The bushfire season may be coming to an end, but is it safe to go to Australia? The short answer is: yes. Only three per cent of the country’s land mass has been affected by the deadly bushfires that began in earnest in November, and most tourist destinations are ‘not impacted’, according to Tourism Australia.
‘There is no longer smoke being seen in the cities that were affected by it — particularly Sydney and Melbourne,’ said the spokesman. Yet a complete all-clear has not been given, and some bushfires are still burning. So far, the fires — brought on by record-breaking temperatures — have resulted in the loss of at least 33 lives.
An estimated 72,000 sq miles of land have been affected; about the size of Syria. Here’s our guide to visiting in the aftermath of the disaster.
Back in business: According to Tourism Australia, most Australian tourist destinations are not impacted by bushfires. Pictured is Uluru rock and Kylie Minogue, who was heartbroken by the fires
Anywhere I should avoid?
About half of Kangaroo Island in South Australia — a popular destination with beaches, vineyards and wildlife tours — continues to be ‘partially impacted’, says Tourism Australia, which lists all the areas affected across the country on its website: australia.com/en-gb/travel-alerts/bushfire-information.html.
But visits to the unaffected part of the island are still safe. For more information see tourkangarooisland.com.au/kangaroo-island-fires.
Elsewhere, mainstream tourist spots are fine, although it is worth checking local bushfire information. The Tourism Australia website provides links to individual states.
Any precautions to take?
If you are driving to remote spots, be extra cautious and check latest fire information on websites — most of which are updated live. It is also a good idea to outline your movements to hotels/accommodation providers; locals should be well informed.
Also, monitor television news, listen to radio reports and check social media.
What’s Australia’s emergency number?
This is ‘000’ — and you should dial it straight away in the unlikely event of being in trouble.
The stunning West Bay on Kangaroo Island. About half of Kangaroo Island in South Australia continues to be ‘partially impacted’ by the fires. But visits to the unaffected part of the island are still safe
What if I am going camping or bushwalking?
The New South Wales Rural Fire Service (rfs.nsw.gov.au) has helpful tips including packing first-aid provisions and mobile phone chargers.
What about air quality?
At the peak of the bushfires in January, air quality was considered ‘hazardous’ in some places including Canberra, Australia’s capital.
Rains have cleared the skies since and now most places have either a ‘good’ or ‘moderate’ rating (aqicn.org/map/australia). Do keep an eye on ratings if you suffer respiratory problems.
An estimated 72,000 sq miles of land have been affected by fires in Australia – about the size of Syria
So is now a good time to visit?
Absolutely. Travel firms report growing confidence in Australia — and lots of availability.
The Ultimate Travel Company, an Australia specialist, says bookings fell 40 per cent in mid-December through January, but have since bounced back.
Sydney is at number one on its bestsellers list, with trips to Tasmania and Port Lincoln in South Australia proving popular as they are away from lingering fires. Western Australia is also selling well.
Have flight prices fallen?
Fares have held steady, but there are some enticing deals to Sydney from about £580 on Vietnam Airlines in April via Google Flights.
What about hotel rates?
You could get some better-than-usual deals at hotels. Both Hilton and Accor have reported weak forward bookings, which should mean lower prices. Trailfinders, another Australia specialist, reports cheaper hotel offers.
What if I want to cancel?
Tour operators are under no obligation to offer refunds or alternative trips if you are visiting a currently safe area.
Are any major events off?
No. For example, the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, the Cricket T20 World Cup, Vivid Sydney and the Margaret River Gourmet Escape will be held as planned.
Can I help the wildlife?
More than one billion animals have died in the fires including kangaroos and more than 25,000 koalas
Australians are rallying together, with initiatives to repair damage and protect wildlife.
For example, Australian Wildlife Journeys (australianwildlifejourneys.com) is offering Bushfire Recovery Wildlife Journey breaks by planting trees to help koalas on Kangaroo Island, You Yangs in Victoria and around Cairns in Queensland.
Meanwhile, also in Victoria, Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours has created four-day trips to Gippsland, with half of the cost going to wildlife projects (echidnawalkabout.com.au).