How this Australian tourist town rose from the ashes
(CNN) — It’s only the forest of swaying Eucalyptus trees, marking the path up toward Steavenson Falls in Marysville, Victoria that betrays a hint of the calamity inflicted here 10 years ago.
Some trunks still wear a blackened outer layer, but it doesn’t spoil the view, beauty or ambiance. Nearly all the trees are regenerating, the ones that fell or were blighted for good have long since been removed.
And nearly a decade on, the town is firmly back on the tourist trail for local and international visitors alike as an ideal forest break across all seasons.
Back on the tourist trail
Then/now: Visitors to Marysville will find it hard to believe a fire wiped the town off the map just 10 years ago.
Courtesy Barry Thomas
The rebirth of Marysville once seemed impossible.
In 2009, the town made headlines around the world due to the extent of the damage. Some 34 people died in the area.
The day was soon dubbed “Black Saturday,” such was the horrendous loss of life, livestock, public buildings and property.
In the town itself, consisting of a pretty main street of shops, cafes and boutiques surrounded by residential houses, farms and holiday accommodation, over 400 buildings were destroyed, with just 14 remaining. Even the primary school and police station were destroyed.
Marysville residents were left to rebuild their lives, homes and businesses from scratch.
With great stoicism they stayed on, even though it would have been understandable for them to want to leave such horrific memories behind and start afresh elsewhere.
It took many years of sheer grit and determination, plus complex and fraught legal and insurance claims, for Marysville to rise from the ashes.
Ten years on, Marysville is an ideal weekend getaway.
courtesy Tourism Victoria
Today, thanks to new architecture and years of determined and painstaking work, Marysville — about 100 kilometers from Melbourne — is an ideal weekend getaway with a European-style ski resort ambiance.
In winter (between June and September) it plays host as the perfect base camp for a day trip to Lake Mountain Alpine Resort, a 25-minute drive further up into the ranges.
At the resort you can pay for a day pass for children to go on toboggan rides. There are also skiing and snowboarding runs for the adults, or more adventurous youngsters, and you can hire ski-wear and boots for all ages and sizes.
In summer months, the town sees a surge in mountain bikers, hikers and those who just want to relax in a town away from the city, just 90 minutes by car, and drink lattes over the weekend magazine supplements.
It’s an ideal launch pad for hikes into the forests too. There are easy, steady inclines where you can cross streams and spot birdlife, then tuck into tea and traditional Australian lamingtons — mini sponge cakes coated in chocolate and shredded coconut — back down the paths at the town’s bakery.
Stories of resilience
Marysville offers easy access to many scenic and family-friendly hiking trails.
courtesy Tourism Victoria
Visiting Marysville’s Old Fashioned Lolly Shop to stock up on fuel for the hikes, you can find one of many miraculous stories of survival. (8 Murchison St, Marysville; +61 3 5963 3644)
Owner Sue Jones tells of how she was lucky to survive the fires, which burnt down the shop and very nearly took her life.
As a volunteer firefighter at the time she found herself trapped in the fire station as the blaze raged around her.
“We all rang our kids and relatives and said goodbye,” she recalls. “I just didn’t think we would make it.”
Jones says she then made her way with the other volunteers, and many other trapped locals, to the oval of grass behind the main street where they spent the night watching the hills around them burn.
“Once we were on the oval I knew we’d be alright,” she says.
Like many, Jones is hugely proud of how her newly built shop is thriving and the town has recovered.
“It’s so beautiful here again, you can hardly tell a fire swept through the place.”
10 years on
Mayor Charlotte Bisset says the Marysville fires do not define the region nor its people.
courtesy Tourism Victoria
Visitors interested in the impact of the fires and the rebuilding of the town can experience a moving exhibition of photographs and stories within the new tourist information center.
Maryville’s mayor, Charlotte Bisset, tells CNN Travel the town has shown “extraordinary resilience” after the bushfire.
“They came together and created a new vision for their towns and communities, then set about making those visions a reality,” she says.
“The recovery and rebuild efforts were bolstered by the hard work and generosity of individuals, private businesses, NGOs and all three tiers of government.”
Bisset says the area is a great place to “live, work and play.”
Like many in the town, the mayor also stresses that, a decade on from the destruction, the fires do not define the region nor its people.
“As immense a tragedy as the 2009 fires were, they failed to dampen the human spirit,” she says.
“Instead, faced with mighty challenges, the people of Marysville and other affected towns have made the most of opportunities and continue to do so.”