Oprah may visit Byron Bay

THE Byron rumour mill kicked into overdrive yesterday as word leaked that Oprah Winfrey will visit Byron Bay this Friday.

Ms Winfrey’s American guest audience of 300 flew into Sydney amid a shroud of subterfuge yesterday as they begin their eight-day tour across the country ahead of Ms Winfrey, who is expected to fly in by private jet today.

Close friend Olivia Newton-John’s resort, the Gaia resort near Bangalow, is tipped as the most likely destination for the famous talk show queen.

A bemused Gaia manager Leanne Schoen remained coy yesterday.

“If you find out she’s coming, you let me know because I’ll need some warning,” she quipped.

A forward scouting party from Chicago visited the Byron Shire several months ago with representatives from Tourism Australia and Tourism NSW, staying at Gerry Harvey’s Byron at Byron resort to check out likely locations.

In Sydney the scouts also selected five specialty stores that will host the audience members in groups of 20 under strict secrecy this week.

A receptionist at Byron at Byron would not confirm if Ms Winfrey’s audience will be staying there,adding that she was ‘as stumped as you guys’.

The US audience, handpicked from Ms Winfrey’s most loyal viewers, will be split up into three groups touring various locations in NSW over the next couple of days. One group will visit the Blue Mountains, another the Hunter Valley and the third is due in Byron Bay today.

Their Byron itinerary is expected to include a visit to the Byron Farmers’ Market tomorrow morning, plus surfing lessons, kayaking and a rainforest tour.

Local pundits picked Elle Macpherson’s surf instructor, the laconic Rusty Miller, as the likely surf school candidate, but he, like most tour operators, wasn’t giving anything away yesterday.

The talk show queen is wrapping up her 25th and final season with the trip Down Under, where she’ll film two episodes at the Sydney Opera House – renamed the ‘Oprah House’ for the occasion.

A third show will be filmed at a secret outback location.

An exuberant Federal Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson extended a warm welcome to Ms Winfrey’s audience, cast and crew yesterday, praising Ms Winfrey’s choice of Australia for her big finale.

About 12,000 Australians will get to watch the show’s filming live.

“Oprah is a household name, not just in the United States but in the 145 countries where the show is broadcast,” Mr Ferguson said yesterday.

The episodes are due to air in both the United States and Australia in January.

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