Archive | Conservation

Tread Softly in the wilderness

Is there a party limit when walking in declared wilderness areas?

Yes and no. Sometimes there is a legally enforceable limit, and at other times there is a recommended limit. In other parks there is no set limit at all in the Park Plan of Management (POM).

You can access POMs here.

Most people are unlikely to want to trawl through the complexities of the POM. However, the National Parks Association (NPA) has published a comprehensive list of wilderness limits and recommendations here, compiled from the park Plans of Management.

Additionally, under the National Parks and Wildlife Regulation 2019, a Park Authority may impose a legally enforceable condition of entry on people entering or using the park. That condition of entry may be printed at the point of park entry or as a notice in the park office, or alternatively may be given verbally. The current fine for disobeying a condition of entry is $300.

Four wilderness areas have a set limit of eight people, six others have higher limits or recommendations. Most (over 30 more) do not have limits set in their Plans of Management. Unfortunately the National Parks website does not always tell you the answer to the question of maximum party size, so if in doubt always ring the local park office for information.

So just what is a wilderness area? NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) defines it on their website as

‘Large, natural areas of land which, together with their native plant and animal communities, remain essentially unchanged by modern human activity. They allow the natural processes of evolution to continue with minimal interference, which protects the existing biodiversity in a functioning natural system.’

NPWS prepare report with a proposal for each new wilderness area, which must then be approved by the Minister for the Environment. Once the Minister publishes the declaration in the Government Gazette, special protections apply to the Declared Wilderness Area.

The Wilderness Act 1987 states that wilderness should be managed so as to:

(a) to restore (if applicable) and to protect the unmodified state of the area and its plant and animal communities,

(b) to preserve the capacity of the area to evolve in the absence of significant human interference, and

(c)to permit opportunities for solitude and appropriate self-reliant recreation (whether of a commercial nature or not)

Many wilderness areas are remote. Access is usually by foot. Motorized vehicles are prohibited except in emergencies. There are no signs or trail markers. These areas should only be tackled by highly experienced, self sufficient walkers with advanced navigation skills.

If we walk and camp with too large a party, we risk damaging the pristine environment, and impact on the ability of others to enjoy the solitude of these precious places. As responsible bushwalkers we should always aim to Tread Softly in the wilderness, with small party sizes, in accordance with the principles of the Bushwalkers Code, regardless of whether or not there is a legal limit to party size.


Outdoors People for Climate Concluding

We’re reaching out today to let you know that we have made the decision to close the organisation, Outdoors People for Climate. This decision was not taken lightly by our board of directors who took into consideration, primarily, the organisation’s capacity to continue OPC’s activities, as well as the changing context of the climate movement.

Whilst this organisation is reaching its conclusion, there are so many existing and emerging people-powered organisations that are driving important change across Australia.

Looking back over OPC’s lifetime, we are incredibly grateful for the enthusiasm, support and action generated by our community of supporters. We can be immensely proud of what we’ve achieved together to date. When Covid-19 kept us mostly indoors, we moved our bank accounts and superannuation away from fossil fuels and raised our voices in submissions and targeted campaigns. At the critical juncture before our last federal election, we wrote to our MPs and took to the streets, had important conversations with friends and family and pledged to vote for climate action.

OPC hosted powerful climate conversations and presented at outdoor workplaces and conferences. We brought together outdoor representatives for the climate change Better Futures Forum 2021 and partnered with Outdoors NSW & ACT to form a climate change subcommittee to explore pathways for action in the outdoor sectors.

During this time we’ve seen grassroots groups and everyday Australians stand up in an enormous outpouring of public sentiment in favour of climate action. This groundswell of support for greater climate action has contributed to important wins, from the strengthening of the climate safeguard mechanism to Victoria committing to end native forest logging in 2024.

There’s still a long journey ahead, and greater action is needed urgently to tackle the climate crisis and avoid the worst consequences. This includes ending the development of new coal and gas projects.

To all of our supporters who contributed to OPC’s work in a financial way, we thank you for your generosity. We have donated OPC’s remaining funds to the Australian Conservation Foundation who share OPC’s vision for ambitious climate action and thriving ecosystems in Australia.

With OPC’s activities concluding, some key organisations you may wish to connect with include The Australian Conservation Foundation, The Wilderness Society, Protect Our Winters Australia, For Wild Places and the Climate Council.

Tourism development in protected areas: Are we on the right track?


Tourism development in protected areas: Are we on the right track? 

Bushwalking NSW symposium 19 November 2022

Thank you to our Sponsors:


Keith gave a stirring call for the protection of nature and for retaining nature intact. See last slide for summary. Also, click here to watch the Symposium video and here to see the Agenda.


