Cooloola Great Walk ecotourism project – frequently asked questions

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    In October 2022, based on stakeholder and community feedback and further environmental investigations, the department has recommended changes to two of the proposed Cooloola Great Walk Ecotourism Project sites – Site N, which has been relocated to Site B, and Site P, which has been relocated to Site R. For further details view the proposed changes.

    The Queensland Government has selected CABN as the preferred proponent for the Cooloola Great Walk ecotourism project. CABN is an Australian expert in off-grid, eco-friendly accommodation with existing operations in South Australia and Victoria. You can read more about CABN.

    CABN was announced as the preferred proponent for the project on 22 February 2022, following the completion of an open expression of interest and request for detailed proposal.

    Construction of eco-accommodation facilities is expected to be complete by early 2024, depending on final approvals being granted.

    The Queensland Government has been engaging with the Kabi Kabi First Nation Traditional Owner Native Title Claimant Group, the Traditional Owners and Native Title Claimants for the project area, in relation to the project since its inception in 2018. The Claimant Group has been proactively consulted in all aspects of decision-making and planning on the project, including site selection, environmental impact assessment, cultural heritage monitoring and the development of the visitor experience.

    The Queensland Government has also undertaken significant investigations with the Kabi Kabi People in relation to the Aboriginal cultural heritage values of the proposed project sites along the Cooloola Great Walk.

    Ongoing Kabi Kabi involvement and management of cultural heritage in relation to the project will be prescribed in an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) and Cultural Heritage Management Plan, which is being finalised between the Queensland Government and Kabi Kabi People.

    Development of these documents has involved extensive consultation between the State and Kabi Kabi People, and consultation within the broader Kabi Kabi community.

    Yes. The Cooloola Great Walk and all existing public camp sites will remain open for well-equipped, self-sufficient walkers. Eco-accommodation facilities will be separate from existing walkers camps and will not take up camping spots that are currently available for public walkers.

    Other walking tracks, four-wheel drive tracks, drive-in campsites and beach access within Great Sandy National Park will remain open to the public.

    The department has also recently completed upgrades of public infrastructure along the Cooloola Great Walk, through a grant provided by the Queensland Reconstruction Authority. Upgrades include replacement of deteriorated and outdated walk signage, redesigning and replacing interpretive materials, reconditioning of the four walkers’ camps including the installation of new camping platforms and animal-proof storage lockers, repairing severely sloped camping pads, replacing wastewater treatment facilities, and re-grading of eroded sections of the track.

    Assuming full capacity and not accounting for park closures, the project is estimated to accommodate up to approximately 5500 new users of the Cooloola Great Walk annually. The Cooloola Great Walk is greatly under-utilised, occupied for less than 1500 visitor nights annually out of a maximum capacity of approximately 17,500 available visitor nights (approximately 8.5% of total capacity). Use of the Cooloola Great Walk has significantly increased during the COVID-19 Pandemic, to approximately 3000 visitor nights (approximately 17% capacity). Even assuming that use of the Cooloola Great Walk remains at COVID-19 levels, additional user numbers will remain under the total capacity of the walk. However, as eco-accommodation is being provided in addition to existing public camping spots, ecotourism walkers will not take up spots on the Cooloola Great Walk that are available to the public.

    The five currently proposed eco-accommodation sites have been identified through an iterative decision-making process that has considered a range of factors, including ecological impacts; cultural heritage impacts; compatibility with park management; practicality of access; interference with existing public use, vulnerability to fire, flood and extreme weather; and tourism potential. Site selection process also incorporated significant consultation with key stakeholders, including ecological and cultural heritage experts, local Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) staff, CABN and the representatives of the Kabi Kabi First Nation Traditional Owner Native Title Claimant.

