Great Sandy National Park

Cooloola Great Walk  Ecotourism Project


Fraser Coast Region, Queensland


Double Island Point’s ancient coastal dune landscape. Photo: Michel Scutts.

The proposed Cooloola Great Walk Ecotourism Project (CGWEP) will be located in the Cooloola Section of the Great Sandy National Park, a tentative Listed extension of the Fraser Island World Heritage Area. The Cooloola section presents the  world's oldest coastal dune formations (over 700,000 years) and is one of the most complete dune systems in the world. Cooloola is an outstanding example of unique and significant ecosystems, natural beauty and hosts rich biodiversity, including over 350 species of birds and many rare and threatened species.

The ancient coastal dune landscape is decorated with a diverse range of ecosystems: from wide, long beaches backed by coloured sand cliffs, to wildflower-strewn heaths, scribbly gum mangroves, shady woodlands and tranquil lakes. The ecosystems have evolved to survive in low nutrient, acidic environments making them highly sensitive to any external influence or disturbance.


Double Island Point headland. The yellow ring marks a proposed development site for ten luxury private cabins. Photo: Michel Scutts.

Proposal


The Cooloola Great Walk Ecotourism Project is a collaborative product by the Department of Environment and Science (DES) in conjunction with the Department of Tourism, Innovation and Sport (DTIS) created to provide ‘opportunities for new and iconic ecotourism experiences that will responsibly share national parks with domestic and international visitors’.
  • Five new exclusive-use corporate ecotourism sites in the tentative World Heritage listed Great Sandy National Park - 7.97 ha, including 2.77 ha of vegetation clearance (Underdahl, 2023)
  • Two sites comprising ten hard roofed luxury ensuite cabins (22 people), a communal dining lodge and recreation areas, with exclusive use of Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) roads for tour vehicles and potential helicopter access (38 m2 each)
  • Three sites comprising ‘glamping’ tent platform sites (14 people), a communal dining lodge and recreation areas, helicopter access, services and amenities (24 m2 each)
  • Exclusive use of QPWS roads and development of new roads for private corporate resort or events/conference use. Roads will be used to service the huts including laundry, catering, waste disposal, sewerage (off-site processing), water supply trucks and service providers - solar power, generators, and ancillary services
  • Two ‘luxury walking products’ comprising a five-night/six-day twice a week, and a two-night/three-day one-way walk three times a week

  • Two cultural tourism sites for the provision of cultural experiences and cultural awareness activities directly related to the project and included in the proposed action.


Poona Lake, Cooloola, Great Sandy National Park. 
Photo: Andrew Peacock.


Developer


The Cooloola Great Walk Ecotourism Project is a collaborative model between the Queensland Government and the Kabi Kabi Peoples Aboriginal Corporation. However, the government announced CABN, a cabin construction company, as their preferred tender for the development.

In May 2022, Intrepid Travel invested $7.85 million equity in CABN, in order to expand Intrepid’s off-grid accommodation and tourism products.

It is anticipated that whilst CABN will undertake construction of the developments, Intrepid Travel will hold exclusive rights to and deliver the tourism product.

Background



The Cooloola Great Walk was the first of three new ecotourism trails in North Queensland and the Sunshine Coast under the Ecotourism Trails Program. On 12 October 2018, the Department of Tourism Industry Development (now DTIS)  and the Minister for the Environment, Leeanne Enoch, released an Expressions of Interest to develop private resorts in Queensland National Parks in order to promote ecotourism, showcase natural and cultural values, generate economic revenue and employment. In order to do this, the Government offered to incentivise the projects by de-risking opportunities, namely, the Government offered private investors access to develop in three national parks, but also to provide the base trails, accommodation pad infrastructure, service access infrastructure, gain environmental approvals and facilitate involvement by Traditional Owners (DITID, 2018).


