It was a late Sunday afternoon in early autumn in the tiny beachside town of Tathra when a fast-moving bushfire closed in.
Residents hurriedly fled the flames to evacuation centres in nearby towns on the NSW far South Coast.
When they anxiously returned the following day, they found 69 houses destroyed and many more damaged. Caravans and cabins were also lost, and 1400 hectares burned.
The town was devastated.
Fast forward four months, and a Sunday session is in full swing at the local pub.
I'd just arrived in town and headed straight to Tathra Hotel to check into my accommodation. It was a jolly welcome - the bar was packed full of people, spilling out onto the sun-drenched deck, all here to see a popular local band.
Luckily the Tathra Hotel was not affected by the fires, nor was the school, any major infrastructure or the historical wharf, a drawcard for locals and tourists alike.
Most importantly, not one life was lost. Almost everyone I spoke to in my time exploring Tathra was quick to point this out, whenever the topic of the fire comes up. "It could have been worse" is a phrase I heard repeatedly.
I can only assumed this positive attitude played a key role in how quickly the community bounced back into operation after the fires.
If it wasn't for the scars on burnt trees, I wouldn't have known a fire had been through here. Everything was up and running. Every tourist activity was in full swing.
Even the 25 kilometres of mountain bike tracks affected by the fire had been restored, thanks to local and surrounding bike riding communities rallying together for a series of working bees.
The best way to explore the network of trails is to grab a rental bike from Tathra Beach and Bike down on the foreshore and hit the tracks.
There are countless routes you can take, with degrees of difficulty from beginner to highly experienced. And if bush-bashing isn't your thing, stick to the flat track along the beach and take in the fresh sea air, sunshine and stunning coastal scenery.
If you like your feet firmly on the ground there are so many bushwalks and National Park hikes to choose from - some that hug the coastline, some winding around lagoons and lakes, others carved into rocks and peaks, all taking in amazing natural beauty, with a high chance of wildlife encounters.
And if you don't see any wildlife in the actual wild, just a short drive from Tathra is Potoroo Palace, a not-for-profit native animal sanctuary. Many of the animals here are not only native to Australia, but native to the local area, including some very rare species. Roam the bushland setting, jump on the Potoroo Train, or book a one-on-one encounter.
Down the road, just on the outskirts of Tathra, you'll find wildlife of the feathered variety at On The Perch. You don't have to be a stereotypical "bird lover" to appreciate this conservation-based bird park. The walk-in aviaries, set up as different regional habitats, enable you to immerse yourself in the worlds of the many weird and wonderful species, and observe their quirky personalities. You can even grab some mealworms and create your own feeding session.
Speaking of feeding sessions, one of the coolest things to do in Tathra is to watch stingrays feed down at Kianinny Bay boat ramp when the fishermen come in at the end of the day. Watch these clever, friendly stingrays congregate for fish scraps, or jump in the crystal clear water with a snorkel and get amongst the gathering.
Back at Tathra Hotel, perched on the headland, a different species gathers - the town's resilient and buoyant locals, enjoying some downtime after getting the town back on its feet.
Thanks to their hard work and community strength, Tathra is well and truly open for business for all of us to enjoy.
IF YOU GO
Tathra is a seven-hour drive from Melbourne, six hours from Sydney, and three hours from Canberra. Alternatively, Rex Airlines services Merimbula Airport, only a 25-minute drive from Tathra.
Tathra has a wide range of accommodation options, from resorts and retreats to boutique lodges and cabins, to holiday rentals and beachside camping. A surprisingly chic place to stay is Tathra Hotel, a local institution for over 100 years. These days it boasts contemporary heritage rooms with headland and ocean views. Visit https://tathrahotel.com.au/
* The writer travelled as a guest of Destination NSW.