    Site selection remains an ongoing process as a result of continuing feedback from these key stakeholders and the general public. An initial set of proposed sites were previously identified as potential eco-accommodation locations following environmental investigations, and the proposed location envelopes with a set of developmental parameters which were submitted to the Commonwealth Government for assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC) in June 2021. Following recent site changes independent ecological advice was sought by the department which confirmed that risks to Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES) has been decreased with the site relocations. The department has sought advice from the Commonwealth Government on whether the site relocations will require re-referral of the project. The Commonwealth has advised that referral is not required providing that the changes do not increase risks to MNES. Proposed sites will not be finalised until an application is submitted to the department for assessment under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 and is considered by the department. As at 16 December 2022, an application has not been submitted for the State’s consideration.

    Following consideration of public feedback, independent ecological advice, and consultation with key project stakeholders, the department has recommended that two of the originally proposed eco-accommodation sites be relocated – Site N, which is being moved to a location designated Site B, and Site P, which is moved to a location designated Site R. These new locations are described below.

    The current proposed Site B (formerly Site N) is intended to utilise existing boat and vehicle access to the Noosa River around Campsite 3, while not interfering with public use or critical ecological and cultural values of the area. The department assessed nine sites along the upper Noosa River, from south of Campsite 3 upstream to the Dutgee Walkers Camp. Eight of these sites were initially rejected by the department due to boat and vehicle access restrictions, inconsistency with QPWS visitor management planning, and Kabi Kabi cultural concerns about increased use of sacred sites along the riverbank. A ninth site, Site N, was recommended to proceed to EPBC referral and for presentation to the community as a proposed site location. However, the department acknowledged at the time that the site had ecological sensitivities and potential flood risk which would require several mitigation measures, and stressed the need for further investigations and site planning to mitigate these concerns prior to final approval.

    During public consultation, significant further concerns were raised regarding impacts on public use of Campsite 3 and the Noosa River Trail, disruption of scenic amenity of the Noosa River and practical difficulties servicing the site from existing access. Further, in early 2022, following significant flooding of the Noosa River, including Site N, the department advised CABN that it no longer considered Site N to be a viable development location.

    The department has since undertaken further investigations to locate a suitable alternative location in the area. It has recommended a new site location, “Banksia” (or Site B), located approximately 400m east of the Noosa River, off an existing vehicle access track, and outside of the flooding inundation zone of the Noosa River. The proposed Site B avoids significant wetland values, in particular the Cooloola Patterned Fens, avoids potential fauna habitat, in particular mature koala habitat and hollow bearing trees, and is close to the Cooloola Great Walk and existing vehicle access.

    The current proposed Site L location takes advantage of a previously disturbed area immediately adjacent to the Litoria Walkers Camp, which is currently used for informal camping and shows evidence of illegal campfires. Seven sites were considered around the existing Litoria Walkers camp. Other sites were rejected due to QPWS concerns regarding impacts on public use of the existing walkers camp and proximity and visibility from Lake Cooloomera.

    The current proposed Site K was identified based on its proximity to a junction of the Cooloola Great Walk and an existing management/ex-forestry access track (Broutha Scrub Track). Ten sites were considered in the high central dunes of the Cooloola Recreation Area. Alternative sites around the existing Kauri Walkers Camp were rejected due to concerns around potential impacts on threatened rainforest ecosystems and impacts to public camping access.

    The current proposed Site R (formerly Site P) was identified as an opportunity to enhance the long multi-day walk and to also enable a second product of a three-day walk to be developed at the northern end of the Cooloola Great Walk. The department investigated nine sites around Poona Lake. Eight of these were initially rejected by the department due to direct impacts on rainforest ecosystem, substantial risks to Poona Lake, culturally inappropriate access around the northern edge of Poona Lake, disruption of public use of the Poona Lake and the Cooloola Great Walk, difficulty of vehicle access and distance from the Cooloola Great Walk. A ninth site, Site P, was recommended to proceed to EPBC referral and for presentation to the community due to its location outside of high conservation value rainforest, it not being visible from the existing Poona Lake public use area, and being positioned on the edge of Poona Lake’s catchment, thereby allowing high risk infrastructure to avoid contamination risks to Poona Lake.