Andy Macqueen – The Historical Perspective

  • the 90 years anniversary of Blue Gum Forest celebration is also a celebration of all national parks and the amazing legacy of Miles Dunphy
  • also discussed evolution of the conservation movement

Gary Dunnett, National Parks Association of NSW Executive Officer

  • NPA of NSW was established in 1957 to protect nature through community action
  • The National Parks Australia Council is concerned about proposals for commercial developments in Protected Areas
  • believes Protected Areas Management is veering off track

The findings of the 2021 NPAC national survey of community attitudes on development and commercial activities in Protected Areas reinforced:

  • the important protected areas purpose of nature and wildlife protection for current and future generations
  • Australians are twice as likely to visit national parks with low impact commercial tours compared to high impact activities
  • Any visitor services should be small scale, low key, of value to all visitors, and in keeping with the natural setting

Shadow minister for the Environment, Hon. Penny Sharpe

  • Labor’s task is to prioritise environment protection by increasing protected areas, curbing land clearing, establishing market based mechanisms to address climate change and retaining wildlife corridors
  • believes national parks have been downgraded – and we need to elevate NPWS status and increase importance of POMS
  • said invasive species issues are getting out of hand

Andrew Nicholls PSM, Acting Deputy Secretary, NPWS

  • The NPWS acquisition program focus is on under-represented areas of land
  • Australia is the world leader in extinctions – 85% of threatened species live in national parks. 
  • NPWS has a zero extinction policy eg feral animal control, reintroducing locally extinct mammals
  • 30% parks estate is managed jointly with traditional custodians
  • A key issue is stewarding parks due to increasing visitor demands on parks – the POM is the key tool used to balance conservation and recreation 
  • NPWS will use existing infrastructure where possible and will develop new camping facilities where needed. Options for those who want to pay more will be available
  • Economic benefits from national parks will flow to regional economies
  • NPWS will work within national parks legislation using a precautionary approach and consulting with the public

Private Tourism sector perspective from Mark Norek, Life’s an Adventure

  • Mark’s sustainable tour business model is to buy land near national parks for infrastructure, use local infrastructure and support local businesses. Accordingly he is adamant that there is no need for development in national parks. 
  • Outlined how his business principles have been successful with these walks –  Bay of Fires, Three Capes Walk, Light to Light and Kangaroo Island 
  • worried that NPWS is losing their direction and working for the big end of town

University researchers Ali Chauvenet – The Hidden Mental Health costs of the privatisation of parks

  • being in nature is good for our health – parks contribute $5000 per person per year in mental health benefits
  • without national parks there is double the amount of mental health costs 
  • parks privatisation increases the gap between those who do and don’t go to parks due to socio economic factors
  • there’s a missed opportunity for leveraging funding via mental health benefits but this needs to be inclusive and equitable
  • mental ill health is expensive and pervasive

Conservationist perspective from Keith Muir, Wilderness Australia

  • Questioned if the next generation will even know how to engage with nature
  • Parks development leads to more development and nature destruction not nature appreciation 
  • Partial privatisation is exclusive beach front development by stealth
  • The public are excluded from secret government/developer lease negotiations
  • Commercial built development in parks should be legislated against 
  • Local communities are bypassed and do not receive an economic benefit from high-end development
  • Multi use trails are a myth as they displace walkers in place of bikes etc
  • Green Gully developments are non-compliant with legislation. Horse riding negatively impacts on wilderness through weed spread
  • NPWS conservation role has been diverted to tourism management
  • Need to reinforce importance of ecological sustainability – manage parks for nature not humans

Legal perspective from Christopher Birch, SC

  • Gave a clear answer to the question: What stops development in National Parks?
  • While the PoM is the key instrument, the minister has powers to amend a PoM with only 45 days public viewing eg Beowa PoM was amended to allow hard roof accommodation development
  • The minister has extensive powers to grant leases and licences making it very easy to replace NPWS with a commercial operator.
  • EPA process: once the PoM is in place, environmental impacts are reviewed. Only have to examine and take into account environmental impacts as The Act doesn’t require impacts to be addressed. 

NPWS Greater Sydney Regional Advisory Committee perspective from Brian Everingham

  • Preserve Park Protection for Posterity
  • Educate younger generations to appreciate that national parks offer more than a backdrop to modern high-tech activities
  • More money for weed controls in National/State Parks
  • Protect national parks and use existing nearby infrastructure
  • Primary purpose of a park is conservation not commerce
  • The more we talk together, the stronger we are
  • Train young people to guide walks and maintain tracks. NPWS to run these projects and attract more people to walks.

Presentation Summaries:


Tourism development in protected areas – Analysis by John Souter

Nothing dollarable is safe, however guarded.

What was true in the USA in 1909, when legendary American conservation crusader John Muir wrote those words, remains equally true in Australia in 2023. As proof, look no further than the suite of developments and proposals for tourism development in protected areas multiplying throughout the national parks estate. The race to commercialisation in some of our protected places has become a vexed issue.

The popularity of Tasmania’s Three Capes Walk has had mainland state bureaucracies salivating at the prospect of emulating the feat, even though there’s no telling whether it is actually making money for Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife. Commercial-in-confidence provisions in the relevant leasing and licensing contracts see to that. The ‘iconic walk’ fairy dust is now being sprinkled liberally all over the place. And with the iconic walk sobriquet invariably comes the business case pressure to commercialise and privatise in some way.

Thus we have the Australian Walking Company succeeding in its proposal to build eco-pods in the Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island, in which to house its guided walking clients on the 5-day Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail. Expect to pay around $800 per night per person for the privilege. In this case the word ‘wilderness’ is something of a marketing tool but there have been serious proposals by such companies to build luxury accommodation in more remote designated wilderness areas: an unsolicited (and unsuccessful) proposal to do so on the Kanangra to Katoomba (K to K) walk through the Kanangra-Boyd and Blue Mountains Wilderness areas a few years ago springs to mind.

