Just before Covid19 broke out in the USA and other parts of the world myself and 9 other Virtuoso Travel Specialists from all over the United States were invited by Destination NSW and United Airlines to join the Bush Fire recovery efforts trip in Australia March of 2020.
Our amazing itinerary started out with United Airlines flying all of us over to Sydney Australia in Polaris Business Class. A few of us flew out of Bush Intercontinental Airport so we were able to spend some time enjoy the Polaris lounge eat some amazing food and enjoy some champagne before our long flight across the pond.
Upon arriving into Sydney, we were met by Representative from Destination NSW Tenille Jenkins. Tenille spent many months putting together this amazing itinerary to help the recovery efforts from the devastating fires.
While we were waiting for the other flights to arrive, we were escorted to a local coffee spot called The Grounds of Alexandria.
The Grounds of Alexandria is a landmark coffee roaster, café, bar, and garden known for its abundance of fresh produce and hands-on experiences that is located in a former industrial precinct from the 1920s. This is a definite stop when visiting Sydney if just to enjoy a delicious cup of coffee.
Off to our first overnight in Port Macquarie, located on the Mid North Coast boasting 17 gorgeous beaches, river cruises with many other attractions including one of our stops the Koala Hospital.
Our first hotel stay was at the Sails Port Macquarie which is surrounded by wooded grounds, this waterfront hotel is 1.5 miles from Town Beach and 4 miles from Sea Acres National Park. During our visit to Port Macquarie, the first day we took an afternoon river cruise on the Hastings River and toured the Broadwater Canal stopped at a local restaurant Bill’s Fishhouse & Bar that evening for dinner.
Day two - the grand highlight of our trip a very educational but emotional visit to The Koala Hospital which opened in 1973. This is the world’s first hospital solely dedicated to the care and preservation of koalas which is managed by a charitable organization and is primarily staffed by volunteers. This hospital currently has a treatment room and 8 intensive care units, and a 24-hour rescue and treatment operation with multiple recovery yards.
During 2019/2020 Bush fires 8.4 million hectares were destroyed in New South Wales. It was estimated that a third of the Koala population was killed along with thousands of Kangaroos, wombats, and many other Australian species. Also, their habitat was destroyed leaving no food source for the thousands of animals.
This was Linr Paul he was the first koala rescued in the devastating bush fires in Port Macquarie in November 2019. He was brought to the Koala Hospital as a badly burnt, traumatized little koala. For a long time, Paul sat in his basket in intensive care. Over the following months, Paul responded well to treatment and his healing progressed as expected. In spite of a nutritious diet and all the specialist care that the hospital could give, LINR Paul’s health declined last week and he passed away quickly.
Unfortunately, some wild koalas struggle to cope and return to peak health after a huge injury such as Paul suffered. It is with a heavy heart to let you know that unfortunately LINR Paul, passed away on Sunday 28th June 2020.
In 2020 the Koala Hospital began the wild koala breeding program as a response to the devastating bush fires from 2019/2020. Generous donations from Australians and around the world enable this program to be fast-tracked.
If you would like to help the koalas, they are several ways to do this.
· adopt a koala
· become a member
· fund a koala food tree
· become an international volunteer (contact Intoxicating Travel Group for more details on this program).
After our visit to The Koala Hospital, we were off to Sea Acres Rainforest Centre for an inspiring experience with an aboriginal guide for a bush tucker walk through one of the largest subtropical rainforests in NSW. Also meeting with the local National Parks & Wildlife Service rangers to learn more about the Bushfire Recovery program – regeneration, repair, and animal welfare and rescue.
The day wasn’t over yet we stopped for lunch at the most amazing restaurant called Whalebone Wharf which is nestled on the banks of the Hastings River. The restaurant was comfortable and stylish with fantastic river views. The food was beyond expectations and is a must-stop for anyone traveling through the area.
The final stop for our day was taking a private regional flight using Airlink to the Hunter Valley. One of the best regional airlines in NSW and has the perfect fleet for charter flights. We ended our day staying at Spicers Guesthouse modern elegance where wine & exploration is the talk around the table.
