major revitalisation of the Big Banana, with more than $50 million to be spent on the total development over five to seven years," Mr Winnel said.
"We made a commitment to Kevin Ruby that we wouldn't simply turn the Big Banana into a housing development. He wanted to see the Big Banana re-born.
"This (the water park) will go a long way to the survival of Coffs Harbour's best known tourist attraction."