It has taken 9,000 new bolts and a thousand metres of wire to get the Huon Valley’s popular Tahune Airwalk rising from the ashes of last year’s devastating bushfires.
- The Tahune Airwalk is reopening after being damaged by fire last January
- Owners of the refurbished attraction are planning a new interpretative fire display
- Business owners in the Huon Valley are hopeful the reopening will lead to increased tourist numbers
The major tourist drawcard has been closed for 13 months while engineers, arborists, concreters and many other contractors worked tirelessly in an effort to reopen it to visitors.
That day will arrive on Saturday and the Airwalk’s owner, Ken Stronach, said he was very relieved to have reached this point and to be able to re-hire staff.
“What we see … is a fabulous resurgence of what was here,” he said.
“[It will provide a] positive boost for the economy at large and it’ll help the Huon.”
Hopes of boost in tourism
It’s not just Mr Stronach breathing a sigh of relief.
Businesses across the Huon Valley have struggled with a downturn in tourism as a result of last January’s fires and the Airwalk’s closure.
In 2019, the Airwalk had been on track to attract 100,000 visitors.
Leonie Ford, who runs a lolly shop in nearby Geeveston said she had been working seven days a week by herself since the fires.
“It’s been a lot harder, so hopefully, when the airwalk does open, I can get a break,” she said.
“I couldn’t get workers in to work and then we didn’t have the money to purchase stock coming on to Christmas. It was such a quiet winter.”
Huon Valley Mayor Bec Enders said it had undoubtably been tough.
“There certainly have been a couple of businesses that have closed their doors, without a doubt,” she said.
But, Cr Enders said there was real optimism about the Airwalk’s reopening.
“Our tourism industry and hospitality industry are clearly really excited about this, this is a great windfall for tourism in the Huon valley and it does give people a lot to look forward to in the future,” she said.
The Airwalk wasn’t destroyed in the January 2019 fires but the intense heat damaged the structure and snapped a guy wire.
Months of engineering inspections, debris removal, tree planting, rebuilding and repainting followed.
Suzette Weeding from Sustainable Timber Tasmania said it had been a “monumental effort” involving a specialist scaffolding team.
“It was quite an engineering feat, particularly when you look at repainting the structure — the scaffolding itself to repaint the structure was attached to the Airwalk,” she said.
“When you think the cantilever is nearly 50 metres off the ground, having people out there safely painting and inspecting that structure was quite a feat for those people.”
Mr Stronach said he now intended to tell the story of fire in the landscape as part of an interpretive display at the Airwalk.
“Were turning a whole building into a laboratory for that and we’re being supported by UTAS and CSIRO and Sustainable Timbers Tasmania,” he said.
It’s hoped a broader range of people, including school groups, will be encouraged to visit the site as a result.
“It will be a citizen science approach … we’re going to be looking at some more interactive stuff than we have in the past,” he said.
Some tracks at the Airwalk attraction will not reopen until June because they were more severely burnt in the fire, including the Swinging Bridges Walk and the Huon Pine Walk.