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Australian Bushfires: A Down Under Travel Guide

by Travelbag on 31 January 2020, 15:01PM

Record-breaking temperatures and severe drought have caused fires to spread across parts of Australia over the past few months. While it’s not unusual for significant acreage to burn during the hot summer months, the Australian bushfires this year have been unprecedented. Devastatingly, they’ve destroyed more than 2,600 homes and burned over 100,000 square kilometres of land. It’s also estimated that one billion animals may have died, including koalas, kangaroos and wombats.

If you have a holiday to Australia booked, hearing about all this devastation might make you think about cancelling your trip. Or, if you’re still in the planning stages, you might be tempted to opt for another destination instead. But tourism is essential for Australia’s long-term recovery. In 2019, it apparently contributed $44.6 billion to the economy and kept 660,000 people in employment. There’s a danger that the industry will be dramatically affected following the bushfires. But the only way for Australia to get back on its feet is for travellers and holidaymakers to continue to show it the love it deserves. Here’s our guide on where you should go, and how you can help.

Sydney

Visiting Unaffected Areas

Australia’s the sixth-largest country in the world. You could fit the whole of the UK into it almost 32 times. The distance between Sydney – on the east coast – and Perth – on the west – is similar to that between New York and Las Vegas. Or Belfast and Istanbul. So while it may seem like the whole currently is – or has recently been – alight, that’s not actually true. There are plenty of places you can visit that have been untouched by the Australian bushfires.

Queensland

Although there were blazes in the Gold Coast Hinterland early in the season, most of the state hasn’t been impacted by the fires. So you can plan a trip here without worrying. And since Queensland is home to a number of Australia’s most awe-inspiring sights, we recommend that you do. Book a sailing tour around the Whitsundays and discover the unbelievably white sand and impossibly clear water of Whitehaven Beach. Travel to Cairns or Port Douglas and then head out on a boat to the kaleidoscopic Great Barrier Reef. Drive a 4x4 along the beach on Fraser Island – the world’s largest sand island. Learn to surf in the laidback resort town of Noosa. Or hike through a diverse range of flora in the Daintree Rainforest, the oldest tropical rainforest in the world.

Northern Territory

Like Queensland, the Northern Territory has so far remained largely unscathed by this season’s bushfires. Completely different from the rest of the country, the Australian Outback is absolutely somewhere you should add to your holiday bucket list. Travel across vast desert plains from the township of Alice Springs and you’ll reach the Red Centre’s most famous landmark – Uluru. This sandstone monolith is sacred to the Anangu people and a great place to learn about Aboriginal culture. Take a walk around the perimeter at sunrise and marvel at the way the rock changes colour.

Tasmania

Tasmania has had a few bushfires this season – as it does most years – but so far none of them have got out of control. So you can rest easy that it’s currently safe to visit. Often overlooked in favour of other destinations, Australia’s most isolated state is a proper outdoor playground. Lying just across the Bass Strait from Melbourne, it truly excels itself when it comes to natural beauty. Explore its craggy coastline by kayak, or hike across the alpine plateaus of Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. Art fans will love the cutting-edge work on show at MONA, while history buffs shouldn’t miss Port Arthur – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and former penal colony. And if you want to taste some of the best local produce Australia has to offer, make sure you add Bruny Island to your itinerary.

Whitehaven Beach 

Visiting Affected Areas

Blazes have been raging across the country, but it’s Victoria and New South Wales that have been worst hit by the Australian bushfires. There are some key tourist destinations in these states, so here’s what to expect if you visit this part of the country.

Melbourne and Sydney

Australia’s two biggest cities – Sydney and Melbourne – are both found in the southeast corner of the country. This is where the majority of the Australian bushfires have occurred. But, luckily, neither destination has been particularly impacted. No damage has been caused to buildings or parks, but there have been reports of thick fog in both cities. There’s a chance this decline in air quality could cause breathing problems – particularly if you have an existing condition. And even if your health remains unaffected, it might change your experience of certain famous landmarks. Attractions like the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge remain open, but may be shrouded in the haze.

