Victoria, Australia — Four months after one of the worst bushfire seasons on record, Victoria’s Alpine region is blossoming again.
Thousands of tourists have returned to the area after it was left devastated from fires that raged for 10 weeks.
The region has suffered from poor snowfall, drought and finally bushfires, which enveloped Mansfield and Bright in a smoky haze.
But tourism and hotel operators are upbeat and many of the snow resort towns were fully booked with traditional Easter holiday makers.
Steve Baird runs Bogong Horseback Adventures and said his business was just beginning to recover after the 2003 bushfires when he was hit again this summer.
“It really took us three or four years to get back on our feet but to have this other bang, it has shaken our confidence,” he said.
Horseriders can choose from two or three-hour rides but Mr Baird also offers trips of several days, climbing through the mountains on horseback and camping under the stars.
The bushfires closed access to the national park and Mr Baird was unable to offer the longer tours. “It had a significant impact on lost bookings,” he said. But Easter has shaped up to be a bumper period with all rides booked.
It has been a tumultuous eight months for Robyn Salt, the owner of the High Country Holiday Park in Mansfield.
After opening the park in June, there was no snow and the problems have been compounded by the drought. Most of her accommodation was booked by firefighters during the bushfire emergency, which was good for business but the tourists stayed away, Ms Salt said.
“But in the last few weeks we’ve started to get a more regular flow of visitors. It’s just picking up and over Easter we’re absolutely chockers,” she said. “People need to remember that the high country is still beautiful there’s plenty to do and see.”
One casualty of the bushfires was Cresta Lodge, part of the historic Mount Buffalo Chalet. The chalet itself is closed, but negotiations continue between Parks Victoria on behalf of its owner, the State Government, and lessee Burbank Group, over its future.
Burbank, which has seven years of a 21-year lease remaining, is pushing for a longer-term lease to ensure plans to plough money into its refurbishment are financially worthwhile.
It wants government help with infrastructure costs, including sending electricity up Mount Buffalo.
While the chalet sits empty, the alpine town of Bright is buzzing. Carol Burgess, owner of the Alinga Longa Holiday Units, said she was fully booked. Local restaurants are full and supermarkets are busy.
Ms Burgess said Bright was hit hard during the fires. “The perception is that Bright is burnt out when in actual fact it’s not,” she said.
“When people came to us for the long weekend in March, their first question was, ‘Where were the bushfires?’ “