Cooloola Great Walk ecotourism project – frequently asked questions
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 negotiated between the Queensland Government and Kabi Kabi People.
The Native Title Claimant is currently undertaking a consultation process within the broader Kabi Kabi community on the ILUA for the project.
Yes. The Cooloola Great Walk and all existing public camp sites will remain open for well-equipped, self-sufficient walkers. Eco-accommodation facilities be separate from existing walkers camps and will not take up occupancy that is currently used 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 secured funding from the Queensland Reconstruction Authority to undertake upgrades of public infrastructure along the Cooloola Great Walk, which will be undertaken throughout 2022. Upgrades include replacement of all park signage, reconditioning of the four walkers camps and regrading of eroded sections of the track. The Department is also planning significant upgrades to repair a highly degraded section of the Cooloola Great Walk through Arthur Harrold Nature Refuge at Noosa North Shore, which has become severely eroded and is difficult to traverse in wet weather. Check Park Alerts before undertaking your walk to ensure that your walk will not be affected by ongoing track works.
Assuming full capacity and not accounting for park closures, the project is estimated to accommodate up to approximately 4500 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 4500 visitor nights (approximately 25% 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 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, the Noosa Parks Association, local Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) staff, CABN and the representatives of the Kabi Kabi First Nation Traditional Owner Native Title Claimant.
Please note that the originally proposed sites (below) are not finalised, especially Sites N and P where site selection remains an ongoing process as a result of continuing feedback from these key stakeholders and the general public. These 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 in June 2021. However, the sites are subject to further investigation involving independent experts and the project’s key stakeholders. Proposed sites will not be finalised until an application is submitted to the department for assessment under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 and is approved by the department. As at 1 September 2022, an application has not been submitted for the State’s consideration.
The current proposed Site N was identified based on a requirement from QPWS to locate a site away from public camping at Campsite 3, but still close enough to utilise existing river and vehicle access at Campsite 3. Nine sites were considered along the Noosa River. All sites located upstream of Campsite 3 were rejected due to restrictions on boat access beyond Campsite 3, limited and unreliable vehicle access without creating any new access, inconsistency with QPWS visitor management planning, and Kabi Kabi cultural concerns about increased use of sacred sites along the riverbank. The current site footprint was determined based on ground-truthed ecological surveys to position the site outside of ecological significant patterned fens vegetation and allowing a buffer zone between the site and an adjacent sedgeland.
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 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 site location is based on several key factors.
Firstly, the site ensures minimal disruption to ecological values of the area. It is located within blackbutt woodland (which avoids clearing or disruption to threatened rainforest/vine forest vegetation which is dominant around the rest of the lake), and is located on the very edge of Poona Lake’s catchment (as confirmed by groundwater surveys commissioned by the Department of Environment and Science, DES), which allows high risk infrastructure (e.g. wastewater) collection facilities to be placed outside of the high-risk catchment area.
Secondly, the site minimises impacts on public amenity of Poona Lake, primarily by being located on a knoll facing to the north-east, away from the public use area of the lake. Public view to the site is also blocked by dense vegetation between the site and Poona Lake.
Thirdly, the site provides access to both the Cooloola Great Walk (by way of an approximately 350 metre new Grade 5 walking track), while being relatively close (approximately 250 metres) from existing vehicle access via ex-forestry tracks to the west. The access track can also be located in a blackbutt dominated corridor (i.e. not intruding into rainforest/vine forest in the area).
Eight additional sites were considered in the vicinity of Poona Lake. These were rejected for a number of reasons, including direct clearing of rainforest, substantial risks to Poona Lake, 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.
The current proposed Site D is positioned on a knoll close to the Cooloola Great Walk and 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 not diminish historic heritage values, avoid Kabi Kabi values on Double Island Point, and not interfere with the visual amenity of Double Island Point. Six other sites were considered and were rejected due to exposure to dangerous winds and disruption to public use values around the Double Island Point Lightstation. During this process an additional site was identified on Double Island Point for a Kabi Kabi cultural use area.