    During public consultation, Site P attracted significant public interest and concern from the community. The community raised a number of concerns that some of the risks could not be mitigated, most notably the site’s proximity to Poona Lake, potential hydrological contamination risks to Poona Lake, disruption of ecologically and culturally significant old-growth trees, disruption of rainforest values, and difficult vehicle access through the Poona Lake catchment. Following consideration of these concerns, in June 2022, key project stakeholders requested that the department undertake further survey work to identify a potential new site location for consideration that did not carry the same level of residual risk and community concern.

    Following consideration of community feedback, ecological, arborist and cultural advice, and in consultation with key project stakeholders, the department has identified a potential new site location, ‘Ridgeline’ (Site R), which is approximately 400m west of Poona Lake, entirely outside of Poona Lake’s catchment. Site R is located in previously disturbed (ex-forestry) blackbutt woodland, away from high value rainforest and undisturbed old-growth blackbutt on existing, maintained vehicle access. The site remains an acceptable walking distance to both the Cooloola Great Walk and Poona Lake. The former Site P may be used as a gathering area for cultural tourism activities associated with Poona Lake. However, no facilities, beyond basic seating or an activity platform (and subject to further assessment) will be permitted at that location.

    The current proposed Site D is positioned on a knoll close to the Cooloola Great Walk and a suitable distance from the Double Island Point Lightstation complex, which is a historic heritage site and public day use area. The site was specifically chosen to avoid diminishing key national park values of Double Island Point, being historic heritage, Kabi Kabi cultural heritage, visual amenity and significant public use. Six other sites were considered and were rejected due to exposure to dangerous winds and disruption to values around the Double Island Point Lightstation.

    Each site will contain a set number of eco-accommodation structures, and a communal structure (including kitchen and dining facilities). The current (not yet finalised) proposal is for six small eco-tents at each of the remote tent sites (Sites B, L and K); and ten small cabins at each of the less remote northern sites (Sites R and D). Sites will also include raised boardwalks between structures (to prevent trampling of vegetation and unauthorised access into adjacent areas), service infrastructure (power, water and wastewater), and rainwater storage tanks.

    Site plans and structure designs for DES approval have not been finalised and are currently being developed by CABN.

    Site and structure design and operation will be guided by the department’s Ecotourism Best Practice Development Guidelines (PDF, 1.1MB) , which specifically require prospective ecotourism operators to explore options for energy conservation such as renewable energy, use of passive heating and cooling, energy-minimisation technologies, water conservation practices such as rainfall capture and the use of water efficient appliances. DES will require CABN’s final designs to consider these options.

    Eco-accommodation sites are solely intended to function as overnight accommodation stops for Cooloola Great Walk hikers, and as such they will not be energy-intensive. A key priority for DES and CABN is to maximise self-sufficiency. Preliminary CABN designs have included options such as rooftop solar power at all proposed sites, and battery storage backup to trickle-charge during non-occupation periods to provide adequate power for when the sites are occupied. Canopy shading has been identified as a constraint at Sites K and D and CABN will be required to develop solutions to allow charging even during low light periods and under partial campsite shading (e.g. solar systems including bypass diodes, micro-inverters and sub-circuits that allow panels and panel arrays to continue generating power even when partially shaded). Canopy clearing to increase solar exposure is not proposed and will not be permitted. A backup generator may be required due to the presence of stored perishable food on site to cover electricity shortages. Final design will need to incorporate measures to maximise renewable energy output and minimise electricity usage to the greatest extent possible.

    Water requirements must be met primarily through rainwater collection, and final designs must include measures to maximise rainwater capture and minimise water usage (for example, include timed showers and microflush toilets). Extraction of water from local sources will not be permitted. Water may need to be trucked in during periods of extreme low rainfall, however this is only expected to occur in exceptional circumstances.

    Exact specifications for wastewater management systems are still in development.

