Kangaroo Island fires: Cruise ship Sun Princess brings visitors back to island

Ferocious fires that scorched through half of Kangaroo Island have triggered a sharp decline in visitors – but a cruise ship has led the charge in bringing tourists back.

Princess Cruises’ Sun Princess became the first cruise ship to sail back to Kangaroo Island on Sunday, bringing 2000 passengers with it.

“It is our hope that this visit by Sun Princess will boost morale and send a message to the community that their lives are getting back to normal,” said Princess Cruises’ Asia Pacific Vice President, Stuart Allison.

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall was there to welcome the ship, as passengers arrived at Penneshaw, Dudley Peninsula, on the island’s north-east coast.

“We love having them here. They provide a massive injection to the local economy,” he said.

Passengers left the ship for a day to explore Kangaroo Island’s famous tourist attractions and shop at local market stalls.

The visit comes after reports of travellers cancelling bookings as far out as April, with local business owners issuing pleas to not abandon the tourist hotspot.

“We need people to sustain us, to support what we still have in place. We are still here, and we need you, come and see how special our island is,” said Leeza Irwin, a manager at the bird park Raptor Domain, located in Seal Bay.

South Australia’s bushfires have been described as apocalyptic, with blazes ravaging through 215,000 hectares in Kangaroo Island and 24,000 hectares across Adelaide Hills. The fires left 143 properties destroyed and three people dead.

Up to 90 per cent of the 50,000 koalas on Kangaroo Island may have perished, along with 100,000 sheep and at least 25,000 additional livestock.

The iconic Southern Ocean Lodge was destroyed, but its owners have committed to rebuilding the world-renowned hotel.

The South Australian Tourism Commission has launched a recovery campaign, “Help them out, #BookThemOut”, to encourage tourists to continue to visit the affected regions.

“The Kangaroo Island community and environment has had enormous impact, but we still have an area triple the size of Singapore which is untouched – that’s about 2500 square kilometres,” said Craig Wickham, a local tour operator from the Exceptional Kangaroo Island, in a video for the campaign.

SeaLink CEO Clint Feuerherdt said SeaLink’s discounted ferry tickets to the island, featured in the #Bookthemout campaign, resulted in a surge of inquiries at both their sales centre and websites.

Twenty-eight more cruise ships are scheduled to drop anchor at Kangaroo Island this year, according to Mr Marshall.