Such proposals are concocted, oblivious to the fact that the phrases ‘wilderness lodge’ ‘wilderness resort’ or even ‘wilderness hut’ are all oxymorons. But most of our national parks are not declared wilderness and the legal restraints that apply are fewer.

In coastal southern Queensland, there’s a proposal to build 10 ‘eco’ huts sixty metres up the banks of perched Poona Lake near Rainbow Beach in Great Sandy National Park to facilitate commercial guided walking on the Cooloola Great Walk. This national park also encompasses k’gari (Fraser Island); it’s only k’gari’s protection as a world heritage site preventing such development there.

Meanwhile, Victoria has come up with the Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing that will stretch an overnight backpack walk into a 5-day, 57-kilometre affair at the cost of many tens of millions of dollars. The consequent ‘low impact’ huts (with up to 10 two or three-person huts, a communal hut and two toilets at each site, this is more akin to a mini mountain village) are to be built at taxpayer expense but not available to the independent walker: the ‘preferred model’ is to lease them to a single private operator who would also operate the high-end accommodation and guided hiking package at around $800 per night.

Parks Victoria has already set its own precedent with the huts it had constructed at two walk-in campsites along the northern section of the new Grampians-Peaks-Trail. You can stay in these 4-person eco-huts so long as you employ the guiding and cooking services of either the Grampian Peaks Walking Company or Raw Travel and sign up for a 3-day guided walk: expect to pay around $900 each per night. When not being used by the two commercial operators (that is, most of the time), the huts lie unoccupied.

New South Wales has come late to the party but is busily making up for lost time. First up on the far south coast, the controversial Light to Light Walk upgrade, featuring two new huts. An earlier version of the proposal, modified after a public backlash, excluded independent walkers from camping at certain scenic sites and sought to force them to camp at the existing and less salubrious drive-in camp sites. The stay at the Green Cape lighthouse at walk’s end will be available exclusively to Light to Light walkers and will no doubt be bulk booked by commercial operators who will likewise seek access to the new huts on a bulk-booked basis.

At $56 million, the 4-day Dorrigo Escarpment Great Walk will also have 3 new (basic) huts and campsites and a swish new Rainforest Visitor Centre. It is unclear whether it will be publicly managed or not: the department website states, ominously, that detailed operational procedures and pricing are not yet provided.

No such ambiguity with the proposed Great Southern Walk between Kurnell and Sublime Point. This 67-kilometre walk traversing Kamay Botany Bay NP, Royal NP and the Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area, is already open for Expressions of Interest to find a suitable delivery partner even though no new infrastructure has been built yet. Once the new huts and campsites are completed, the suitable partner will ‘help run the guided walking and manage the new camping experiences using the new facilities’: more outsourcing to a private operator on an exclusive basis. The rationale for this – and I quote – ‘it … allows us [NPWS] to get on with managing our visitors and conserving the natural and cultural values of the national park.’ [Department of Environment website]

Apparently, managing walkers’ huts and campsites isn’t considered by NPWS to be part of managing visitors. If NPWS lacks the expertise to do so it should be recruiting skilled staff because the ‘provision for sustainable visitor or tourist use and enjoyment…’ is one of the legislated management principles under which it operates. You can bet that if a guided-walks operator is managing the new huts, their clients will get priority or even exclusivity, with independent walkers relegated to the camping platforms.

For something far more egregious, look to the plans for the long awaited and recently created Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area (SCA). No sooner had it been declared than a draft Plan of Management was released for public consultation. The problem with this slimline document was it had almost nothing of substance in it. All detail of what is being proposed for the SCA – a veritable theme park in the park’s ‘Lost City’ area – was devolved to a separate document: a draft Master Plan for the delivery of $50 million-worth of eco-adventure tourism.

The problem (or, more cynically, the trick) is that the master plan is a non-statutory document – it doesn’t need to be adopted by the Environment Minister, nor would it require public consultation to alter it; it could be changed at will. Along with zip-line courses, a via ferrata rock scrambling course and 4WD touring routes, there will be the multi-day hut-to-hut Wollemi Great Walk. No doubt, the huts, to be built with taxpayer funding, will again be effectively privatised through a long-term lease to a ‘preferred operator’, an all-too-familiar trope.

There are other ways of operating such long-distance walks that are still compatible with the high-end market. You can walk Victoria’s popular Great Ocean Walk the luxe way, staying off-park each night at the same luxury walkers lodge (midway at Johanna, which is not part of the park) and being transported with your daypack each day to the trailhead. Similarly, WA’s Cape to Cape Walk can be done in guided luxury, staying at Margaret River.

Kosciuszko’s new 55-km, 4-day Snowies Alpine Walk between Guthega and Lake Crackenback (Thredbo River) will be able to be walked self-guided or guided but staying at existing infrastructure at Guthega, Charlotte Pass and Perisher. Close to home, Shoalhaven’s soon-to-open 34-km Murramarang Coast Walk can be walked pack-free and with a roof over your head, staying either off-park (operators are already advertising guided package deals) or on-park at pre-existing accommodation, for example the cabins at Pebbly Beach, Depot Beach and Pretty Beach. But with bureaucracies feeling the political imperative to monetise the national parks estate in return for the sudden windfall funding for tourist infrastructure, this model seems to be on the wane. Put simply, there’s not enough money in it.