In 2020 CABN was announced as the preferred proponent for the development, to ‘create a new, more accessible experience for visitors to the walk and encourage people to stay longer and spend more in the regions’. In June 2021, the development was referred to the Australian Government under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) to gain approval for construction of the five resort complex sites; proposed ancillary infrastructure including raised boardwalks, access tracks, power and water infrastructure and waste management. The Australian Government did not consider it a controlled action, thereby not requiring Commonwealth government assessment on 1 July 2021. This allowed the state government and CABN to finalise site designs, conduct environmental impact surveys, and seek final state approval for CABN to construct the eco-accommodation and conduct commercial tourism activities under the Qld Nature Conservation Act 1992.

A review of the literature shows that the final project varies significantly from the proposed action submitted to the EPBC Assessment. The EPBC Act was based on a development footprint of 2.5ha, including the sites, access tracks, infrastructure, clearance and disturbance. However, recent calculations estimate the development footprint to be 7.97 ha, with an estimated 2.77 ha of vegetation clearance.

To date, there has been no formal proposal submitted to the Department of Environment and Science regarding the final number, layout or designs of infrastructure for the CGWEP.

On 16 May 2023, DES and DTIS controversially entered into the Cooloola Great Walk Ecotourism Project Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) with the Kabi Kabi Peoples Aboriginal Corporation (QI2022/021).
 


Figure 1. The proposed development sites. Map: Underdahl, 2023

 
The Corporation has not yet voted on acceptance of the Project or confirmed CABN to be the preferred proponent to undertake the development or conduct commercially guided walks. Community anticipates a result in mid-November after which applications may be made on both a state and local government level to approve the CGWEP.

There remains significant community backlash combined with increasing political pressure over the CGWEP development, its processes, lack of accountability and transparency. The community opposition continues to escalate.


Current status


To date, the project has been approved by the Federal Government under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC), despite finalisation of the sites only occurring post EPBC approval, indicating that the development may need to be resubmitted to the EPBC.

Next steps:
  • The Kabi Kabi Peoples Aboriginal Corporation will vote on the ILUA and preferred proponent CABN, at a meeting scheduled for mid November
  • CABN will need to present a Development Application with their finalised site details 


The tall trees (blackbutts) in the middle of the photo are a proposed development site. This is now in flux after sustained campaign pressure.
Photo: Andrew Peacock.

Issues with the development


The Cooloola Great Walk Ecotourism Project is a threat to the Great Sandy National Park’s most unique and ecologically sensitive spaces. The proposed private accommodation with dining and meeting spaces would provide wealthy visitors and corporate clients with luxury holidays in an exclusive location, whilst destroying significant natural and aesthetic values.

The proposal is highly controversial. Concerns raised by local communities and Environmental Non-Government Organisations (eNGOs) include:


  • The history of the development sites are available on the Department of Environment and Science website here with a development application still to be submitted confirming final sites
  • There are many that would prefer that the developments are located adjacent to the national park ensuring the protection of our national parks and environment in line with the cardinal principle.
  • Adjacent developments may contribute directly to local businesses and services providing local regional revenue generation and employment.
  • Mapping of the proposed development shows potential to block off current publicly accessible QPWS road sections resulting in private exclusive use of the entire region by the resort
Community groups and NGOs claims of lack of consultation, a lack of government transparency and accountability, severe community opposition to the development of the resort complexes and opaque site selection.


Further information


https://www.sandybolton.com/cooloola-great-walk-ecotourism-project-cgwep-update-november-2023/

Key contacts


Greg Wood protectparks@internode.on.net
Matthew Noffke keepcooloolacool@gmail.com
Sunshine Coast Environment Council info@scec.org.au
Cooloola Coast Care Care   Secretary@cooloolacoastcare.org.au

How to help!


Submit a formal objection to the two departments (below). Please forward any responses you receive to the independent member for Noosa, Sandy Bolton at noosa@parliament.qld.gov.au. :

1. Formal submissions regarding the CGWEP can be made at anytime via ecofacilities@des.qld.gov.au.
2. Minister of Environment, Hon. Leanne Linard MP https://cabinet.qld.gov.au/ministers-portfolios/leanne-linard.aspx 
Email:environment@ministerial.qld.gov.au
3. Minister for Tourism, Innovation and Sport (DTIS), Hon. Stirling Hinchcliffe MP
Email office through this link: https://cabinet.qld.gov.au/ministers-portfolios/stirling-hinchliffe.aspx





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