Each site will contain a set number of eco-accommodation structures, and a communal structure (including kitchen and dining facilities). The number and type of accommodation structure will differ between the two different types of eco-accommodation site proposed: the current (not yet finalised) proposal is for the remote tent sites (at Sites N, L and K) to comprise of six small eco-tents; and the less remote northern sites (Sites P and D) to comprise of ten small cabins. 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 , 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, P 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 N and P 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 need to be taken into account that will limit what vehicles may be appropriate, 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 1400 metres of new vehicle track will be required to connect Sites N, L, P and D to existing vehicle access tracks nearby, comprising new access (approximately 650 metres), reopened ex-forestry vehicle track (approximately 300 metres) and converted walking access (approximately 450 metres). 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.
As an example, the proposed track to the proposed Site P will not provide direct access to Poona Lake or easier access to Poona Lake compared to current public access. To reach Poona Lake by vehicle through Site P would require a person passing a locked management gate, traversing an existing management track, as well as a reopened ex-forestry track and the new access track to Site P, and a one kilometre walk to the day use area at Poona Lake along a Grade 5 walking track and the Cooloola Great Walk. Most of this route is not signposted or mapped. This is compared to current public access, which is an easy, two kilometre walk via a well maintained Grade 2 access track from the two-wheel drive accessible parking area at Bymien Day Use Area.
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. Camping facilities for overnight and vehicle-based campers already exist across the Cooloola Recreation Area.
Surveys undertaken to date include:
- 2019, an initial desktop survey was undertaken to provide a broad overview of ecological and cultural values along the Cooloola Great Walk. This work was undertaken to identify potential ecotourism locations to inform initial project planning.
- 2019/2020 – A preliminary site investigation was undertaken of 21 potential eco-accommodation sites along the Cooloola Great Walk, from Teewah to Double Island Point. This work was used to shortlist a final list of sites for detailed ecological surveys.
- 2020 – a detailed ecological study and environmental risk assessment was undertaken of six shortlisted sites. Several additional surveys were undertaken to confirm the presence of ecological values or to readjust sites based on sensitive ecological values.
- 2020 – Historic heritage surveys were undertaken at two sites which are located within State listed heritage places (Site K , located within the Pettigrews Timber Tramway Complex, and Site D , located at Double Island Point)
- 2021 – DES commissioned a survey of subsurface topography and groundwater flow on the south-eastern edge of Poona Lake to define the perched catchment of Poona Lake and determine hydrological connection and contamination risk from the proposed Site P to the west. Uncertainties regarding the depth and extent of the catchment were raised during site selection as a significant risk associated with the site. The survey determined that the site sits on the edge of the Poona Lake, and that groundwater from the southern extent of the site flows away from Poona Lake into a drainage line to the south. This allows for high-risk infrastructure such as wastewater collection and transfer facilities to be placed entirely outside of the catchment, thus significantly reducing contamination risks to Poona Lake.
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 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 NCA and approved by the department (should approval be given). The operator will not be permitted to expand or significantly alter operations without the approval of the department, including relocating or constructing additional cabins or other infrastructure, undertaking additional clearing, increasing the size or frequency of tours, altering how facilities are accessed by guests (for example, allowing non-hiker use or multiple night stays) or offering additional facilities or services.
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 a Traditional Owners, and for consultation to be undertaken in line with statutory requirements.
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 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
DES 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 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”
Questions or concerns regarding the Cooloola Project may also be submitted directly to the department, at Ecofacilities@des.qld.gov.au.
Cooloola Great Walk Ecotourism Project
Reports and assessments
- Initial desktop report
- Preliminary Ecological survey report
- Detailed Ecological survey report
- Poona Lake Groundwater Investigation
- Historic Heritage Report – Double Island Point Lightstation
- Historic Heritage Report – Pettigrews Timber Tramway Complex
- Site selection report
- EPBC Act Koala impact assessment (extract from EPBC referral 2021/8954)
- EPBC Act overview of environmental impact mitigation measures (extract from EPBC referral 2021/8954)