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East Gippsland: 12 Months on from the Black Summer

December 4, 2020 Oceania News No Comments

The 2019-2020 bushfires burned through more than 320,000 hectares of East Gippsland over a period of 91 days, resulting in the loss of more than 400 homes. More than 30,000 visitors were evacuated from holiday villages in East Gippsland as the fire front approached in the final days of December 2019. Emergency crews worked tirelessly to fight the fire, but the resulting damage left the Princes Highway closed for four weeks during the region’s peak tourist season.

Visitors rallied behind campaigns such as #emptyesky and #roadtripforgood in the weeks that followed the fires, returning to bushfire affected towns in droves to stay in accommodation, book tours and eat out in local restaurants. Local businesses were buoyed by such an outpouring of support and hopeful that a strong shoulder season may see them through, until Covid-19 restrictions unfortunately put a stop to the tourism recovery.

This Summer will be different to any other we have experienced, with International borders closed for the foreseeable future Australians are being encouraged to explore their own backyard and #holidayherethisyear – and communities of East Gippsland are welcoming visitors with open arms.

Bush regeneration:

Bushfires are nothing new in Australia and our native plants have learned to adapt, and even thrive, post-bushfire. Already East Gippsland’s blackened bush is filled with explosions of new shoots from tree ferns and large grass trees, along with plenty of epicormic regrowth – abundant new leaves sprouting from the trunks of eucalypts.

In fact, some Australian plant species need fire to flourish. The thick cones of Australian Banksias protect their seeds during a fire, the heat of the fire then triggers the ‘open mouths’ of the seed chamber on the woody cone to release seeds for new growth. Similarly, bush-peas and wattles have hard-coated, soil-stored seeds that are cracked by fire, and now the rain that followed the bushfires has created a mass germination of wattles and peas.

Open for business:

The peaceful, isolated coastal community of Mallacoota hit the world stage during the bushfires, as over 4000 people sheltered on the beach as the fire approached and over 100 homes were lost in the town. In the months that followed the Mallacoota community demonstrated their resilience – the local Lions Club rebuilt access stairs at Bastion Point within weeks, the wildlife shelter cared for sick and injured animals, and the community rallied to manage donations that came in and support those in need.

Twelve months on, much of the stunning Croajingolong National Park surrounding Mallacoota is still recovering, however the bustling township, expansive lakes systems and pristine beaches are readily awaiting the return of visitors. Mallacoota’s ever-popular caravan parks are open, putt-putt boats and kayaks are being rented out to families and the historic MV Loch-Ard is once again operating sightseeing cruises of the lakes, only now there is a far greater story of survival to tell.

The Gippsland Lakes, Australia’s largest inland lakes system, escaped unscathed by the bushfires, however the downturn in visitor numbers impacted on local businesses. The popular coastal holiday villages of Lakes Entrance, Metung, Paynesville and Lake Tyers are eagerly awaiting visitors to swim at the 90 Mile Beach, or kayak, SUP and enjoy a boat cruise of the spectacular Gippsland Lakes.

The small town of Buchan was heavily impacted by the bushfires, with several homes lost, however the community was relieved to hear that there was no damage caused to their key attraction – the Buchan Caves. This underground wonderland of 400-million year old limestone caves and pools has been declared safe by Parks Victoria, however they are currently closed due to Covid-19 restrictions on underground attractions.

The fires burned within 10km of the little-known seaside gem of Marlo, while the nearby Cape Conran Coastal Park was impacted the town of Marlo was unscathed and is welcoming visitors to dine on the iconic deck of the Marlo Hotel overlooking the estuary, hire a SUP and get out on the water.

Neil & Lois Triggs of the Bullant Brewery in Bruthen lost their cottage accommodation when the fires reached the edge of town, however they have powered on this year serving up refreshing craft beer and hearty meals to a community who are working to rebuild. Bruthen is gearing up for a busy Summer ahead – the town is the ideal stop-over for cyclists keen to ride the extensive East Gippsland Rail Trail, or road-trippers seeking an epic country drive winding their way up to the Great Alpine Road.

Parks and reserves:

In the 12 months since the bushfires, there has been significant work undertaken to restore public infrastructure in East Gippsland’s popular National Parks and reserves in readiness for a busy Summer season, some key sites include:

Cape Conran Coastal Park was severely impacted by bushfires in January 2020, with much of the coastal bush burnt right down to the beach. Campsites at Banksia Bluff are now more open, yet they are no longer nestled within dense bush. The popular family swimming beach at East Cape and the surfing mecca of West Cape are both accessible, and the iconic Yeerung Beach Access stairs have been restored.

The layout of the campground will be the same, however there are fire affected trees and campsites will be more open, as they are no longer nestled within dense bush. With the removal of hazardous tress and understory damaged by the fire, tree cover will be minimal. With less vegetation, ocean views may be more prominent.

Croajingolong National Park is one of Australia’s most ecologically significant destinations. The park has been listed by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve and is home to 70 native wildflower, 52 mammal and 250 bird species. Unfortunately, Croajingolong National Park was heavily impacted by the bushfires and much of the park, including The Wilderness Coast Walk, remains closed. However, there are positive signs of regeneration in the bush and several lakeside picnic areas that are open on Mallacoota’s lakes system.

CLOSED:

Thurra River/Mueller campground – closed
Wilderness Coast Walk – Croajingolong
Cann River Bushland Reserve
Genoa Peak Walk/Genoa Falls

Bushfire recovery work is ongoing and we expect more popular sites to reopen before Summer, for the most up to date information please see the Parks Victoria website: https://www.parks.vic.gov.au/get-into-nature/safety-in-nature/fire-affected-parks

To plan your trip to Gippsland see https://www.visitgippsland.com.au

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