New Year's Day 'chaos' at popular Aussie beach as new rule comes into effect

Drivers at Goolwa Beach were left at a standstill in both directions during busy scenes on the first day of 2024.

Excited holidaymakers trying to get onto one of the country's most renowned beaches packed the roads on New Year's Day, leading to major traffic jams as Aussies sought to enjoy a favourite pastime that has come under increased scrutiny in recent years.

Goolwa Beach, in South Australia, is one of the busiest beaches in the state and a favourite of 4WD enthusiasts who are able to take their vehicles on the sand. But there were "chaotic" scenes on Monday which put a handbrake on the fun for hundreds of beachgoers.

According to 7News, a minor collision on the access road was to blame, causing a standstill both on the sand and along the main road entering the beach. The "huge backlog" sparked concerns the high traffic load would soften the sand and lead to some vehicles getting bogged. As a result heavy machinery was brought in to shift and pack down sand as cars sat idle.

Traffic jam seen at Goolwa Beach on the sand and on Beach Road.
A collision on the sand and strong winds were said to be responsible for the standstill. Source: Facebook/7News

On a dedicated Facebook page for four-wheel drivers on the beach, many people who were stuck in the unusual traffic jam expressed their frustration – with some taking aim at bad drivers while others called for better infrastructure at the popular spot.

"I was there...waiting... that loader did nothing but fill in the good ruts with soft sand, pretty silly. Some drivers should learn how to steer out of a rut before they have a head-on (collision)," one person wrote.

"We were stuck on the beach for over two hours with two little children waiting for it to be cleared & it was chaos," another complained.

Others thought the council should do more work to prepare the popular site and manage traffic on such busy days.

"Yes I was at the start of that line and I feel more prepared work by councils before a busy weekend would certainly reduce the issues and maybe some traffic control on days like today would certainly help, as I also had a near miss with an oncoming 4x4," one driver said.

An aerial view of cars pictured lined up along Goolwa Beach in South Australia.
Goolwa Beach has long been a favourite of four-wheel drivers. Source: Facebook

New rule for drivers at popular beach

The busy scenes came just weeks after a new rule came into force following irresponsible four-wheel driving at Goolwa Beach on Christmas Day in 2022 which left sand dunes severely damaged. In the wake of the incident local mayor Keith Parks lamented that it would take "years" for the beach to recover.

Partly as a result, new speed limit rules for beaches have been introduced across the state with a default 40km/h limit for drivers on the sand, and a 25km/h limit when travelling within 50 metres of a person. Previously a 100km/h speed limit applied on beaches.

"Goolwa Beach is still recovering from the damage inflicted by irresponsible 4WD activities in the sensitive dune areas over the 2022 Christmas period," Alexandrina Mayor Keith Parkes told Yahoo News Australia last month.

"We want the community and visitors to enjoy the area, but people need to take care, stick to the new speed limits and stay off the sensitive dune areas."

The new rule came into effect on December 1, 2023, with drivers facing demerit points and fines for doing the wrong thing.

"Beaches present a unique driving environment that is very different and less predictable to driving on the road," the South Australian government says on its website explaining the change. "A reduction in the speed limit is a viable way to improve beach safety."

Over five years to 2021, there were 29 reported crashes on South Australian beaches resulting in the loss of one life and 28 injuries.

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