'We are one big Remarkable Rock' - how Kangaroo Island tourism will survive bushfire

Kangaroo Island tourism operators are grappling with the unfolding bushfire situation but are already looking at what the next stage will be.

Despite the fire still being active on the western end of the Island and many local farming families mourning the loss of their houses and in some cases their entire operations, the message has been going out through the crises that the Island is still open for business.

There is a call for everyone on the Island, locals and visitors, to conserve water while damaged infrastructure can be repaired, and there has already been a drop in demand as people heed advice.

Unaffected south coast tourism businesses on Monday, January 6 began reopening, including National Park's Seal Bay Seal Bay, Kangaroo Island Outdoor Action, Little Sahara and Raptor Domain - Kangaroo Island Birds of Prey.

Other businesses such as Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Oil distillery, and also at Pennshaw and Kingscote on the Dudley Peninsula, such as the new False Cape Winery cellar door, are totally unaffected by fire, are also open and keen for visitors to come through the door.

The businesses will need the support of Australian and all international visitors in the weeks, months and years ahead.

One tour guide

Among the many on the Island reliant on tourism is tour guide Luca Lovison, who operates his own small businesses - Kangaroo Island Hire a Guide & Nocturnal Tours and Kangaroo Island Adventure Bike Riders.

He is also a former interpretative officer at Department of Environment and Natural Resources and a former senior tour guide at Kangaroo Island Odysseys.

He also served on the Kingscote CFS bridgade for many years and recalls cutting the padlock to get into the Seal Bay visitor centre to help save it from the big 2007 KI bushfires.

This time around, after pitching in with the immediate bushfire relief efforts in Kingscote like so many other locals, he was feeling down and contemplating his future on Sunday, January 5.

Then among dealing with numerous cancellations, with some being less than graceful, he came across one particular family from the East Coast of the United States, who was determined to visit.

He warned them of the current situation, but given his background and experience, they decided together the day trip would go ahead.

"I wouldn't have taken them anywhere unsafe and they trusted me," he said.

They had a great time visiting locations such as Pelican Lagoon, Emu Bay, North Cape and American River before heading back to the airport.

They even saw a koala at their lunch spot and never saw any fire damage or even smoke.

"The bottom line is there is much more to this Island than just Flinders Chase and Remarkable Rocks," he said. "For too long, we have been stuck in the view that these are the only places to see."

He said the taking the tour, and just the sense of normalcy of getting the car ready, did wonders for his mental health.

And just like 2007, he said the Island and the visitors could watch the bush recover over the months and years.

SeaLink delivers aid, looks ahead

The SeaLink ferry service that connects Kangaroo Island to the mainland has been running at capacity and is already looking to the future of tourism on the Island.

SeaLink's Island tours remain cancelled until the ferry service gets the all clear from the CFS and SA Police.

SeaLink Travel Group Chief Executive Officer Jeff Ellison said there had been an enormous amount of donations of hay, fencing and other material that the ferries were working to bring over.

The company remained committed to the Island's tourism and would continue its marketing and promotions.

It was aware of what amenities and attractions were open and was communicating that to visitors wanting to come to the Island.

"There is no doubt there will be a drop as there was after the 2007 fires, which lasted for about six months," Mr Ellison said.

"We will continue to work with the SA Tourism Commission, and all the tourism operators on the Island to ensure that Kangaroo Island tourism can continue and get back to the way it was."

SATC statement

I'd like to share the latest information we have available about the tragic fires on South Australia's Kangaroo Island.

It's been a terrible few days for the island's community. They have suffered enormously and the full extent of the damage continues to emerge. Sadly, two people lost their lives trying to escape the blaze - acclaimed Australian bush pilot Dick Lang, and his son Clayton, one of South Australia's leading plastic surgeons. Many of you would know Dick as a bush pilot who took countless travellers to see the magic of South Australia's outback. He will be sadly missed by the tourism industry, and our thoughts are with the entire Lang family.

We understand that the fire remains an ongoing concern on the western end of the island. The eastern end - including Kingscote, Cygnet River and Penneshaw - has not been impacted.

The South Australian Country Fire Service (CFS) is hoping that cooler conditions over the next couple of days will assist in their continued heroic firefighting efforts. As of this afternoon, the CFS is advising anyone travelling to the island to check with their accommodation or travel providers, and to heed all warnings while on the island. Tours are able to operate in areas of the island that are safe.

The worst hit areas have been the tourism businesses on the southern side. We know at this stage, the luxury Southern Ocean Lodge, Hanson Bay Cabins, Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Western KI Caravan Park and Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat have suffered extensive damage. The Flinders Chase National Park has been substantially damaged with the Visitor Information Centre and café sadly destroyed. The devastation is heartbreaking.

Once it is safe to get access to these areas, we will be in a better position to provide a more definitive update. We are already working on how we will support the community and the island's tourism sector. We stand ready to offer our support and deliver a long-term recovery plan - just as we've committed to with the Adelaide Hills region.

The SATC has been liaising with the State Recovery Operations Group, tourism officials on the island and inbound operators, ferry companies and airlines, Kangaroo Island Tourism Food Wine and Beverage Association as well as other state government departments.

Some parts of the island are already "open for business" - in particular operators on the eastern end. Our social media and website pages will be regularly updated as quickly as we can, supporting their efforts to offer tourism services and encouraging visitors on the island to explore the eastern end.

It is important we all support the island during this period, and we hope to provide more information as soon as it is available.

As always, we encourage anyone seeking information about bushfire warnings and advice to refer to the CFS website. - Rodney Harrex, SATC Chief Executive