The Tasmanian government says Freycinet National Park needs new infrastructure, but opponents are worried

The picture-perfect views of Wineglass Bay, with its turquoise waters and immaculate beaches, attract tourists from across the world to the Freycinet Peninsula.

But an unrelenting visitor boom is putting pressure on infrastructure and a government plan to build its way out of it has raised alarms bells for some conservationists.

Sophie Underwood has been visiting the Tasmanian national park for 50 years and has grave 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 an “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.”

A woman stands in front of trees and looks at the camera
Sophie Underwood from the Freycinet Action Network says tourism numbers need to be better managed.(ABC News: April McLennan)

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.

Image of a proposed visitor center in national park setting.
A building described as ‘inspiration for the Visitor Gateway’ in the 2019 master plan.(Supplied: Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service)

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 centrepiece 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.

Visualization of interior of visitor center.
An artist’s impression of the interior of the proposed visitor center.(Supplied: Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service)

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.

Tourists and sightseers at a coastal lookout.
The number of visitors to Tasmania’s Freycinet National Park continues to grow.(Supplied: Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service)

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.

A line of people wearing red face a woman who has her back to the camera
Opponents are worried the proposed developments will lead to unsustainable visitor numbers.(ABC News: April McLennan)

As convenor of 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.

Image of car park in bushland.
An artist’s impression of the new car park area outside the Freycinet National Park.(Supplied: Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service)

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.”

View of a curved bay with bright blue water, white sand and green trees behind the beach
Wineglass Bay attracts tourists from around the world.(ABC Open: Tailored Tasmania)

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