The argument is inevitably made that guided hut-to-hut walks increase equity of access by enabling people to complete such walks who would not otherwise be able to do so. This may be true in theory but in practice, the high costs of such guided walks in Australia preclude the majority of people availing themselves of the opportunity.

I recently attended a full-day symposium organised by Bushwalking NSW on Tourism in Protected Areas and not surprisingly, several of these case studies were discussed. It’s fair to say there wasn’t a lot of love in the room for commercial enterprises seeking exclusivity or for National Parks management seeking to outsource responsibility for managing the assets that are, after all, publicly owned and taxpayer funded.

So what is a reasonable stance to take on these issues? There is a (hard)core of bushwalkers who decry any roofed accommodation and related infrastructure ever being built in our national parks. They would hold to the idea that only self-reliant and self-sufficient walkers have any place venturing there on multi-day excursions. This is not what I’m advocating here. I don’t have an in-principle problem with huts in our national parks – either pre-existing or newly-built – if they are truly low-key, sensitively placed and having a low environmental impact. Huts have a particularly valuable place in more hostile environments and I’ve slept in plenty over the years. It’s the model that’s the problem. Given that our national parks and other such protected areas are all public land (unlike, say, European national parks), my first objection is to any form of de facto privatisation: giving commercial entities exclusive long-term leases on public infrastructure or on land on which to build their own.

I don’t object to paying a (modest) premium for staying in a basic hut rather than using an associated campsite. But there should always be a choice. Nor do I object to commercial operators providing guiding, cooking, pack transportation, food drops, trailhead client transport and the like under an appropriate licensing agreement. But such arrangements should be transparent, contestable and nonexclusive and the financial details should not be shrouded in commercial-in-confidence.

My biggest objection is to any attempts to mandate the use of huts, private or public, as a precondition for undertaking a multi-day walk a la the Three Capes Walk template. At the end of his presentation at the above-mentioned symposium, I asked a very senior NPWS manager why the Green Gully track – a 65-km walk in the NSW Oxley Wild Rivers National Park – is off limits to tent-based walkers. Self-guided walkers are required to move each day between the 5 pre-booked, six-person huts for which solo bookings are not accepted. The cost, though a small fraction of comparable commercial guided walks, is considerably higher than the Overland Track. I got a sheepish reply that this walk’s overly prescriptive regulation is an aberration, a mistake not to be repeated. I fear otherwise. Thank you to Rob Blakers for Three Capes Accommodation Footprint images.

Three Capes 9/11/15

Three Capes 9/11/15


Lost City walkabout

A weekend walk through the Gardens of Stone lead by Keith Muir

It was an easy start to the weekend staying Friday night at Keith Muir’s place in Katoomba and then being driven to the car shuffle and then to the start of the walk.

We started walking on broad fire trails that passed through unspectacular heath on the Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area not far from Lithgow. However, before long Keith and the others stopped at a large rock on the side of the road which gave a view over an amazing valley. We were looking down over a huge canyon-shaped valley lined with intricate pagoda structures. The Lost City. It truly was reminiscent of an ancient city with each pagoda-shaped ‘tower’ with its rounded ‘head’ and ironstone fenestrations.

We walked down the hill into the valley and the view of the Lost City just got better. As we got up close to the structures you could see the sandwiched layers of ironstone and sandstone. With the sandstone weathered away leaving the ironstone jutting out.

In places the ironstone was twisted and curled up making even more beautiful structures.

We walked through the valley floor which was filled with beautiful bush before Keith identified a ridge which we could climb to reach our campground. The climb was a steep scramble at times and we needed to find our way around some rock formations but we made it without a hitch. Keith really knows this area well.

We walked across the plateau and then climbed up more pagoda formations. Getting close enough to the pagodas to climb them makes you super aware of how fragile they are. The ironstone layers that jut out and give the pagodas their intricate decoration are unsupported and easily break off. We were extra careful with every step to be sure we didn’t break off rock as we climbed.

After admiring the view from the top we headed across the plateau to our campground in a lovely clearing near a water soak. We enjoyed our meals around a campfire and headed to bed early to get a good rest.

On the Sunday Keith lead us on a circuitous route through another canyon-like valley surrounded by pagodas. The bush was beautiful and we all enjoyed our lunch beside a beautiful pagoda. We then walked out to the car shuffle car with no trouble.

I’m so grateful to Keith for showing me this precious part of the world. Having seen the pagodas from afar and up close, and having seen how fragile they are, I am inclined to write to NPWS and ask that they:

  1. ban people from walking or climbing the pagodas of the Lost City, and
  2. develop walking tracks that pass close by the pagodas so people can enjoy them.

If this area is opened up to mass tourism, with people allowed to climb the pagodas, I can see their delicate ironstone protrusions getting snapped off until there are no more protrusions giving the pagodas their delicate filigree-like decoration. Surely we need to take care of these delicate structures to the next generations can enjoy them as we do.

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Gardens of Stone Protected!

Australia’s longest conservation campaign delivers: Gardens of Stone Protected – New Gardens of Stone Conservation Area announced.

