In the minds of Australians and many around the world, this was a terrifying inferno island – helplessly overcome by last year’s bushfires with little left behind.

The deadly bushfires were certainly devastating for Kangaroo Island, a patch of rugged beauty off the South Australian coast.

The flames tore through the western end of the island and claimed 96 per cent of Flinders Chase National Park, arguably its top tourism drawcard.

In total 200 cars, more than 80 homes were burned to the ground and tragically two lives were lost in the inferno.

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But so much of the island was untouched by fire, and a year on, the wilderness is regenerating, wildlife is in abundance, new tourism experiences are launching and even the national park is open again. And locals are very keen to welcome us back.

“The fire impacted about two-thirds of the island,” Sam Florance, Operations manager for Kangaroo Island Outdoor Action, said in an interview for a new video series supporting bushfire affected communities, Open for Business.

“At one stage the whole island was in the red zone which means to evacuate. It impacted absolutely everyone on this island.”

But one of the biggest areas of devastation was the loss of wildlife on the island. Before the fires, Kangaroo Island had between 50,000 to 60,000 koalas living in the bushland, but after the devastation that figure dwindled closer to 5000 to 10,000.

Kangaroo Island Koala Rescue Centre was quick to take in as many injured animals as it could, and in the months following the inferno established itself as a park to care for the wildlife.

“Very quickly we realised there wasn’t anywhere else these animals could go,” Dana Mitchell, director of the centre explained.

“We opened our doors and took anyone who needed care.

“After we started receiving koalas at the start of January, we very quickly realised that we would need help to pay for their ongoing care.

“So we originally opened a GoFundMe campaign to get some donations … and with all the donations we received, we established the Kangaroo Island Koala Rescue Centre which is a functioning charity.

“Ongoing, it’s going to be supporting all the wildlife we have coming through here, and going forward doing a lot of research projects around supporting the koalas.”

The island, which is most popular with international tourists and interstate travellers, has traditionally struggled to attract visitors from South Australia.

But in an interesting twist of fate, border closures during the pandemic helped South Australians rediscover the unique island off their shore, and the next step is to let the rest of Australia know that Kangaroo Island is thriving.

“A lot of the businesses on Kangaroo Island are small businesses that rely on tourism and people visiting us,” Sabrina Davis, founder of Humans of Kangaroo Island said.

“It’s not just about the beautiful beaches or the wildlife or the nature that we have here, but it’s also all about the people.

“Everyone just wants to tell you about the island because it’s just such a hidden gem.”

Mr Florance added the wildlife appeal is what makes the island stand out in Australia.

“Kangaroo Island is magnificent and your one-stop-shop for Australian wildlife,” he said.

“You’re guaranteed to see kangaroos, koalas, we have echidnas over here plus our bushland is absolutely magnificent.

“Our coastline is the best coastline in the world … we have everything here you need.”

– With Lauren McMah

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