Mother Nature take a bow, it's a new year and a new beginning for many bushfire-hit areas as they bounce back and welcome a tourism bonanza, writes Sue Wallace.
Lush, green growth bursting from a once charred landscape signifies a new start for regions and towns affected by a double whammy - bushfires and COVID-19.
A massive 17 million hectares - three times the size of the Netherlands - was burnt across NSW, Victoria, Queensland, the ACT, Western Australia and South Australia in 2019-20.
The good news is travellers are flocking to regional areas as they discover just how good their own backyards are.
It has taken resilience, tears, heartbreak and hard work on the road to recovery but the Aussie spirit continues to shine, accompanied by an optimistic determination to make 2021 the best year ever.
Snowy Valleys Way, NSW
Drive along the Snowy Valleys Way and you will soon see how the landscape is bouncing back.
Winery owners Cathy and Brian Gairn, of Courabyra Wines at Tumbarumba in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains, have never been busier.
"We have been overwhelmed by the support shown from locals and city dwellers," said Ms Gairn, who has employed an extra eight people to help.
"The fires burnt 15 per cent of the vines and 40 per cent were heat-damaged. It's been a long, slow road to recovery, but we have bounced back and it's great to see so many people travelling this way - it is a stunning area to visit," she said.
Dine on the deck for fabulous views and delicious meals that showcase the region's fresh produce.
Further on, Tumut is home to the Pretty Parrot gin distillery which has a tasting room at the rear of the Oriental Hotel.
Craft-beer lovers will enjoy Tumut River Brewing and the new Three Blue Ducks restaurant has opened at Nimbo Fork Lodge. This boutique retreat sits on the banks of the Tumut River and Nimbo Creek, surrounded by stunning scenery.
Save the date: Batlow CiderFest, 15 May 2021.
Getting there: Tumut is a four-hour drive from Sydney and 5.5 hours from Melbourne.
Explore more: snowyvalleysway.com.au
Scenic Rim, Queensland
Stretching from Tamborine Mountain to Lake Moogerah and Mount Barney to the town of Boonah, the Scenic Rim is a highlight of South East Queensland.
The imposing volcanic mountain range is home to six national parks and World Heritage-listed rainforests which were fire affected.
Spicers Peak Lodge at Maryvale sits on top of the plateau and offers unique experiences set in stunning scenery. It has seen a 90 per cent occupancy rate.
According to nature guide Melissa Booth it has been heartening to see how the bush has rejuvenated and watching the wildlife return.
"Our guests have been very interested to learn how the landscape has rejuvenated and we have special walks that focus on fire-ecology education," she said.
Bookings for the next few months are also looking good.
"It's such a unique place and, while international travel is limited, we are getting many guests who are discovering the wonders of this area and how much there is to offer."
The Scenic Rim Trail is a 50-kilometre scenic walk staying at Spicers eco-cabins, glamping and retreats.
Save the date: Scenic Rim Winter Harvest Festival, 3 July 2021.
Getting there: It is a one-hour drive from Brisbane or the Gold Coast.
Sapphire Coast, NSW
Stunning pristine beaches where you can make first tracks in the sand stretch along this coast that's home to Bermagui, Tathra, Merimbula, Eden and Pambula.
Rob White, who opened Tathra Beach House Apartments in 2002 with one beach house and now has 28, has strong bookings for the next six months.
"Tourism is returning, and this is a stunning area with lots to do for all ages, so we are hoping 2021 will be a good year," he said. "From June onwards, we have been busier than ever."
Tathra is known for its great beaches, walks and mountain biking.
Throw in a line at Tathra Wharf, like the locals do, and you may be rewarded with a tasty flathead.
A new 300-metre Tathra Headland Walkway from the historic Tathra Hotel (built in 1888) to Merimbula Aquarium Wharf Restaurant has great viewing platforms.
In a renovated 1905 heritage house in Tathra, Fat Tony's Bar & Grill has also been flat out. The restaurant is known for its seafood and the locals' favourite dish, Chicken Little - a chicken breast topped with prawns in a creamy sauce.
Save the date: Narooma Oyster Festival, 30 April to 1 May 2021.
Getting there: Rex Airlines flies from Melbourne and Sydney to Merimbula. It's about halfway between Sydney or Melbourne - a six- to seven-hour drive.
Explore more: sapphirecoast.com.au
Corryong, Upper Murray, Victoria
Publican Darren Jones, who took over the historic Tintaldra pub one month before the 2019 fires, said community spirit has kept the area going.
"It's great to see so many people touring in their own backyard with lots of people from Melbourne dropping in and staying at the next-door caravan park," he said.
"The hotel turned 150 this year and it's been a massive year both economically and emotionally, but we have got through it and are looking ahead."
The area has great camping, stunning views and of course, the Murray River, where you can fish, swim and go white-water rafting.
Nearby Corryong is the resting place of the legendary horseman, Jack Riley, who inspired Australian bard Banjo Paterson to pen "The Man from Snowy River" in 1890. Riley is buried at the Corryong cemetery.
The pubs in Jingellic, Walwa, Corryong, Tooma and Khancoban are also very busy.
Save the date: The Man from Snowy River Bush Festival, 8-11 April 2021.
Getting there: It's a 90-minute drive from Albury where Rex and Qantas fly from Sydney daily; Rex flies from Melbourne.
Kangaroo Island, South Australia
Nicknamed Australia's own Galapagos, Kangaroo Island is the country's third biggest island and is known for its amazing wildlife and stunning coastline lined with some 50 beaches. Bushfires ripped through half the island last year, but there are signs of buoyant regrowth and tourism is increasing.
Alana Whennen, who has owned Penneshaw Penguin Centre tours since March 2019, said bookings were looking good for the next few months.
"Tourists are returning to the island and everyone on the tours has been enthusiastic and encouraging through this difficult time," she said.
"I have been very lucky with great community support."
The night walking tours provide a unique opportunity to see the small colony of little penguins and other wildlife with a guide.
Known as KI by the locals, there's a great food and wine scene on the island. Drop in for a gin-tasting at Kangaroo Island Spirits, then savour a honey ice cream from Clifford's Honey Farm which is home to rare Ligurian honey bees.
Save the date: Kangaroo Island Cup Day, 20 February 2021.
Getting there: SeaLink and Kangaroo Island Connect operate ferries from Cape Jervis, a two-hour drive south of Adelaide. Qantas flies from Adelaide.
Explore more: southaustralia.com
The village of Tharwa (population 30) has also seen tourists returning following the fires on nearby Mount Tennent.
Tharwa General Store owner Kevin Jeffery said he's had a steady stream of visitors enjoying the picturesque area.
The third-generation owner said the store opened in 1926 and is now known for its huge lamingtons.
The town sits on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River and is one of the original and oldest settlements in the ACT.
Visit the robust old bridge over the Murrumbidgee, the old Tharwa schoolhouse and Lanyon Homestead.
It is a 10-minute drive from central Canberra, which is home to many museums and galleries.
Canberra has earned its stripes as a gourmet capital with innovative cafes and restaurants.
Save the date: Canberra Balloon Spectacular, 6-14 March 2021.
Getting there: It's a 3.5-hour road trip from Sydney or fly Qantas or Virgin.
Explore more: visitcanberra.com.au
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