One Riverina tourism leader says the region is “coming of age”, turning into the ultimate holiday destination.
Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory owner Neil Druce said the popular venue attracted more than 1000 visitors every day of the Easter long weekend.
Two treasure hunts inspired delight from more than 500 children on Sunday morning as chocolate filled hands, baskets and mouths.
One mother, Emma Clark, described the sight as “Thunderdome for kids”, filming a loud chorus of delighted squeals and laughter.
Mr Druce said numbers were increasing year-on-year, but he marvelled at a 20-per-cent jump in families passing through for Easter.
It was great ... it was like Thunderdome for kids.
“I think people in the cities are starting to see the Riverina as the place to be,” Mr Druce said.
“There’s lots to do all around the region.”
Although the factory had a presence at the Royal Easter Show, Mr Druce said festivities were more alive in Junee.
“It’s dead up there,” Mr Druce said.
“People in Sydney and Melbourne are realising the benefits of what we’ve got here.”
Mr Druce said the Riverina was at the “tipping point” and preparing to be the perfect inland destination, it only needed more venues to open.
“Places are realising you can’t just shut up on Easter,” he said. “People want to get out and do things … so you make it work.”
While some families gathered to enjoy a day of family fun with excessive amounts of chocolate, others celebrated the “message of Easter”.
Wagga churches took the opportunity to light the paschal candle as the city came to life for the Illuminate festival.
St John’s Anglican Church launched its Easter Eve family celebration service on Saturday night, following the annual Easter Vigil Mass at Saint Michael's Cathedral.
St John's archdeacon David Ruthven said despite the terrible things that were happening in the world, there was “new life”, filling each day with hope, faith and love to “triumph over despair and brokenness”.
Venerable Ruthven said chocolate and holidays were a great part of Easter but the real message was often lost in commercialisation.
He said even though the world was multi-ethnic and religious, it was important to remember the heritage of the holiday.
“It makes me sad,” Ven Ruthven said. “There would be no Easter without religion.”