Rising from the ashes: A positive sign for tourism?
IT'S been a hell of a time for the Clarence Valley region.
In September, the east coast was put on alert when a fire swept through Shark Creek, threatening homes as far north as Angourie and Wooloweyah. The fire burned through more than 8530 hectares in the Yuraygir National Park and Shark Creek. But this was only a preview of what was to come.
In early November, Nymboida and surrounding communities were devastated by a wildfire that destroyed 85 homes. and tore through 150,000 hectares when it joined up with other nearby blazes.
What quickly followed was the Myall Creek Road and Washpool State Forest fires, both of which are still burning under the control of our firefighters and together have burned over 250,000 hectares.
Communities like Nymboida are still reeling from the devastation two months on while the road leading into Iluka paints an uninviting picture of Mother Nature's fury with acres of blackened trees.,
Tourists could be forgiven for skipping their annual summer holiday trek to some of these Clarence holiday spots.
The camping grounds at Michael's Clarence Valley Retreat in Ashby, for instance, are quiet for the first time in years.
"During the summer holidays we're normally booked out until the Australia Day long weekend, but this time our numbers are definitely down, but I don't blame them," owner-operator Michael Sullivan said.
"I think people are just emotionally exhausted by what's going on around the country."
Mr Sullivan said the Myall Creek Road fire scorched a significant area of his riverside retreat at Ashby but burned itself out once it reached the backyard.
"The breeze coming off the river forced the fire back onto itself, so it was a matter of just stamping some spots out," he said.
"We still lost about half of the camping areas, but the picnic area is untouched."
A similar downturn was felt by Yamba in the aftermath of the Shark Creek fire.
"The fire happened right around the September school holidays and ended up having a bit of a quiet period," marketing manager for Yamba Bowlo Sports and Leisure Blake Wolfe said.
"When I spoke to some people from the Gold Coast they said they weren't sure whether to come down after seeing the fires. There seemed to be this general perception that Yamba had burnt down and it filtered up to Queensland where a lot of our tourists come from."
Fortunately, the tourists have since returned to the beachside town, and the current December-January holiday trade has been excellent according to Mr Wolfe.
"It's very busy in town and our motel is currently booked out, so Yamba's certainly thriving again," he said.
Although some tourist venues are still recovering from the more recent Myall Creek and Liberation Trail bushfires, not all hope is lost. Just like the bush has already begun to regenerate following each blaze, so too will the tourist dollars.
"I'm confident in the next few months everything will go back to normal and we'll see tourists back in the area again," Mr Sullivan said.