Princess Cruises is planning to call at Kangaroo Island this Sunday, bringing a ray of hope to the island community left devastated by recent bushfires.
This will be the first cruise ship to visit the island since the recent fires, and comes at a time when many locals are ready to welcome the much needed tourism dollar.
Spokesperson David Jones says: “As things stand, wind and sea conditions look to be favourable for this historic tender call. Guests on Sun Princess have been advised that the Kangaroo Island community is ready to welcome them and the call will be an important step on the island’s path to recovery.”
The hope is that the port call will show the world that much of Kangaroo Island is open for business and still a great place to see wildlife.
Kangaroo Island Mayor Michael Pengilly told Cruise Passenger: “The Sun Princess will inject a huge amount of confidence for the local community. We’ll be delighted to see it arrive at the Penneshaw port and we welcome visitors back with open arms.
“Seal Bay is open again, it is a national park – highly visited – where tourists can walk on beaches among the seals. Businesses at the nearby town of Kingscote are also all open and functioning normally, including cafes and the local brewery.
“The west end and centre west is still shut down, with some active small fires and we are conducting some fire hazard reduction measures. If visitors see smoke, don’t be alarmed, it’s just back burning in isolated pockets,” Mayor Pengilly said.
The weather forecast for Sunday is looking favourable at this stage with 22 degrees, partly cloudy, and winds 10-15 knots.
Kangaroo Island is regarded as one of Australia’s most popular wildlife sanctuaries, especially for its biodiversity. Initial estimates are that half of the island (more than 215,000 hectares) has been damaged.
Two men perished in a blaze on 4 January as their car was hit by flames as they drove along the highway.
Mr Jones told Cruise Passenger: “It will be an emotional moment for guests, crew and residents. Princess Cruises is devoting its normal share of revenue from shore tours on the day to the South Australian Government’s Bushfire Appeal. This is in addition to the $1.9 million that Carnival Australia has committed to various bushfire relief efforts. This includes $1.5 million from the Micky and Madeleine Arison Family Foundation much of which is funding a UNICEF Australia initiative to support the back-to-school needs of children whose families lost everything in the fires in Australia this summer.”
In one remarkable story of survival, Sam Mitchell, who runs Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park and lives there with his wife Dana and 19-month-old son, spoke with the BBC this week and said that as the flames approached, an evacuation warning was issued. But Sam and four others chose to stay behind to defend his park and the animals within.
“You can’t move 800 animals including water buffaloes, ostriches and cassowaries [an ostrich-like bird],” he told the BBC.
In terms of rebuilding his wildlife sanctuary now, Sam said “Sometimes I wake up and I think business is as normal,” he told the BBC. “And then reality hits and (I know) it won’t be the same way for a long time.”
Summer is ordinarily the busiest season at the wildlife park.
“We’re a private business – myself, my wife, my son – and I have ten staff relying on me. The animals and the wildlife are what brings people here.
“We should be seeing between 100 to 200 people a day. We could go broke pretty quickly,” Mr Mitchell told the BBC.
Cruise Passenger has confirmed that the Wildlife park will be open on Sunday in time to receive tourists from the ship, where they are in desperate need of funding to support the veterinary efforts underway to help the injured wildlife that has been brought into the sanctuary since the fires.
According to Christopher Dickman, a professor of ecology at the University of Sydney, who also spoke this week to the BBC “A lot of the flora and fauna there are distinctive because a lot of the island’s habitats remained fairly pristine. It’s like stepping back in time when you cross to Kangaroo Island.
“The western parts have remained more or less intact so you can get a sense of what southern Australia was like. It’s like a southern Australian ark, retaining a really good compliment of its species,” he told the BBC.
Carnival Australia had previously announced a $350,000 commitment to Red Cross Australia to support its bushfire relief efforts. P&O Cruises Australia and the P&O Pacific Partnership also committed a combined $50,000 to St Vincent de Paul’s Bushfire Relief in NSW and Queensland.