The Nelson region's tourism operators are sensing a "sea change" in their industry, with visitor numbers returning to pre-Canterbury earthquake levels, says Nelson Tasman Tourism chief executive Lynda Keene.
"There is a really positive vibe out there," she said.
"Certainly, the last week has been really uplifting. I am receiving comments like, ‘There are enough people for everyone out there'.
"I think it was either the third or fourth [of January], there was no accommodation available in the city.
"There's just a real positive air, that ‘Gosh, we might be on our way back'. The tide has definitely turned."
Mrs Keene said visitor numbers were almost back to where they were four years ago. "It's not quite there, but we are definitely moving in the right direction."
The Nelson iSite has been "really busy", with about 1300 to 1500 visitors a day.
While there was a feeling of optimism across the entire country, Nelson was particularly positive, largely due to the return of a traditionally strong domestic visitor market, Mrs Keene said.
She said the region's campgrounds, which were usually packed with Cantabrians, had been "rocking" and were anticipating a strong end to the season.
Although Nelson has been full up for the peak holiday season, plenty of rooms are available in the coming weeks. With many holidaymakers returning to work today, operators are hoping for more visitors.
For the five nights from December 31 through to last night, all 52 motel complexes in the region, with nearly 800 rooms, were full.
"We were struggling to find accommodation for people," said Motel Association Nelson branch administration officer John Gilbertson. "This has been a busy short season, but going forward there is so much accommodation available."
Last night more than half the motels had vacancies, and this morning there were 260 rooms available in 35 motels tonight.
Mr Gilbertson said it was hard for moteliers to assess forward bookings because of the trend of visitors using online services to make last-minute bookings.
"We're hoping for another wave of visitors from Canterbury, and there are plenty of rooms available."
Tahuna Beach Holiday Park manager Ann Cumpstone said she usually saw two influxes, before and after New Year.
"Because we are so big, we start emptying now. People start leaving yesterday, as they all start back at work [today].
"But there's also the other group that came in yesterday, that don't ever want to be here for Christmas and New Year, that are here for the next two or three weeks."
She said business had been "fairly normal", although she was slightly frustrated by the changeable summer weather.
"At least it's not as windy as last year, and it's not as wet as the year before. And we have had more fine days in between."
Paradiso Backpacker Hostel manager Robin Sandwith said the central Nelson hostel had been swarming with guests all season. "It's been pretty flat out, really busy."
Visitors had been checking in from "all over the world", with German and French tourists well represented, Mr Sandwith said.
Out at Golden Bay's Farewell Spit, Farewell Spit Ecotours owner Paddy Gillooly said business was up slightly from last summer, but overall it was too early to know how the season was going.
Abel Tasman National Park had been at capacity since December 23, meaning about 500 people in huts and campsites, not counting Totaranui, every night, said the Department of Conservation's Nelson visitor centre supervisor, Paul Thornton.
Senior Constable Grant Heney, of Motueka, said behaviour over the height of the season had been "really, really good".
"There's been no major crime trends - no spate of break-ins or burglaries - and no real crowds of idiots that have caused problems. It's been excellent all round."
"There has been a lot of traffic on the road, but everybody's been well behaved, mostly," Mr Heney said. "We've had quote a few complaints about cars overtaking at dangerous spots, but that happens every summer, with people from outside the district not being familiar with the roads and getting a bit frustrated."
The five-day Woollaston Jazz and Blues Nelson Festival, which ended yesterday, entertained a lot of visitors and locals, but organisers found the rain challenging and are looking at the festival format.
"The whole delivery of the festival is under review. The delivery of outdoor events is a huge risk," festival director Liam Ryan said today.
How should the council plug its financial black hole?Related story: Council coffers fall short for rebuild funding