Tasmania’s south-west is a place people fall in love with, but how should tourism be managed in the remote wilderness?

There are many reasons why people visit Tasmania’s remote south-west.

“Some people love the Indigenous history… some love the terrain, the weather. Each person has their own special connection to this part of Tasmania when they come down here,” pilot Gavin Groombridge said.

Mr Groombridge has been flying bushwalkers and tourists to Melaleuca in the middle of the Southwest National Park since 2017.

Pilot Gavin Groombridge has been flying visitors to Tasmania’s south-west since 2017.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

For Tim and Tracey Davis, who both grew up in Tasmania but moved interstate when they were in their 20s, a daytrip to the south-west was on their itinerary for a recent tour of the island state.

“We’re back on a bit of a pilgrimage to see the parts that we didn’t explore when we lived here,” Ms Davis said.

“The fact that it’s so hard to get to makes it so spectacular.”

A man and a woman stand together on a beach with mountains in the background
Tim and Tracey Davis visited Tasmania’s south-west on a recent holiday to the island state.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Mr Davis was also interested in the history of the area.

“I’m in mining so the history of it, how it got opened up with an airstrip and a tin mine,” he said.

Tin mining started at Melaleuca in the 1930s, and continued until 2007.

It is now part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Melaleuca is several days’ walk from the nearest road, but the airstrip means it is accessible for day-trippers.

It is also the start or end of the Port Davey and South Coast multi-day bushwalk tracks, or the midway point of a longer walk taking in both tracks.

A rocky, blue-colored mountain and a yellowy dusk sky
Wilderness guide Peter Marmion says Tasmania’s south-west is precious.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Wilderness guide Peter Marmion has been visiting the south-west for the past 50 years, since his first visits as a 12-year-old Scout.

“As I got older I started going to Port Davey in any way I could. I fell in love with the place,” Mr Marmion said.

These days he is an almost full-time guide.

“There’s a little bit of religious zeal about it, too, because I want to convert people to understand how precious this country is and how unique.”

A man sits among out of focus greenery in a garden, with the top of a bushwalking pack visible next to him
Mr Marmion has been a regular visitor to Tasmania’s south-west for the past 50 years.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Guided walk, failed being reviewed

A seven-day guided walk has been proposed for the South Coast Track, which would include six walkers’ huts along the 85km from Melaleuca to Cockle Creek.

It was proposed by Ian Johnstone, who sold his business to ASX-listed Experience Co last year.

Experience Co has received the proposal documentation as part of the sale.

“The South Coast Track could be one of the most iconic tourism experiences internationally, but we also recognize that this is an incredibly environmentally sensitive and Indigenous sensitive area, and we will work with local stakeholders, the Tasmanian government, and other relevant Indigenous bodies within Tasmania to take this development forward, “chief executive John O’Sullivan said.

“Our whole model is built around minimizing the impact of our infrastructure. We’re about small group touring, so we have no more than 10 people on a walk plus experienced guides.”

A male bushwalker with a large backpack walks through a plain of low, scrubby vegetation
The 85-kilometer South Coast Track joins Melaleuca and Cockle Creek, and follows an ancient Aboriginal route.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

A sacred, spiritual place

Palawa woman and Tasmanian Aboriginal Center campaign manager Nala Mansell said the south-west was a significant cultural landscape.

“The tracks that exist at the moment are very close to some of the most ancient Aboriginal heritage that you could find anywhere in the state, so there’s a huge concern on behalf of the Aboriginal community about what an influx of further tourism would do to those sites and what building or further infrastructure could potentially damage or destroy ancient heritage, “Ms Mansell said.

A woman wearing a t-shirt that says
Palawa woman Nala Mansell says Tasmania’s south-west is an area sacred to Aboriginal people.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

The Tasmanian Aboriginal Center has been pushing for Aboriginal ownership of Crown lands.

Ms Mansell said at the very least, Aboriginal people should be involved in any development plans from the very beginning.

Mr Marmion said the walking track and hut proposal was “inappropriate and ill conceived”.

“What we’ve got to do with World Heritage areas is shift the infrastructure outside the World Heritage area… I don’t want to be seen as anti-everything but I’m certainly anti-development in the World Heritage Area,” he said.

Wilderness Society Tasmania campaign manager Tom Allen said the state government’s “policy settings were all wrong.”

“The Wilderness Society supports and wants to see a thriving nature tourism sector alongside thriving ecosystems and properly protected and respected wild areas, national parks and World Heritage.”

A man wearing a black t-shirt that says, Wilderness Society Life.  Support stands in front of out-of-focus greenery
Wilderness Society campaign manager Tom Allen says it’s wrong to privatize World Heritage land.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Mr Allen said the proposal for the South Coast Track was one example of privatizing World Heritage land.

“It’s our understanding that what’s proposed is six luxury lodges… that will involve a significant amount of land clearing,” he said.

A rocky mountain top and lake viewed from above, through an airplane window
The view of Federation Peak and Lake Geeves is a highlight of the flight to Melaleuca.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

The proposal was made as part of the state government’s call for developments in national parks, which started in 2014.

Parks Minister Jacquie Petrusma said Tasmania’s natural and cultural assets were “an important driver for our regional economies and we want to be a leader in ecotourism”.

“However, we understand this must be achieved through culturally sensitive and environmentally sustainable visits to our national parks, reserves and Crown lands,” Ms Petrusma said.

A sea fog creates a light mist over coastal land
Bathurst Harbor is a marine reserve within the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

One proposal in the World Heritage Area, for a standing camp on Halls Island at Lake Malbena with helicopter access, has been dropped – for now – after the developer decided not to continue a court battle to win approval.

The company behind it, however, has said it planned to reapply for planning approval.

Ms Petrusma said the tourism master plan for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, released last year, “strikes the right balance by providing diverse, high-quality, environmentally sustainable visitor experiences at the same time as conserving and protecting the cultural and natural heritage values that underpin the significance of the TWWHA “.

A small airplane with a propeller at the front lands on a white gravel airstrip with mountains in the background
The airstrip and Melaleuca enables tourists to visit the remote area for daytrips.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Options outside the World Heritage Area

Mr Marmion said there were other ways to attract people to Tasmania for walking holidays.

“I have a vision of walking tracks similar to what you have in Europe and North America, like the Camino and the Cross Britain [Way]. “

He said he would like to see a track from Mount Wellington to Recherche Bay through the Huon Valley, and another from Launceston to Hobart via the Eastern or Great Western tiers, taking advantage of accommodation and services already in place.

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