New Kangaroo Island visitor centre rises from the ashes

New Kangaroo Island visitor centre rises from the ashes

In short:

A new visitor centre at Flinders Chase National Park is officially open after the previous centre was burnt down in the 2019-20 bushfires.

Two people died and half the island’s bushland was burnt in the 2019 wildfires.

The $19.5 million complex will also house a research facility for scientists and students from the University of Adelaide.

One of the final pieces of the rebuild following the Kangaroo Island bushfires has slotted into place, with the opening of a new tourist centre at Flinders Chase National Park.

The end of 2019 saw much of the South Australian island devastated by bushfires, with the previous visitor centre at Rocky River destroyed in the blaze.

Two people died in the fires, with half of the land on the island scorched.

Tourism Minister Zoe Bettison and Environment Minister Susan Close open the visitor centre on Kangaroo Island.(ABC News: Brant Cumming)

On Friday, SA Deputy Premier Susan Close officially opened the new $19.5 million complex at Karatta, which will serve popular attractions in the national park like Admirals Arch and Remarkable Rocks.

“For the government, this is the last major piece — we finally got the visitor centre back, the park is looking beautiful and we’re ready to welcome back visitors,” she said.

Kangaroo Island is internationally renowned for its nature and wildlife, collecting a number of tourism accolades last year, as well as being named Lonely Planet’s number two must-visit region this year.

“[Kangaroo Island] is definitely what I call the arrowhead, particularly for our international marketing,” Tourism Minister Zoe Bettison said.

Flinders Chase days after the 2019-20 summer bushfires.(ABC News: Patrick Martin)

Other nearby tourist attractions have recently been upgraded or rebuilt, including Kelly Hill Caves, the boardwalk at Remarkable Rocks and the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail.

Dr Close said the visitor centre will work to highlight the recovery of both infrastructure and nature on the island.

“What’s come out of that fire has been a lot of pain a lot of suffering, but also rebuilding and resilience and this is a fine example of that resilience,” she said.

Local MP Leon Bignell was on the island during the 2019 fires, and said the completion of the centre will help to heal the mental scars left from the disaster.

“It is, in a way, part of that healing process and a part of that recovery process, four-and-a-half years on from those devastating fires,” he said.

Leon Bignell welcomes the new visitor centre.(ABC News: Brant Cumming)

Base for budding environmental researchers

The centre, run by National Parks and Wildlife, houses a café and souvenir shop for visitors, as well as interactive displays detailing the ecology and geography of the area.

It also contains a $2 million research centre, equipped with a laboratory and computer labs for researchers and students from the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute.

Professor Andrew Lowe leads that team and said he was excited about the prospect of sending students to learn the ropes out in the field.

“We have a lot of students that come here to the site to do a range of research work,” Professor Lowe said.

“We have 27 academics [that] actually work here on the island, so it’s a hotbed for research for us.”

Professor Andrew Lowe (right) welcomes the opening of the research centre.(ABC News: Brant Cumming)

Kangaroo Island has been lauded by scientists as a biodiversity hotspot, with the university aiming to perform studies into the past, present and future of the region.

“We have research on the fossils here on Kangaroo Island, the Cambrian fossils are some of the best in the world,” Professor Lowe said.

“We have research on the megafauna, the history of human habitation on the island.

“More importantly, on the amazing biodiversity we have … and the recovery of that biodiversity after the fires.”

The $19.5 million complex includes a research facility.(ABC News: Brant Cumming)

The National Parks and Wildlife team will share the space with the researchers.

“We’ve been coming out [of] what is a small little shed for us, so to come to this state-of-the-art facility, we’re really excited,” team leader Andrew Schaberau said.

“Out of here we’re going to be running our rangers, our commercial tourism … essentially it’s going to be a multipurpose site for our staff.”

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