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SUNSHINE COAST, QUEENSLAND

Great Sandy National Park


Proposed Development Project:
Cooloola Great Walk Ecotourism Project

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

The Cooloola section of Queensland’s Great Sandy National Park contains the world's oldest coastal dune formations (over 700,000 years) and is one of the most complete dune systems in the world. This ancient landscape holds a diverse range of ecosystems: wide, long beaches backed by coloured sand cliffs; wildflower-strewn heaths; scribbly gum and mangrove communities; 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. Cooloola is rich in biodiversity, and is home to over 350 species of birds, and many rare and threatened species.

But the Cooloola Great Walk Ecotourism Project plans to establish five new exclusive-use corporate ecotourism sites that will include hard-roofed, luxury en-suite lodges with additional glamping areas, along with developing new roads. The proposal would provide wealthy visitors and corporate clients with luxury holidays at the cost of destroying significant natural and aesthetic values.

THE DEVELOPMENT PROPOSAL 
IN BRIEF:

- Five new exclusive-use corporate ecotourism sites
- Two sites comprised of ten hard roofed luxury ensuite cabins (sleeping up to 22 people)
- Three new glamping sites with communal dining lodges and recreation areas, helicopter access, services and amenities
- Exclusive use of QPWS roads, and the development of new roads, for private corporate resort or events/conference use

THE 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 while CABN will undertake construction of the developments, Intrepid Travel will hold exclusive rights to and deliver the tourism product.

Poona Lake is one of the only perched dune lakes in mainland Australia. Great Sandy National Park. Image credit: Andrew Peacock

Background

The Great Sandy National Park is one of the only undeveloped coastal landmasses on the east coast and includes Fraser Island. It is the only place known on earth where rainforest is found on sand, formed by thousands of years of topsoil nutrient build-up. Biodiversity includes 44% of Australia’s known birdlife, including eastern ground parrots, wallum froglets, and kauri, hoop and white beech pines.

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).

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.


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

The Proposed Development

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 (ostensibly) 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
  • 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.

Map of the Cooloola Great Walk Ecotourism Project. Sites D, R, K, L and B are all locations of proposed developments. Map source: Queensland Parks and Wildlife

The Problems 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. It is the only place in the world where rainforest is found on sand,  and Poona Lake is one of the only perched dune lakes in mainland Australia. The proposed private accommodation with dining and meeting spaces would significantly impact Cooloola’s significant natural and aesthetic values, simply in order to provide wealthy visitors and corporate clients with luxury holidays in exclusive locations.

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.


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

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 

Further information



How you can help

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

- Formal submissions regarding the CGWEP can be made at anytime via ecofacilities@des.qld.gov.au.
- Minister of Environment, Hon. Leanne Linard MP https://cabinet.qld.gov.au/ministers-portfolios/leanne-linard.aspx; Email:environment@ministerial.qld.gov.au
- 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




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