Bushfire Recovery Giveback Trip to Shoalhaven

Posted: 30 January 2020 | Updated: 30 January 2020

Last Friday, 24th of January, we launched the first of our Bushfire Recovery Giveback Trips, in collaboration with the #EmptyEsky movement. To say it was a special day would be an understatement, and I felt so proud to be representing our company as we travelled through fire affected regions with our empty eskies and full wallets.

As a background, the aim of these Bushfire Recovery Giveback Trips is to provide immediate support to the communities that need it most – those who have been affected by the fires directly, and those who have felt the effects through a significant and devastating decline in tourism. On these 100% not-for-profit trips, AAT Kings works with local communities to bring this much needed tourism directly back to the much-loved restaurants, cafes, markets and local stores.

So that’s where the #EmptyEsky comes in... You bring your esky or shopping bag; AAT Kings will help you fill it with local produce and goodies! Which in turn directly injects funds into the local economies helping small businesses and providing much needed support to farmers.

On the day, we arrived for our departure at the Mercure Hotel Central, and immediately the joy and excitement the group were feeling was clear as we loaded our empty eskies and bags into the coach’s undercarriage and took our seats.

AAT Kings Managing Director Matt Cameron-Smith gave a moving introduction to the day, reinforcing just how catastrophic the bush fires have been, and why the #EmptyEsky is so important. Our well-seasoned driver Neville took to wheel and impressed us all with his excellent driving through the windy roads that lead to our first stop of Kangaroo Valley.

The idyllic Kangaroo Valley region was directly impacted by the 2019 bush fires, with homes being destroyed and the fire tearing through prime agricultural land that contributes so much to the farming and tourism region.

We were given about an hour to peruse the Kangaroo Valley local cafes, bakeries and speciality shops, and the group certainly didn’t hold back with the thought of the long weekend ahead. We cleared the General Cafe’s shelves of freshly baked sourdough, filled our KeepCups with some seriously good coffee and gorged on what might just be Australia’s most delicious pies.

The locals were truly over the moon to see us, as they explained how quiet it had been since the bush fires. The General Café’s baker, ‘Mrs Bread’ as she is affectionately known, was overjoyed at her bare shelves, and we all dreamed of the avocado on sourdough toast we were about to enjoy over the weekend…

Our next stop was the Nowra Farmers Market, a fruit, vegetable and cheese lover’s dream... Known as the South Coast’s premier food destination, it was here that the esky filling really began. The array of local produce, dairy, eggs and deli items was inspiring, and AAT Kings staff member Courtney filled a whole trolley full, with others doing their grocery shop for the weekend. (image of group shopping)

Some of the group purchased the super fresh Kangaroo Valley Pastured Eggs. These were supplied by Kristen, who would later in the day share her heartbreaking personal story of how the fires affected her family, animals, the business and of course the local community. With most of the room in tears, hearing Kristin’s story of destination and how she has pushed on through the hardship was truly inspiring.

The Nowra Farmers Market is a must visit on your next trip down the South Coast. Not only are you supporting the owners of the market itself, but it is an amazing feeling knowing your money is going straight to the farmers and producers in these devastating times. And where else can you get a 500g wheel of locally made Brie for only $18?!

With our eskies just about full, Neville delivered us safely at our last stop, the lush Bangalay Dining and Bangalay Luxury Villas. We stepped out to breathe in the fresh sea air of the Shoalhaven Heads beach, which is situated right next door.

We received an incredibly warm welcome from the Bangalay General Manager Michelle Bishop, who is truly passionate about her local community and the locals she shares her home region with. Michelle led us through to the dining area, which has such a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere that has always been my impression of the South Coast region.

The experience was made all the more special as we were sharing a meal with the local Shoalhaven Heads Rural Fire Brigade. They shared with us their incredible stories of dealing with the grueling bush fires and what it has been like being in the front line of the extreme conditions over the past six months. We mingled with them, listened to their stories, and shared our genuine appreciation for their heroic work. This was our favourite part of the day.

We were then presented with a stunning spread of delicious food that we couldn’t wait to dig into. With head chef Brent Strong and his team finding inspiration in their natural surroundings, the meal had a heavy focus on local and native ingredients, showcasing the abundance of local produce right on their doorstep. We all agreed we felt pretty lucky to be eating such an incredible meal in a such a beautiful setting on a Friday afternoon instead of being at work. The slow cooked lamb shoulder and the heirloom tomato salad were nothing short of perfect. 

After purchasing some local wine from Bangalay and experiencing a private tour of the luxury villas, we took a moment to step back and appreciate our full eskies. It had been a special day, providing direct support to the Shoalhaven region who so desperately needed it, and who are most definitely still #OpenForBusiness. We were abuzz with positive energy, ready to enjoy our purchases over the Australia Day long weekend.

This Day Tour to Shoalhaven is just one of the many Bushfire Recovery Giveback Trips that the AAT Kings team are putting together. So we invite you to join us as we help provide immediate support to the communities that have been affected by this season's truly devastating bush fires. ⠀

To find out more about how you can get involved or to book your spot, click here.

#EmptyEsky #MakeTravelMatter 

By Laura Vitucci for AAT Kings