A quick background to the Gardens of Stone announcement:
  • The Australian conservation movement called for the protection of the Gardens of Stone region in 1932
  • In 1932, Colong Foundation for Wilderness founder, Myles Dunphy, included the Gardens of Stone in his ‘Greater Blue Mountains National Park Proposal’
  • In 1985, former Colong Foundation Director, Dr. Haydn Washington, published the Gardens of Stone Reserve Proposal
  • In 1994 the Liberal Environment Minister, Chris Hartcher, reserved the Gardens of Stone National Park (stage 1) after a strategic park proposal from the Colong Foundation for Wilderness while independents held balance of power in the NSW Legislative Assembly
  • In 2005, the Gardens of Stone Alliance formed, consisting of the Blue Mountains Conservation Society, Colong Foundation for Wilderness and the Lithgow Environment Group to coordinate a community campaign to protect the Gardens of Stone based on a state conservation area proposal by the Colong Foundation
  • In 2019, a comprehensive visitor management plan, Destination Pagoda, was released by the Gardens of Stone Alliance to showcase the economic benefits of the region
  • In 2021, Centennial Coal withdrew their proposal for the Angus Place Colliery after persistent campaigning from the Gardens of Stone Alliance

Keith Muir, former Colong Foundation for Wilderness Executive Director, has said “After what must be the longest protected area campaign in history, the Colong Foundation welcomes the new Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area of over 30,000 hectares which positions Lithgow as the gateway to the Gardens of Stone region.

“The new reserve ranks in the top 20 of most floristically diverse of all NSW State Forests, National Parks and Reserves, just behind Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, but outranks them all on geodiversity.

“The funding provided will permit the establishment of a world-class tourism and conservation reserve protecting and presenting an astounding array of heritage values. It will improve the protection of internationally significant pagoda landscapes and remaining rare upland swamps. The area includes 84 threatened plant and animal species, such as the Giant Dragonfly, and 16 rare and threatened communities.

“The untapped tourism value of Lithgow’s Gardens of Stone backyard lies in the diversity and rarity of its scenery and native flora, and in its Aboriginal cultural heritage. These values will be protected and enjoyed by thousands of people.

“Lithgow will become the new Katoomba which was once a coal mining town, having successfully transitioned to a tourism based economy in the 1920s. It is testament to the persistent community campaign that this announcement has happened today.”

Blue Mountains Kanangra-Boyd National Parks – Planning Workshop Outcomes


Summary of workshop outcomes June 2021,

Blue Mountains National Park & Kanangra-Boyd National Park Draft Plan of Management


The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is developing a new plan of management for Blue Mountains National Park and Kanangra-Boyd National Park to set long term directions for the management of these national parks.

NPWS facilitated 4 workshops between 4 and 6 June 2021 to elicit stakeholder views and feedback on a range of matters, including:
• management of adventure recreation activities, including abseiling, canyoning, rock
climbing and slacklining
• management of recreation in wilderness areas
• management of key visitor sites.