    However, DES will impose strict wastewater management requirements to avoid threats to sensitive groundwater dependent values. All sewage waste must be captured and removed from the national park, and CABN will be required to implement mitigation measures (such as reinforced storage tanks with redundancy systems) in the design and planned operation of sites, to mitigate risks of accidental spillage or leakage of untreated effluent, and subsequent contamination of the surrounding environment. DES may consider on-site treatment and disposal of treated greywater only (e.g. Advanced Enviro-septic systems) at proposed sites located away from sensitive groundwater dependent values, subject to further environmental impact assessment and in line with environmental best practice. No release of any potential groundwater contaminants will be permitted at Sites B and R due to the presence of nearby wetland values.

    Clearing for all purposes must remain within a pre-determined lease footprint. No clearing will be permitted outside of lease footprints, or within the lease area solely to enhance views or to create firebreaks. Rather than relying on unacceptably large firebreaks, other options must be explored to meet building standards and local government requirements in relation to fire risk, such as providing a fire bunker and considering structures to be sacrificial.

    DES has stipulated that CABN’s site and structure designs must demonstrably minimise clearing to the smallest possible extent, limited to only what is necessary for placement of structures and infrastructure. Designs must also work within the unique existing ecological, cultural heritage and public use constraints present at each site and ensure that critical park values are preserved. Clearing works must avoid direct impacts to, or interference with, critical natural and cultural values within and adjacent to proposed sites, such as threatened species microhabitat, ecologically and culturally significant trees (including substantial pruning or lopping of branches of trees). To ensure that clearing is not excessive and does not jeopardise park values, clearing of sites and access track corridors will be undertaken under the direct supervision of DES, independent ecologists and fauna spotters, and representatives of the Kabi Kabi People.

    Post-construction, CABN will also be required to implement a proactive revegetation program to return any cleared and/or disturbed areas outside of direct accommodation footprints to a pre-disturbance state (or better, where sites are located in previously disturbed areas).

    All sites are intended to be walk-in only, and specifically cater for hikers undertaking multi-day hikes along the Cooloola Great Walk. Vehicle-based park visitors, day users and single-night hikers (i.e. hiking into the national park from side trails) will not be permitted to use the facilities. All sites are located a short walk (up to 400 metres) from the Cooloola Great Walk. Sites will be connected to the Cooloola Great Walk by minimally formed trails constructed by QPWS to Grade 5 standard.

    In similar ecotourism projects the majority of servicing of sites can be undertaken by a single four-wheel drive vehicle, and DES expects the project to be serviced under a similar arrangement.

    Larger vehicles will occasionally be required to access sites to remove bulk waste and wastewater, and occasionally to refill water tanks during periods of extreme low rainfall. Frequency of larger scale vehicle servicing and the type of vehicle have yet to be detailed. However, there are practical constraints on vehicle access that will limit vehicle type, including road formation (particularly for historic heritage-listed roads within the national park), erosion risk, vegetation, weight limits on existing infrastructure and the capacity of on-site infrastructure.

    The majority of vehicle access will use the existing ex-forestry track network within the Cooloola Recreation Area, which is maintained by the QPWS for public recreational four-wheel driving, beach access and ongoing park management. The majority of existing track to be used for construction and servicing is along public tracks.

    An additional 450 metres of new vehicle track will be required to connect Sites B, L, R and D to existing vehicle access tracks nearby. Converted walker access will be rerouted to maintain ongoing walker access. All new vehicle access tracks will be constructed by QPWS, to QPWS standards, and will be maintained as State owned assets. CABN will be required to maintain new access to mitigate erosion and weed risks. Existing public and management roads, including new access tracks will be maintained jointly by CABN and QPWS.

    DES does not expect the proposal to exacerbate unauthorised vehicle access within Great Sandy National Park, as the majority of new vehicle access required extends management tracks where public vehicle access is already excluded (e.g. un-signposted management-only tracks located behind locked gates and not signposted for the public). Vehicle access is intended to be strictly utilitarian, providing direct access to proposed eco-accommodation sites only, and will not provide additional thoroughfares, shortcuts, or direct access to any significant tourism or recreational areas.