Blue Mountains

This rugged region west of Sydney is a World Heritage Area – and one of NSW’s premier tourist spots. It felt the brunt of the fires, though, with a significant amount of the rainforest burning. The damage here is extensive and experts fear that the diversity of eucalypts, for which the Blue Mountains is famous, could be affected. That said, conditions are easing and all towns in the area are welcoming visitors. And, as of last week, parts of Blue Mountains National Park have now reopened. For up-to-date info on which sections are accessible, check the National Parks website.

Kangaroo Island

South Australia has also been impacted by the Australian bushfires – particularly the tourist hotspot of Kangaroo Island. A true wildlife wonderland, it’s long been a refuge for the country’s rare and endangered animals. Sadly, around a third of the island was decimated by major blazes at the start of January, with significant damage occurring in Flinders Chase National Park. Travelling west of Vivonne Bay isn’t recommended at this stage – so unfortunately you won’t be able to visit iconic landmarks such as the Remarkable Rocks and Admirals Arch – but the eastern part of the island remains unaffected and very much open for business. Here you’ll find incredible beaches, rolling plains, craft breweries, wineries, and plenty of the fascinating wildlife that Kangaroo Island’s known for. You can also visit Seal Bay Conservation Park on the south coast – the only place in the world where you can walk among endangered Australian sea lions.

Blue Mountains

How to Help When You’re There

As we’ve mentioned, tourism is vital to getting Australia back on its feet, so booking a holiday is one of the best ways to help. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do even more once you’re there. If you really want to make a difference, these are a few things to consider.

Volunteer

If you’re going on holiday to Australia you’ll probably want to spend it lazing on the beach, soaking up the sun and taking in the sights. But why not find some time while you’re there to do some volunteer work? Consider donating your time and helping organisations like the Red Cross; BlazeAid, which rebuilds fences and other damaged structures on farms after natural disasters; or a food bank which aims to get food and water to bushfire-hit communities. Do some research before you travel to find out where you can volunteer in the area you’re visiting.

Support local businesses

If visitor numbers do decline, it’ll be small businesses which are hardest hit. Independent shops, restaurants and obviously hotels rely on tourism for a substantial amount of their revenue. And if one business suffers there’s often a knock-on effect – if a restaurant closes, the farm where it bought all its produce is also affected. So when you’re in Australia, do your bit by shopping and eating locally, rather than giving your money to big, international chains.

And, if you’re going to be visiting Australia in a year or so, consider staying in rebuilt accommodation. A number of hotels, like the luxury Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island, have been destroyed by the fires and owners now face the daunting challenge of rebuilding. This will obviously take a lot of time, and a lot of money – and the longer they’re closed, the more business they’ll lose. Bear this in mind when booking your accommodation. If a hotel that’s been affected by the bushfires has reopened its doors by the time you go, consider staying there for at least part of your holiday.

Visit attractions dedicated to conservation

If you’re concerned about the effect the Australian bushfires have had on the country’s environment and wildlife, you can do your bit by carefully selecting the attractions you visit. At certain places, entrance fees and donations are currently going towards invaluable conservation programmes. And other attractions are doing their bit directly. The Wildlife Hospital at the world-famous Australia Zoo is helping to treat hurt and injured animals, while at Perth Zoo proceeds from animal encounters and photo ops are donated to the emergency wildlife appeal. Likewise, the Taronga Conservation Society has been providing emergency shelter, medical care and rehabilitation for an unprecedented number of displaced creatures, including grey-headed flying foxes, platypus, and koalas. And Saffire Freycinet in Tasmania (ok, technically a hotel, not an attraction, but still) will be donating $500 from a hundred of its bookings to the Nature Foundation SA’s new fundraising appeal.

For the most part, travel to Australia remains perfectly safe – and it’s the best way you can help the country. But if you do have any concerns, feel free to give our experts a call on 020 3468 7316. And when you’re there, be sure to monitor local news for up to date information and always follow the instructions of local authorities.

Koala 

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