Day three – the Hunter Valley an area known for its exceptional wine and gourmet food in Australia’s oldest wine regions. It was a great day to start it with a wine tasting at the Wombat Crossing Vineyard a boutique premium single-vineyard winery that is situated in the heart of the Hunter Valley wine country in Pokolbin. They grow Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz, using only the fruit they grow on the property. Wombat Crossing is a sponsor of the great work performed by Cedar Creek Wombat Rescue Hospital.
Cedar Creek Wombat Rescue Hospital operates solely on donations and contributions from its founders Roz and Kev Holme. The bare-nosed wombats have been on the steady decline from loss of habitat, road hazards, fires, and such. Cedar Creek Wombat Rescue is dedicated not only to the rescue, care and safely releasing the wombats but also to care for several other species as well. If you would like to help the bare-nosed wombats you can donate by visiting https://www.cedarcreekwombatrescue.com/donations/.
After an adventurous 4WD drive back to town we made another stop for wine tasting and fest experience at the Brokenwood winery one of Australia’s most reputable premium wine labels in the Hunter.
Brokenwood is famous for the Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz, ILR Reserve Semillon, and its popular Cricket Pitch Range established in 1973 a delicious stop for lunch and a few glasses of amazing wine.
Our last stop for the evening and our night accommodations were a special treat to be able to experience.
A stay at the Wildlife Retreat at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney overlooking the magnificent Sydney Harbour and the iconic Sydney Opera house. The Wildlife Retreat at Taronga is owned and operated by Taronga Conservation Society Australia, a not-for-profit, conservation-based organization. Every stay at the Wildlife Retreat contributes essential funding toward the care of Taronga’s animals and broader conservation and education programs in Australia and around the world. During our stay, we were able to meet with some of the Australian Animal keepers, Taronga Zoo Veterinarians, keeper teams, and conservation specialists who are working away from the public exhibit areas to care for injured and displaced wildlife. This property is a great property for families when visiting Australia for a unique educational experience. Rooms overlook bushland and come eye-to-eye with the animals as you gaze at the Sydney Harbour.
We ended the evening having dinner at the Me-Gal Restaurant located at the Wildlife Retreat a great restaurant with locally sourced food.
Day 4 – Things around the world were starting to get crazy as the COVID-19 pandemic was taking over. At this point we weren’t sure if our amazing tour would be able to continue with news that the United States was starting to shut down. As we awaited to hear if our remaining tour would be cancelled, we continued on to assist NSW with the Bushfire recovery efforts. Our stop for the day was to visit the Conservation Volunteers Australia. Conservation Volunteers Australia were selected to coordinate the national environmental volunteering response to the bushfire crisis. Our group was fortunate enough to be able to join in these rescue efforts by building nesting boxes to provide shelter for possums, gliders, microbats and many other animals. Many natural tree hollows were lost as a result of fire. The nesting boxes replicate these tree hollows and provide much needed shelter.
After our morning of building 100 nesting boxes in teams of 2. We were given the unfortunate news that our group was being cancelled due to COVID and arrangements were being made for everyone to return back to the United States. This was so sad and scary at the same time because we really didn’t know what we were all coming back to with the lockdowns happening all around the world. We ended our day with a night staying at the beautiful Park Hyatt Sydney hotel located right in Sydney Harbour on Circular Quay. It was a farewell night to remember we had made so many new friends along the way and we all knew we would be friends forever all hoping to return again as a group to finish our tour in the NSW Bushfire Recovery efforts.
In closing this was the most rewarding opportunity and such an amazing experience to have been lucky enough to be a part of. I would like to thank all those partners involved in putting together this amazing experience and a special thank you to Tenille Jenkins from Destination NSW and Michael Scott from United Airlines. #LoveNSW #Unitedairlines #NewSouthWales #Bushfires #Koalahospital #savethekoala #savethekangaroo #savethewombats #huntervalley #bookwithatravelagent #letstraveltogether