    No. Accommodation is solely intended to service hikers undertaking multi-day walks along the Cooloola Great Walk. Eco-accommodation facilities will not be available for day-users or vehicle-based visitors to the national park. A wide range of camping facilities for overnight and vehicle-based campers already exist across the Cooloola Recreation Area.

    Surveys undertaken to date include:

    Further detailed surveys and impact assessment studies will be required as the project progresses to ensure that it meets best practice guidelines and legislative requirements.

    Koalas are protected under local, State and Commonwealth environmental legislation, and ensuring the protection of koalas and their habitat is a priority for DES. Environmental impact assessment for the proposed eco-accommodation sites included a survey for koalas and potential koala habitat. Surveys failed to find any evidence of koalas at any of the project sites, and koalas have not been historically sighted at any of the project areas. Advice from independent ecologists is that sites are unlikely to support koala populations.

    Potential impacts on koala populations (PDF, 722.2KB) were considered as part of the project referral to the Commonwealth Government for assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. On 30 June 2021, the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment determined that the project is not a controlled action, and that significant impacts were not likely on any Matters of Environmental Significance, including koala populations.

    However, DES will require koala protection measures to be implemented for the project, in particular during construction works, including:

    • All works must comply with the sequential clearing conditions as stated in the Nature Conservation (Koala) Conservation Plan 2017, which requires clearing to:
      • Be undertaken in a manner that allows koalas time to move out of the clearing site without human intervention
      • Maintaining corridors to adjacent koala habitat; and
      • Not clearing trees which contain, or are adjacent to trees that contain, individual koalas
    • Occur only while a qualified fauna spotter is present on site.
    • Requirement that any koala habitat or food trees cleared are replaced at a ratio of three trees to every one lost.

    In June 2021, DES referred the Project to the Commonwealth Government for assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC). Following assessment by the Commonwealth and a mandatory two-week public notification period, on 30 June 2021, the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment determined that the project is not a controlled action, and that significant impacts were not likely on any Matters of Environmental Significance.

    The project has also been assessed under the Queensland Heritage Act 1992, for potential impacts on two historic heritage sites located within the Cooloola Recreation Area—the Pettigrews Timber Tramway Complex (within which Site K is located) and the Double Island Point Lightstation (within which Site D is located). Approvals were granted in January 2021 and require the development to avoid and impacts on the unique historic values and character of both heritage places, and have protocols in place to manage any historic artefacts found during construction and operation.

    The project still requires several key environmental approvals, most notably local government development approvals under Noosa Shire and Gympie Regional Councils, and final approval under the Nature Conservation Act 1992.

    No. Should the Cooloola Project be approved, its footprint and operational scope will be limited to what is proposed by the proponent in their application to the department under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 and approved by the department (should approval be given).

    Any future expansion or alteration of the development would require a completely new application to be submitted to the department for assessment against the same legislative and departmental policy requirements as would be required for a new development proposal. As a minimum, this would also require further environmental surveys and impact assessment to be undertaken, the seeking of additional local, State and Commonwealth approvals, consultation with key stakeholders such as Traditional Owners, and for public consultation to be undertaken in line with statutory requirements.

    The operator will not be permitted to expand or significantly alter operations without the approval of the department, including changes such as relocating or constructing additional cabins or other infrastructure, undertaking additional clearing, altering how facilities are accessed by guests (for example, allowing non-hiker use or multiple night stays) or offering additional facilities or services.

    The Queensland Government has provided opportunities for public consultation on the project to date.

    In May-August 2019, the then Department of Innovation and Tourism Industry Development (DITID) (now the Department of Tourism, Innovation and Sport (DTIS)) undertook online community consultation via Social Pinpoint to seek views from the community on potential ecotourism development in the Cooloola Recreation Area, and share ideas and knowledge on the Cooloola Great Walk to inform future planning. This was advertised on the Queensland Government’s Get involved website, DITID’s website, local radio and print media, and on social media. This consultation event generated over 4100 views, 37 online submissions and seven written submissions.

