The great East Gippsland Walk

The opportunity to walk through such a varied landscape is unparalleled in Australia and possibly unique in the world. There is almost certainly no other place on earth with the potential to walk from the ocean to the alps through predominantly undisturbed wilderness.

This 300 km long track proposal has been worked on for several months by The Wilderness Society. It was presented at a meeting of the new Orbost Community Forum in early February and was warmly welcomed. If it is to have any integrity and be taken seriously as a world class forest walk, it would require linking the Parks to create an unbroken chain of forest from coast to alps.

The strongest growth area for tourism both within Australia and internationally is nature based tourism including wilderness and adventure based tourism. Internationally, travel to appreciate nature accounts for up to 60% of all tourism and wildlife related travel accounts for up to 40% of all tourism.

Numerous studies exist in Australia and overseas which indicate that changing tenure from state forest to national park combined with investment in public infrastructure such as walking tracks, huts, rangers and visitor centers produces strong multiplier and flow on effects. The economic returns to local and regional communities are high.

Studies in NSW indicate a significant improvement in overall community well being in towns which have switched from logging to national park based tourism and recreation as their primary activity.

Surveys indicate that 99% of visitors to forests wish to undertake natural and cultural based activities like bushwalking, picnics, sightseeing and learning about the cultural heritage of a region.

The New Zealand Example

The term ‘Great Walk’ is borrowed from New Zealand which has nine walks described this way. The walks are heavily promoted internationally. International tourism to New Zealand increased 300% when the government began marketing the country as a major ‘wilderness adventure’ destination. The Great Walks are a uniformly high standard of construction, often with hardened surfaces which in some cases are almost 1 meter wide. The walks encourage both day use and longer walks. In some areas no camping is allowed and high quality huts with environmentally safe toilets, cold running water, gas stoves (gas provided) and well designed bunk accommodation for up to 60 people per night are provided. The huts are located within the daily reach of average fit walkers and in many cases are located in a stunning spot (the edge of a waterfall, clifftop etc).

The huts are staffed by rangers who help with track and hut maintenance, provide basic safety and community education to walkers and have radio contact with the outside world.

The primary benefit from the walking system is not the hut fee revenue but the economic development that flows from increased visitor use of any region. The Abel Tasman Great Walk has 22,000 hut bed nights per year and 150,000 day visitors per year. Most visitors stay at least two  nights in adjoining towns. This encourages a wide range of outdoor based activities. Rafting, car touring with picnic facilities and short walks complement the more adventurous ‘Great Walks’. The Maori people are increasingly involved in cultural tourism activities which adds another interesting dimension for many overseas visitors.

One New Zealand community, which until recently was principally a logging town decided to develop their own (fairly small) Walk called the Hump Track. The Southland community of 600 people developed 59 kilometres of track and two huts. New businesses and increased town wealth, school retention rates and improved services resulted.

New Zealanders once opposed these kinds of changes. They now seek out recreation and tourism opportunities and see national parks as an essential component of strong regional development.

The Orbost and District Community Forum has recently applied for funding to carry out a scoping study into this project.

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