Many of the island’s iconic sites had been impacted by the fires including infrastructure at Remarkable Rocks, the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail and Kelly Hills Caves. A commitment was made to not only rebuild, but to reimagine the visitor experience.
In fire-affected areas, the focus has been on:
- Resurfacing the road to the Cape Borda Lightstation which overlooks Investigator Strait
- Upgrading Cape Du Couedic Road to improve the trip to Remarkable Rocks
- Improved visitor facilities, including toilets, a boardwalk and signs, to Remarkable Rocks – the most visited attraction on the island
- Rebuilding two heritage-listed cottages, May’s and Postman’s cottages, so that they can again be used as tourist accommodation
- Recreating the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail
- Rebuilding eight campgrounds throughout the Flinders Chase National Park
- Reconstruction of Platypus Waterholes Loop walk aimed at giving visitors an increased opportunity to see the elusive animals
- Creation of a new Flinders Chase Visitor Centre
- Recreating day-visitor facilities at Kelly Hill Caves with the help of an internationally experienced cave tour designer.
NPWS Tourism and Economic Development Director Jo Podoliak said that following the fires her team recognised there was an opportunity borne from the adversity of the bushfires to reimagine what the visitor experience looked like on Kangaroo Island before rebuilding.
“This was based on the experience of the ACT who ran their own process to “build back better” after the Canberra bushfires in 2003,” she said. “As a result, the team managed an extensive community engagement process to seek community and stakeholder inputs to reimagine key locations on the Island. “We knew we had a unique opportunity to think about how we use, manage and offer experiences to visitors to parks on Kangaroo Island.”
Ms Podoliak said the work with the community was not just about rebuilding visitor facilities but also creating the broader visitor experience.
“But we wanted to know whether a more compelling and unique nature-based tourism experience could be created to build visitor interest and demand,” she said. “We knew that Island residents, tourism operators and previous visitors to the parks all had great ideas on how the parks could be used. Using this feedback as our anchor, we have developed a Visitor Experience Strategy for the Island to inform the design and delivery of exceptional visitor experiences within Kangaroo Island parks.”
As part of this broader plan to help rebuild the island, major upgrades have been underway on other parks of the island that were not effected by the fires.
At Antechamber Bay, in Lashmar Conservation Park, two campgrounds have been upgraded, new accessible toilet facilities have been constructed, and a new bridge has been built across the Chapman River to give visitors better access to facilities on either side.
At Murray Lagoon in Cape Gantheaume Conservation Park and Wilderness Protection Area, seven large camp sites and new facilities including toilets, shelters and campfire pits have been built to accommodate visitors in tents, camper trailers and caravans, as well as a purpose-built group camping area being created to service large school groups.
In the same region six new large campsites are available at D’Estrees Bay, including the new Tea Trees campground which offers a premium camping experience with ocean views and magnificent access to the bay.
At Cape Willoughby, the oldest lighthouse in South Australia, is set to become the next upgraded tourism destination on the island, with work commencing on the redesign and roll out of a new visitor precinct. The redesign will include upgrades to heritage accommodation and day visitor facilities, a café and visitor centre, new walking trails and a spectacular cantilever viewing platform overlooking ‘Devil’s Kitchen’.
The NPWS has also been listening to the community about how to manage bush fire risks in the future. A set of park management plans have been released that have given residents of the island another opportunity to discuss what the future looks like.
Mr Williams said the past two years has been difficult but the NPWS is committed to working with the community to help rebuild the island.
“Many staff had suffered significant loss and experienced extraordinary trauma,” he said. “The staff have been tremendous, some of the staff at and near Flinders Chase lost houses and they were involved in fighting the fire. To their credit they have been incredible in how they have pitched in and helped rebuild on the island whilst dealing with those circumstances of personal trauma and a significant event like that."
"There is still a long way to go, and we need to continue to support them but they have been fantastic and you could do nothing but commend them on their efforts to pitch in and help the place rise from the ashes.”