New AAT Kings tours help you visit and support bushfire-hit regions
Grab your esky and hit the road to support bushfire-affected communities on the east coast.
The Australian bushfires are officially out after causing devastation along the east coast since spring 2019. Wildlife, houses and businesses were destroyed, and those affected are just now starting to rebuild their lives and businesses.
In support, AAT Kings has teamed up with Empty Esky - a movement to visit and support bushfire affected communities - to launch not-for-profit Bushfire Relief Giveback experiences across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
These trips have been designed to give support to local businesses and farmers by encouraging you to visit and spend with them.
Altogether there are five experiences ranging from day tours to short breaks:
- #EmptyEsky to Shoalhaven: A one-day tour departing from Sydney calling in at Kangaroo Valley, Nowra and Shoalhaven heads. This departs on 1 March, 3 April and 1 May. Prices start from $110.
- #EmptyEsky 4 Day NSW Coast: A multi-day trip that visits Bermagui and Batemans Bay. Includes a volunteer day of building a farm fence. General tour departed 21 February however group tours can be booked until 31 March 2020. Prices start from $700 per person, based on twin share.
- Flavours of South Australia: Five day experience that showcases the wine regions surrounding Adelaide - The Barossa, Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale. Includes select meals and stays hotels. Prices from $2,908 per person based on twin share.
- #EmptyEsky 3 Day Kangaroo Island: Departing Adelaide, this tour takes you by ferry to Kangaroo Island where you'll visit Dudley Wines, Kangaroo Island Spirits, Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, Island Beehive, Kingscote Farmers and Artisans Market and more. You'll also get the chance to volunteer with Blaze Aid. Departs 6 March 2020. Prices from $545 per person based on twin share.
- #EmptyEsky 3 Day East Gippsland: Take the long trip stopping by Paynesville, Raymond Island, Lakes Entrance, Bruthen, Buchan Caves and Bairnsdale while visiting the locals makers to fill up your esky. Runs from 25-27 April 2020. Prices start from $550 per person based on twin share.
Finder was invited to experience the #EmptyEsky to Shoalhaven tour on 21 January to show some support.
What to expect on the #EmptyEsky to Shoalhaven tour
This one-day tour departs from Sydney at 8am and arrives back by 6:15pm.
Throughout the day, you'll meet local residents, business owners and food producers. They're all happy to share their bushfire stories and inspire you with their resilience and community spirit.
After a 2.5-hour drive, you'll arrive in Kangaroo Valley and have a good 40 minutes to stretch your legs. This gives you time to explore the local cafes and tuck into warm beverages, cakes and pastries.
For us, this was a great opportunity to get to know other people on the trip and start to fill up our eskies. These were safely stored under the bus for us, so we could grab them when needed.
Nowra Farmers Market
Once you reached the South Coast, there's only a short distance between each stop. The next is Nowra Farmers Market, where you'll get to put your eskies to work by purchasing local produce.
On arrival, we were greeted by the owner of the market and were welcomed inside to browse. Everything from cheeses and fresh produce to packaged goods are available for purchase.
Jamie Hilkemeijer, the owner of Berry Organic Sourdough Bakery, had a stand set up at the Nowra Farmers Market. It displayed a variety of breads and spreads for shoppers to try.
Hilkemeijer told Finder the fires have caused a lot of financial distress due to the lack of customers as well as suppliers being unable to deliver ingredients and produce.
Despite this, Hilkemeijer plans to remain loyal and continue to buy from his trusted suppliers when they're operational again.
With our eskies packed to the brim, we boarded the coach and headed to lunch.
The final stop is a private buffet lunch at Bangalay Dining in Shoalhaven Heads. For each tour, a local food producer is invited to share their personal experiences of the bushfires. They talk about how the fires have impacted business operations and their plans for the future.
During our meal, we were joined by local RFS volunteer firefighters. They spoke about how the Shoalhaven area was impacted by the fires and the restoration process, which is likely to take years.
On the opportunity to host these buffet lunches, Bangalay Dining restaurant owner Michelle Bishop said that AAT Kings and Empty Esky has been a great support in advocating for tourists and locals alike to visit bushfire affected areas as they get back on their feet.
Feeling indulged with the dining experience and humbled by the real-life experiences we heard, we made our way onto the coach to journey back to Sydney.
AAT Kings Bushfire Relief Giveback Experiences are continuing throughout 2020. For larger groups, specific departure dates can be organised.
Find out more and book a tour through the AAT Kings website.