Feedback on each of these discussion themes and other issues is summarised below. In this document, NPWS has endeavoured to reflect the feedback provided by workshop participants as accurately as possible. The points listed below do not necessarily reflect the views of all workshop participants.
Adventure recreation
• NPWS should use existing user groups to reach out and educate new users – e.g.
climbing gyms, outdoor clubs, university clubs, education groups.
• Visitors to the parks value the experience of being in the park and are concerned about
their own safety.
• Environmental sustainability and visitor safety are often compromised when large
groups are involved in adventure recreational activities.
• The focus of management should be on proper risk management and auditing, rather
than exclusively on limiting group size.
• The Australian Adventure Activity Standards (AASs) represent significant work and
thought by industry professionals. As such, NPWS group size limits should align with
these as much possible. Activity-specific Good Practice Guides (GPG) provide
recommendations about group sizes.
• One organisation represented at the workshop highlighted that compulsory adoption of
AAS standards and the GPG was not supported.
• Clubs are generally well managed and concerned about risk. They rely on selfregulation because they are not sufficiently resourced to adopt additional responsibilities
for the management of their members.
• A participant described the group size limits set by NPWS as generous.
• One business highlighted that they may use smaller groups than allowed.
• Improved communication methods are required to disseminate information about the
rules for each activity (e.g. a broader range of social media platforms, different
languages etc.).
• Maintaining a group size limit of 8 participants (and one guide) was appropriate.
• For multi-pitch abseiling, a reduced group size limit of 4 participants (and one guide)
was more appropriate.
• Larger group sizes were generally not appropriate but could be feasible at specific sites.
• The ‘canyoning community’ is working on a best practice document that addresses
environmental risk, cultural risk, and safety risks. This document can be provided to
• Maintaining group size limits was necessary to maintain individual and group safety and
to minimise any environmental impacts.
• Social media is motivating participants with insufficient skills to undertake the activity.
There may be opportunities to utilise social media to promote safety messages.
• Some people are attempting canyoning with limited experience and without the support
of a club.
• Group size limits should be conservative and appropriate for the canyon. A group size
of 10-12 was considered too high.
• Use of a booking system was supported at popular sites.
• Group size limits should apply to both commercial and non-commercial groups. Guides
help to reduce impacts and therefore should be allowed as an addition to the group size
• There should be a cap on total group numbers (commercial and non-commercial) per
canyon, per day, to manage current and future use.
• NPWS should consider adopting management strategies like those used by the US
National Parks Service.
• Education providers could benefit if they were licensed as commercial tour operators.
This would enable them to access improved operating arrangements including use of
the DigiRez booking system.
Rock climbing
• Top-rope climbing should have the same group size limit as applies to abseiling.
• A group size limit should be 4 or 5 participants per roped party.
• Bolting in the parks is an ongoing issue of concern. It was suggested that an updated
bolting policy and/or further discussion with NPWS is required. It was recommended that
the QLD Government’s approach to management should be considered.
• There have been some changes in group behaviours in recent years (for example,
visitors playing music when out in the parks).
• Group size limits should apply to both commercial and non-commercial groups. As
guides help to reduce impacts, they should be allowed as an addition to the group size
• The current approach to managing bolting/anchor points is not working. Further
engagement is needed to increase self-regulation, minimise impacts and maximise
• It was acknowledged that risk management was a complex issue and beyond the scope
of the plan of management to resolve.
• Australian Climbing Association has a climbing database (The Crag) that could be
utilised to improve communication with climbers about specific sites.
• Rock climbers should not be a source of revenue.
• Any plans to apply zoning for different types of climbing will require further consultation
with climbers.
• Education is needed for rock climbers on how to manage their waste.
• Slacklining was defined as the temporary use of trees in disturbed areas such as visitor
precincts (camping areas or day use areas where there isn’t high visitor traffic)
• Highlining was defined as the temporary use of cliff features and existing anchors/bolts
(rock climbing) for traversing on a safety line across airspace.
• There is interest in both recreational-based slacklining and event-based slacklining.
• The Australian Slacklining Association has established a code of conduct, fixed anchors
guidelines and guidelines regarding airspace safety. There is also an Adventure Activity
Standard in place.
• Slacklining is an emerging, legitimate adventure activity both in Australia and
internationally and it is therefore appropriate that NPWS makes provision for the activity
in the plan of management.
• Issues include impact on ecologically sensitive sites, the potential for noise pollution
(from webbing), air space /aviation safety, impact on scenic values and damage to
• Limits should apply on the duration of slacklines (e.g. 1 day).
• Variations of the activity include water-lining, yoga-lining, and trick-lining. Parks are not
a major focus for these activities.
• The strategies used by NPWS to manage other adventure recreational activities should
be sufficient to provide for the safe and sustainable authorisation of slacklining.
Recreation in wilderness
• A group size limit of 8 should be retained.
• Guides actively manage group behaviour. For this reason, the allowance of 2 guides for
commercial tour operators should be extended to educational groups.
• There is a need for active management in response to degradation around Burra Korain,
Dex Creek and Mobbs Swamp camping areas.
• Divergent views were expressed about the introduction of toilets and other infrastructure
to manage impacts. Most participants were supportive of the establishment of minimalist
and carefully designed infrastructure (including toilets), provided this was part of a more
holistic strategy which sought to avoid infrastructure development wherever possible.
Several participants highlighted the need for sound evidence before infrastructure
development in Wilderness areas is considered.
• The requirement to book all camping areas limits the freedom of individual choice and
requires all camping to become a pre-planned activity (rather than a spontaneous one).
• Designation of campsites and access via a booking system may be necessary.
However, the designation of campsites should not restrict options for walkers that still
wanted to enjoy dispersed bush camping.
• Information and education should be retained as the primary strategies for preserving
wilderness values.
• Information for walkers about wilderness boundaries should be improved as many
visitors don’t know when they were entering a wilderness area.
• The risk of exceeding the carrying capacity of wilderness areas was a major theme of
discussion. It was highlighted that social media and the promotion of wilderness
experiences (especially during peak visitation periods) presented a risk to wilderness
• Marketing should avoid promotion of wilderness experiences during periods of peak
• The parks are significant for the preservation of wilderness values, and the unique
experiences that these wilderness areas provide.
• The plan of management should include strategies to retain opportunities for people to
enjoy true wilderness experiences in the long-term and that these strategies should
seek to prevent the application of more interventionist strategies (e.g. toilets) in the long
• More active wilderness preservation strategies (e.g. toilets) would be more appropriate
in areas that were of lower wilderness quality such as the Grose Valley.
• There is a concern that people may become lost following incorrect trails that have
developed through use. Remedial work, consistent with the retention of wilderness
values (including vegetation management and track works) was supported.
Visitor facilities
• The current event application process is overly onerous for small smaller organisations
conducting small scale events.
• The factors involved in providing a sound rationale for visitor facility investment (and
disinvestment) should include visitor demographics and demand.
• There are opportunities to work cooperatively with Blue Mountains City Council and
private sector partners, across tenure and on private property to address visitor facility
• Facilities (including campsites) need to cater for a broad range of abilities and
experiences. There should be areas designated for caravans, walkers, and car-based
• Visitors are also looking for shorter walks and picnics in natural settings.
• Strategies to address carrying capacity and spread visitation onto other areas (and to
undertake other activities) need to be developed.
