Australia

Tourists return to bushfire and coronavirus-hit regional NSW towns

Travellers Ann and Norm Bent are making the most of the eased travel restrictions. Source: SBS News: Cassandra Bain

With travel restrictions lifted just in time for the long weekend, bushfire-hit communities in NSW are embracing a much-needed tourism revival.

From bushfires and floods to the coronavirus pandemic, many regional towns in NSW have suffered their worst year on record.

After months of hardship following the devastating blaze which tore through the south coast on New Year’s Eve, tourism operators on Saturday welcomed back visitors in droves.

Ingenia Holidays Lake Conjola manager Krystal Bourke said the park was fully booked this June long weekend.

“The resurgence and the uplift has been amazing, everyone here in Lake Conjola has been in recovery mode,” she told SBS News.

Krystal Bourke says the caravan park is at capacity under COVID-19 rules for the long weekend.
Krystal Bourke says the caravan park is at capacity under COVID-19 rules for the long weekend.

“We are at capacity for the COVID-19 guidelines.”

For some returning families, surveying the burnt landscape brought back painful memories.

“Last time we were here was during the bushfires and we were actually caught here for three days. I got a bit a teary because it was reminiscent of driving out when we finally got out,” traveller Lesley Carter said.

Other visitors said they were just happy to get out of the house after being in coronavirus lockdown.

Locals and visitors to Lake Conjola fled to the beach when bushfires approached on 31 December.
Locals and visitors to Lake Conjola fled to the beach when bushfires approached on 31 December.
Supplied

As cafes and restaurants across the south coast experienced a booming trade on Saturday, Shoalhaven Mayor Amanda Findley said it was important tourists continued to visit the region.

“What we need is that extended time where people choose to come to places like the Shoalhaven, Eurobodalla and Bega over the coming months for their winter holidays,” she said.

But not all businesses were back in operation.

Kotahi Tourism, which runs eco walking tours for groups in Lake Conjola and Fisherman’s Paradise, will not reopen until later this month.

“Given the tight spaces of some of the tracks and the boardwalks, we knew it just wasn’t going to possible to keep that 1.5m distance,” owners Melinda Loe and Hohepa Ruhe said.

Kotahi Tourism owners Hohepa Ruhe and Melinda Loe are holding off on reopening.
Kotahi Tourism owners Hohepa Ruhe and Melinda Loe are holding off on reopening.
SBS News: Cassandra Bain

While the return of travellers helped to lift many people’s spirits, bushfire victims in Conjola Park said there was still a long way to go before life returned to normal.

Kim Harper, her partner, and elderly mother were displaced after their house was severely damaged on New Year's Eve.

She said at least 89 homes in the town were still in the process of being cleared and rebuilt.

“We’ve had that big shock at the beginning of the year and then we’ve all been in isolation because of COVID-19 - it’s taking a big toll on our mental health,” she said.

As president of the Conjola Community Recovery Association, Ms Harper said she is working with the local council to rejuvenate the town.

“We are planning a new park and memorial garden ... and a new jetty that will make it better for people who need to evacuate if there’s a future disaster.”

The group said it is submitting grant applications and hopes to raise about $650,000 for the project.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch