The picture-perfect views of Wineglass Bay, with its turquoise waters and immaculate beaches, attract tourists from across the world to the Freycinet Peninsula.
- The Tasmanian government plans to build a new visitor center and car park outside the Freycinet National Park
- Opponents say the park is already struggling to cope with high visitor numbers and new infrastructure will only encourage more
- The government says the facilities will reduce congestion and manage visitor numbers
But an unrelenting visitor boom is putting pressure on infrastructure and a government plan to build its way out of it has raised alarm bells for some conservationists.
Sophie Underwood has been visiting the Tasmanian national park for 50 years and has serious concerns about plans to build a new visitor center with at least 380 car parking spaces, with additional areas for larger vehicles and buses.
The proposal also includes a “recreational vehicle accommodation park” and several “accommodation opportunities”.
“It will have a larger footprint than the Blundstone Arena in Hobart and is to be located on one of the most important areas of biodiversity outside the formal reserve system,” she said.
“Keep the existing visitor center and better manage tourism numbers.”
Build it because they will come
The number of visitors to Freycinet National Park has increased from about 200,000 per year in the late 2000s to more than 300,000 by 2018, according to the Parks and Wildlife Service.
Visitation increased 9 per cent every year for five years before the pandemic and the government expects growth to continue in the decades ahead, albeit at a slower rate of 3.5 per cent.
A 20-year master plan released in 2019 aims to protect the environmental attributes of the ecologically sensitive region “while ensuring it can continue to play an important part on the tourism industry”.
The centerpiece is a new “visitor gateway” complete with information services, tourist operator ticketing, “small scale” shops, as well as the car parks and accommodation areas.
It would be built near the township of Coles Bay and serve as a “transport hub”, with shuttle buses, cycle paths and walking tracks providing access into the national park.
A spokesperson said the government had “deliberately” identified a site “to limit any further infrastructure within the national park”.
“Unless further measures are taken to remove vehicles from the national park, future projections will exceed the carrying capacity of the park,” they said.
“The measures to create a new gateway outside of the national park for large vehicles and a bus transport are practical and responsible ways to reduce congestion and manage visitor numbers sustainably.
The government said the detailed designs for the gateway would be informed by assessments of “the natural, heritage and Aboriginal cultural values” of the site and would undergo an environmental impact assessment and public consultation process.
“The PWS is aware of important values on the crown land and is confident that a new gateway can be developed outside of the national park, whilst also mitigating impacts,” the spokesperson said.
The government will also fund a feasibility study into a new wastewater system to handle the boom in visitors.
Upgrades pave the way for even more visitors
Ms Underwood said sections of Freycinet National Park were already struggling to handle the high number of visitors and building “a larger car park” would only encourage more to come.
As agreed by the Freycinet Action Network, she wants the government to scrap the gateway and introduce “some kind of registration system” to limit the number of visitors.
“We already know that locals have stopped going at peak time to the national park because it’s not enjoyable any more,” she said.
Tourists are unlikely to stop coming regardless of whether or not the public holiday is built and the master plan aims to ensure the district is prepared to manage and capitalize on future growth.
It projects an additional $10.7 million of visitor spending by 2028, helping to support another 53 full-time-equivalent jobs in the local service sector.
Freycinet Adventures kayak guide Charlie Ellis said he did not believe the park was overrun by tourists.
“The Wineglass Bay lookout and that areas gets a lot of travel but the rest of the national park is quite untouched from what I’ve seen,” he said.
“There is definitely a balance that needs to be had.
Brisbane photographer Andrew Teakle usually prefers landscapes devoid of people but he found it difficult to secure accommodation and parking during the Easter long weekend.
“But it’s lovely to see people enjoying this spectacular part of the world,” he said.
“It’s really one of the prettiest parts of Tasmania, one of the prettiest parts of Australia.”