• Degradation of some camping areas was noted. Some should remain undeveloped and
unregulated while it may be appropriate at others to manage impacts and level of use
through improved facilities and bookings.
• The scale-up and scale-down of campsites were raised as an option to facilitate
recovery of impacted sites.
• Consider a classification system for campsites to ensure that visitors have clear
expectations about levels of service.
• Some climbers would appreciate having access to climber-only camping sites.
• Some campgrounds are currently used by caravaners and camper-trailer campers (e.g.
Dunphy’s, Green Gully & Boyd River).
• The facilities required for caravan and camper-trailer camping (electricity supply, areas
for generators, waste dump points etc.) were discussed. Concerns were raised about
the impact of these facilities on the park experience.
• Participants opposed caravans and camper-trailers being used in the park as there are
sufficient alternatives for these styles of camping outside the park.
• The use of camping areas by commercial operators needs to be appropriately managed
to ensure access by other visitors is not compromised.
• Permanent camping should not be allowed.
• Visitor safety, access and environmental protection should be considered during
detailed design for visitor sites.
• Some improvements are required to facilities that are causing adverse impacts on
environmental values (sedimentation from trails, roads and carparks, toilets etc.).
• Improvements are required to soft infrastructure (online information, maps etc.).
• The role of site design in managing visitor expectations and in offering a range of high
quality experiences was a focus of discussion.
Access to visitor sites
• Private tourism developments within the parks including luxury lodges and glamping
within existing campsites was opposed.
• There are not enough places to provide accessible adventure activities for people living
with disability. Modified gates to provide access could be utilised. An accessible ‘great
walk’ could be considered.
• Arrangements for access to the park through private property (and access to private
inholdings) requires clarification in the plan. Private landholders often do not allow
access across their land to the parks because they are concerned about public liability.
• Providing access could create camping opportunities at sites including Kedumba Valley
(larger groups), Pack Saddles (small groups) and Canyon Colliery.
• Opportunities for camping at Green Gully should be considered during development of
the precinct plan for that site.
• There is demand for campsites that cater for larger groups. This may take pressure off
smaller sites.
• Access at Dunphy’s requires resolution.
• Yerranderie and Wolongambe have opportunities for camping but access issues would
require resolution. Ingar also has great opportunities for camping however restrictions
with access would require resolution.
• Cross-tenure arrangements need to be considered at Ingar to allow access to NPWS
• Perry’s Lookdown does not offer a quality camping experience. This requires resolution.
• There was a recommendation that the Blue Labyrinth should be managed as a remote
natural area. The last plan of management recommended sealing the road to Nepean
Lookout. This is not appropriate for tradition and history reasons.
Online booking
• The pros and cons of bookings systems were discussed. There are challenges
associated with booking groups however a booking system can help to change
behaviour, cap numbers, and generate improved experiences.
• Bookings need to be easy, flexible for groups, allow for spontaneity, and consider safety
and park management needs. The system needs regular review to ensure functionality
and effectiveness.
• Maintaining records of trip intentions is another way of monitoring visitor numbers.
• Sydney people are getting used to online booking for campsites. This system could be
expanded to encompass booking for day trip experiences.
• There is support for bookings and revenue collection where revenue can be reinvested
into the park.
• There have been instances where people have booked campsites and have then not
utilised their booking. This is a problem with the online booking system because it has
potential to restrict access for campers and could encourage larger groups and illegal
party’s that could impact on other campers.
• Booking platform (Digirez) needs to recognise a diversity of sites to match the type of
experiences and people that are booking. Currently it is too restrictive.
• To plan their camping trip, people need to access information about campsite sizes and
numbers group sizes before they access the Digirez platform.
Potential improvements to visitor sites
• Schools use the parks for multi day walks (with self-sufficient camping) and school
camps. School camps require larger campgrounds, toilets, and vehicle access. Sites like
Mount Wilson and Newnes are important. There may also be opportunities at Euroka
and Green Gully.
• Green Gully Cabins are currently under-utilised, and consideration should be given to
better manage the site and its future use.
• It was suggested that camp hosts could be better utilised.
• Hanging Rock needs implementation of a site management plan.
• NPWS maintenance and upgrades of existing tracks (including Grand Canyon) were
commended. Providing good quality tracks in popular areas attracts novice bush
walkers and leaves more difficult walks for those with more experience.
• Govetts Leap upgrades were discussed. It was acknowledged that, while improvements
seemed logical, residents may have strong views about things that affect them directly.
• The following areas within and outside the parks could be considered for improved
access and facilities: Narrow Neck, Wolgan, Victoria Falls Road, Evans Lookout,
Kedumba, Greens Gully, Mt Banks, Wolongambe, Bells Line Road, Acacia Flat
campground, Wentworth Falls, Conservation hut, Copeland Pass and Yerranderie.
• Upgrade is required for the Copeland Pass Track.
• The K2K walk experience should be supported.
• Upgrades are required at trail heads to provide toilet facilities and improved information.
• Facilities at popular climbing areas should be upgraded to include toilet facilities.
• A walking loop from Turras Ladders east to Kedumba River, K2K to Solitary was
suggested. Catchment restrictions were acknowledged.
Other issues
• Online communication about park access requires improvement. Alerts are not updated
often enough.
• Visitors need better information from utilities when they close tracks to undertake work.
It is hard to determine if whole or part of a track is closed and whether you can walk
around the closure.
• Strategies are required to communicate the boundaries between the parks and council
• Bushwalking NSW are seeking more engagement with NPWS on matters of mutual
• Recreational organisations provide opportunities for improved communication about
park management (e.g. Bushwalking NSW newsletter).
• Communication to visitors could be improved through the application of consistent
signage across tenures.
Visitor management
• Increased visitation (and the resultant pressures on the park and the visitor experience)
is an issue that needs to be addressed at a strategic infrastructure planning level, and
through marketing and information.
• The lack of park entry fees was questioned, with some support for fees in areas with
facilities. The application of fees within wilderness areas was not supported.
• Increased visitation is restricting carparks for some residents. It was suggested that
NPWS should cooperate more with local government to improve carparking adjacent to
the parks.
• Strategies for the management of visitors and tourists should be consistent.
Plan of management
• The plan should integrate with other relevant planning documents including special
areas plans for catchments, world heritage plans, indigenous land use agreements,
heritage plans, tourism plans, plans for adjacent parks and precinct plans.
• Some people would like to see what actions have been completed in the current plan of
• NPWS needs to allow adequate time for groups/stakeholder to consider information
when consulting.
• Climate change impacts on park values, use and management (including park closures,
fire, water, pest management and changing visitor use patterns) need to be addressed
in the plan.
• Plan needs to provide scope to respond to unforeseen or emerging issues (e.g.
birdwatchers following honeyeater migration, changed flight paths with the new airport
and dam development proposals).
• Pest plant and animal management should be a focus for the plan of management.
• The plan of management should seek to improve the interpretation of Aboriginal cultural
heritage and non-Aboriginal cultural heritage within the parks.
• The plan of management should provide scope for the application of Aboriginal names
in the parks.
Fire management
• Increased burning in wilderness areas should not be to be used to achieve prescribed
burns targets.
• Fire management should be ecologically based– with specific assets targeted for fire
World heritage
• A consistent approach to management and improved communication about the World
Heritage Area is required.
• The World Heritage Working Group should engage more broadly with the community.
• Drones are now common within the escarpment including at lookouts.
• Concerns were raised about the safety of drones and disturbance to visitors.
• Support was expressed to exclude drones from the parks