    In June 2021, the Department of Environment and Science (DES) undertook targeted community consultation in the Rainbow Beach and Noosa regions, intended to present information gathered to date on the project, seek views of the community and key stakeholders on the proposal, and to notify the public of an opportunity to make a formal submission on the EPBC referral for the project being undertaken by the Commonwealth Government (which was at the time open for a mandatory two week consultation period). This community consultation was advertised on DES and DTIS’s respective webpages and on social media, and DES invited over 130 conservation groups, and tourism industry representative bodies, local businesses, and local and state government representatives to attend consultation events. Consultation included four public community briefings, two pop-up stalls at local community events, and six one-on-one briefings with key conservation and local government stakeholders in the area, which engaged over 150 registered participants.

    The department has, and will continue to, accept submissions from the public and key stakeholders on the Cooloola Great Walk ecotourism project. These submissions will be considered by the department as part of ongoing assessment of impacts, refinement of project design, development of appropriate environmental, cultural and visitor management programs, and in final departmental decision-making on the project approvals. Since June 2021, the department has received over 70 submissions from the public and key stakeholders on the project, raising questions, concerns and suggestions on a range of issues, including the management of impacts on environmental and cultural values, compatibility with existing public use, land tenure, and consistency with ongoing park management.

    Future project approvals, such as local government development approvals under the Gympie Regional Council and Noosa Shire Council, may require statutory public notification. More information on the development assessment process may be found on the Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning website, and on the Noosa Shire and Gympie Regional Council websites

    The Department of Environment and Science will require a range of measures to be implemented throughout final project design, construction, and operation, which avoid and mitigate impacts on the unique natural, cultural and recreational values of the Cooloola Recreation Area. Impact mitigation measures will be incorporated into environmental management plans, which will be developed and in place prior to the commencement of any on-park works.

    Key environmental protection measures to be implemented include (but are not limited to):

    • Minimising clearing of vegetation to the smallest extent possible (limited to areas required for eco-campsite structures and infrastructure) and avoiding clearing of ecologically and culturally significant large/canopy trees.
    • Structure design and construction activities incorporating measures to reduce impacts on critical ecological values of the surrounding area, such as threatened species, critical and unique ecosystems, wetlands and aesthetic/landscape values.
    • Incorporation of appropriate, nil-impact waste and wastewater management systems.
    • Ensuring long-term use of the area does not increase pest, weed and fire risks through capping of visitor numbers, education and ongoing proactive weed monitoring.
    • Incorporating aspects of local cultural heritage into design and commercial operations, in consultation and cooperation with Traditional Owners.

    Eco-campsites will include measures to mitigate the risk of wildlife to visitors and property, such as vegetation setbacks, fire bunkers and emergency evacuation procedures. The ecotourism facilities will also be operated in a manner that does not pose a significant fire risk to the surrounding area – flammable materials will not be stored on site and smoking will be prohibited at all eco-accommodation sites.

    The EPBC referral for the project included an overview of minimum environmental protection measures (PDF, 285.3KB) that the department will require. Additional protection measures may be identified following additional surveys required prior to final project approvals.

    No. All publicly accessible existing public campsites, walking tracks and recreation areas will remain open. The department will not permit exclusive access to any public walking trails, campsites or day use areas along the Cooloola Great Walk or elsewhere in the Cooloola Recreation Area. Site selection also considered potential impacts to nearby public use values, and sites were selected specifically to avoid physical, visual and auditory impacts on existing day use areas.

    All project documents released to date may be found in the links below. The EPBC referral of the project can also be found on the Commonwealth EPBC Act Notices Website Referrals list, searching under Referrals List for the Cooloola Great Walk Project Referral number “2021/8954”. Further information on the project may also be found on the Department of Tourism, Innovation and Sport’s website.

    Questions or concerns regarding the Cooloola Project may also be submitted directly to the department, at Ecofacilities@des.qld.gov.au

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    Cooloola Great Walk Ecotourism Project

    Reports and assessments