While the repercussions will have an impact for years to come, affected regions are slowly picking up the pieces and getting back on the road to normality. As the first green shoots burst through the blackened landscapes, a new dawn emerges – and with it a renewed sense of positivity and community.
In celebration of everything this beautiful country has to offer, we spoke with three regional property managers about why there’s no better time to discover Australia.
“With the recent rains, the resort is now seeing incredible natural regeneration of the landscape and the native wildlife roam abundantly,” says Tim Stanhope from Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley.
“In December 2019, it became clear that the Gospers Mountain bushfire was heading towards Wolgan Valley,” recalls Tim. “The safety of our guests and colleagues is always our top priority, so the resort immediately activated the bushfire management plan, pausing all guest arrivals to the resort.”
The team collaborated closely with the NSW Rural Fire Service, who worked tirelessly to protect the resort and the wider Wolgan Valley area. The fire passed – while there was some scarring to the surrounding bushland and National Parks, thankfully, resort structures remained unaffected.
“With the recent rains, the resort is now seeing incredible natural regeneration of the landscape and the native wildlife roam abundantly,” says Tim. “Many areas of bushland remain untouched, which is a true blessing for wildlife biodiversity.”
“Travellers now have a rare opportunity to observe firsthand the resilience and extraordinary transformation of the Australian landscape,” he says. Tourism is extremely important within the local community and the wider Greater Blue Mountains region.
“The region is filled with awe-inspiring natural wonders, rich history and culture and award-winning culinary experiences. Visitors to the region still have the incredible opportunity to experience these beautiful areas, learn local secrets and listen to stories when they visit,” Tim says.
“We’re going to come back bigger, better and more beautiful than ever,” says Rupert Sakora from Bannisters by the Sea in Mollymook, NSW.
“We were in a state of emergency from November onwards when the fires started,” explains Rupert. “Some fires were just a five-minute drive from the hotel. Even when the fires weren’t on the doorstep, everyone was ready for them to hit, with a bag packed in the back of the car should they need to leave.”
What should have been the busiest and most prosperous weeks of the year for this coastal property turned into some of its worst, with the hotel going from 100% occupancy on New Years’ Eve to nil in the following days.
However, as one of the largest employers in the area with 150 staff (and up to 180 during peak season), the property took its social responsibility seriously and continued to pay staff to work.
“The effects on the community would be pretty powerful if the business didn’t continue the employment of its staff. If people stop spending in the area and people can’t go to work, they can’t pay their rent.”
It’s this sense of community that has united locals and provided the building blocks for the regeneration of this beautiful area. On a recent drive to Canberra, Rupert marvelled at the emerging native grasses and green shoots appearing on scorched back trees, “alive with colour.” He recalls a conversation with Noel Butler, a Budawang Elder of the Yuin Nation South Coast NSW, around traditional Aboriginal land management practises.
“Noel explained how cleansing the earth with fires actually activates the natural seed bank in the earth. Heat cracks the hard seed capsules, the smoke triggers germination and new life bursts through, as evidenced by the almost immediate sprouting of buds on more than 600 varieties of eucalyptus alone. Nature’s an amazing thing.”
For Rupert, there’s still nowhere more incredible to holiday than Mollymook.
“I don’t think anywhere in the world has clearer waters because of the currents. We’re surrounded by beautiful bushland and just a short walk from the beach. Australia’s an incredible place. We have amazing coastline with pristine waters, expanses of blue sky, friendly people, amazing wildlife…”
“We’re looking forward to those peak times when the restaurants and bars are full; there’s a sense of hope. We’ve all got through it and supported each other. We’re going to come back bigger, better and more beautiful than ever.”
“After seeing the media coverage, people are surprised that not everything is burnt. There are still large amounts untouched and so much to see and do,” says Raphael Guillien from the Escarpment Group.
As Group Hotel Operations Manager for the Escarpment Group, which operates five properties – Parklands, Echoes Hotel, Hydro Majestic and Lilanfels in the Blue Mountains and Convent in the Hunter Valley, NSW – Raphael Guillien watched the bushfire events unfold with trepidation, maintaining a constant dialogue with staff, firefighters and local business owners throughout.
“The smoke got very close to some hotels and we had views of the fires,” he says. “While we weren’t directly affected, we did have to evacuate one hotel as a precautionary measure. We were able to relocate guests and distribute staff between the properties.”
The fires, surrounding road closures and global media coverage led to a sudden drop in visitation to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains region, once one of the most popular weekend escapes from Sydney.
However, the recent rains have played a part not only in quelling the fires and contributing to the regeneration of the landscape, but instilling a sense of hope that normality is on the horizon.
“A page is turning and people are feeling that it is safe to visit again,” he says.
Raphael is keen for potential visitors to understand that the Blue Mountains landscape is not completely burned and barren.
“The area around our property Parklands remains completely untouched. There are beautiful walks: Grand Canyon is one of the best, not too difficult and a 5km loop with plenty of wildlife. It’s quite a special place.”
For Raphael, the Blue Mountains is not only a place to work but an incredibly special place to live.
“I’ve lived and worked in 16 different countries so I’ve got a bit of experience,” he laughs. “And I can say, Australia is just the best. The scenery, the way people approach life, the large open spaces… in the Blue Mountains, you can be in the middle of nature but still have access to quality services nearby.”
Since the bushfires, there has been an outpouring of support and donations to bushfire causes both nationally and across the globe. Many who were not on the front line looked for ways to contribute in a more proactive way.
In Mollymook, a local company was donating tyres to those whose cars were scorched during the rescue efforts and the social media initiative #spendwiththem was instigated by local Turia Pitt.
Visiting bushfire-affected communities is one of the best ways you can help with ongoing recovery. The sooner tourism returns to the regions, the sooner businesses can recover and communities can get back to normal.
“Travellers can get out of the hotel, have a coffee in a local café, talk to the locals and ask their story – it all helps,” explains Rupert from Mollymook. “Every time the community learns someone’s come to visit and help, it’s an amazing feeling.”
Raphael agrees that the smallest of gestures to communities in the Blue Mountains will make a difference – and suggests that asking locals and business owners for recommendations on the best places to go will afford some gold nuggets of information.
“Travellers should just continue to do exactly what they’d usually do on holiday: enjoy their time, spend money in the local community having sandwiches and coffees, use local tour operators,” he says. “By spending their time in affected areas, they will help.”
At One&Only Wolgan Valley, well-wishing guests will also have the opportunity to participate in the resort’s meaningful conservation work. Over the past ten years, the resort has built a seedbank of more than one million seeds representing 25 native species, which is now playing a vital role in repopulating areas of damage. Guests are invited to contribute to the regeneration efforts by collecting fallen timber, organic matter and branches, using them to re-establish habitats that are vital for insects, reptiles and small marsupials.
Our Australia Collection: Following the recent bushfires, now more than ever is the time to see Australia and discover the incredible places, sights and cities in our own backyard. Witness the regeneration of these regional areas, now ready to welcome guests back in luxury.
Click here to discover more.
Thank you to Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley for supplying imagery of its regeneration program.
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