Floods Ignite Raising Warragamba Dam Wall Debate

In late March 2021 an extreme rain event on the Australian East Coast caused serious flooding which endangered people and property in many areas including the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley on Sydney’s outskirts. The Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley flood highlighted the dangers of urban development in flood-prone areas given the high likelihood of more climate change-induced flood events in future.

The rain event and resulting floods have intensified debate on the controversial proposed 14 metre raising of Warragamba Dam Wall.  Many experts and conservationists contend that the most extreme floods are unlikely to be stopped by raising Warragamba Dam wall. Flooding in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley comes from other river/creek sources in addition to water flowing over Warragamba Dam wall. In addition the geography of the Hawkesbury-Nepean area restricts the amount of water that can flow out of the Valley.

The Colong Foundation for Wilderness states that the raised dam wall proposal is being driven by pressure from developers.  As part of the Warragamba Dam wall raising proposal, Infrastructure NSW plans to house an additional 134,000 people on the Hawkesbury-Nepean floodplain in coming decades. The Foundation states that people in new and existing residential developments in the Valley will not be safe from future extreme floods even if the Warragamba Dam wall were to be raised.

The Foundation states that the proposed dam wall raising will lead to flood water inundation of World Heritage listed Blue Mountains National Parks and wilderness streams and desecration of rare and ancient natural heritage and Indigenous cultural sites.

Adding weight to arguments against the raised dam wall proposal, the Australian Insurance Industry recently withdrew their support for the Proposal due to concerns over the probable loss of important cultural sites and natural habitat. The Industry suggested that the State Government should investigate alternative measures to mitigate flood risk in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley.

Alternative flood mitigation actions available to the State Government include improving floodplain evacuation routes such as the Castlereagh Connection, pre-emptive dam-water release water and relocating people in the most flood-prone areas. NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro recently stated that alternatives to the dam wall raising need to be considered including lower water levels and building desalination plants for water supply.



The Jack Mundey Spirit Lives On

Peter Stevens, a past President of the Wolli Creek Preservation Society, has been
honoured by Canterbury-Bankstown Council with its inaugural Jack Mundey Environment
and Heritage Award.


“This is recognition of Peter’s long-term commitment to the completion of the Wolli
Creek Regional Park, established and grown as the result of community pressure, led by
the Society, over several decades.’ said Gina Svolos, the present President of the Society.

“The Park is now nearing completion and Peter has renewed his commitment by
organising to protect the Wolli Creek Valley bushland and the Regional Park from the
proposed location of an industrial plant within the Park boundaries. The proposal would
have negative effects on both the natural environment and a heritage-listed structure,
the two things cited in the Award, and for which Jack Mundey as an initiator of Green
Bans is rightly famous.”

“There is a better alternative nearby: a vacant, government-owned, non-bushland site,
outside the Park boundaries that we want Sydney Water to use.” Ms Svolos emphasised.
Mr Stevens reports that, working with the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, the
Society’s petition to the Minister for Water, Melinda Payne, passed 3,000 signatures on
February 10 and is still growing.

“That is a thousand signatures a week since its launch,” Mr Stevens said, “and over 100
of these are from interstate and many more from regional NSW and urban areas remote
from the Wolli Creek Valley. Which goes to show that while people may leave the Valley,
the Valley does not leave their memory or their concern.”

See here to sign the petition.

Contact: Gina Svolos President 0431 308 303
Media Contact: Peter Stevens 0412 596 874