Tasmania is blessed with beautiful and intact landscapes and excellent protection of much of the state. World Heritage Areas and national parks have long been coveted by developers and have been resisted – with varying degrees of success – over the years. The old saying ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom’ is certainly true in a place like Tasmania.

Under the current very pro ‘development’ Liberal government in Tasmania there are no end of proposals for private developments in national parks and other parts of the conservation network (check here for a current list). Mountain Journal has covered some of these, including the cable car planned for kunanyi/ Mt Wellington, the walking track into Lake Geeves in the south west of the state, and the gondola and re-development that is being proposed for the Cradle Valley in the north of the state.

Now a new proposal being pursued which would see helicopter tourism inside the Walls of Jerusalem National Park in central Tasmania.

Anyone who has walked into the Walls knows that it is one of the absolute jewels of Tasmania. Ancient pencil pines, a myriad of lakes, rocky peaks, challenging terrain, silence and beauty. However, according to The Advocate newspaper, “plans for an unusual eco-tourism attraction on an island in the Walls of Jerusalem National Park are making progress.

The federal Environment Department has invited public comment on a company called Wild Drake’s plan to build and operate a small standing camp on Halls Island, Lake Malbena.

The camp would support activities including kayaking, hill walks, bushwalking, cultural interpretation, wildlife viewing, poetry, art, botany, bird watching, astronomy and “citizen science” trips with guest experts in science, art and culture.

“The primary theme of the project is one of cultural immersion …,” documents lodged with the department by Wild Drake said.

“Key target markets will be discerning travellers looking for new discoveries, deep heritage and strong narratives, natural encounters and lean luxury.”

The company said it would be a small-scale operation aimed at the “very top end of the market”.

Customers would be flown to the island by helicopter from Derwent Bridge.

The state government in 2015 listed the project as one of four extra eco-tourism projects in national parks to go to the next stage of an expressions of interest process.”

The ABC reports that the tourism operators Daniel and Simone Hackett of RiverFly1864 want to build a ‘lakeside helipad and walking track, as well as accommodation buildings and kitchen and toilet facilities on the island’.

One of the arguments against these types of development is that they then provide a precedent for further developments. You could argue that the private hut system that runs along the Overland Track is thoughtfully designed, with minimal visual impacts on other users. But each new development paves the way for the next and this is clearly a government that cannot consider the concept of ‘enoughness’.

So now we have another proposal which will include noisy and carbon intensive high consumption ‘eco’ tourism.

But its not all going exactly to plan. Both environmental groups and recreational fishers have expressed concern about the suitability of the proposal and the process being used by the government to assess it and possibly discrepancies in the information that the developer has provided to government authorities tasked with assessing it.

The submission to the Tasmanian Government by RiverFly1864 states “guests will participate in low-impact activities such as guided kayaking, bushwalking and fly-fishing”, with the operators “intending to explore the potential for an associated high-quality interpretative Indigenous cultural experience to be developed in consultation with the local Aboriginal community”.

On the company’s webpage for the project, “fly-fishing” is one of a number of activities proposed for guests.

However, in documentation now with the Federal Department of Environment and Energy undergoing the public consultations process under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, there is no mention of fishing as an activity.

In emails to the ABC, Daniel Hackett said the plan for the camp is “not a fly-fishing operation, or heli-fly-fishing destination”.


IMAGE ABOVE: the proposed site is to the south and east of the main Walls of Jerusalem peaks.

Opposition is coming from some in the Tasmanian fly-fishing community, who have voiced their concerns about helicopter flights. As one fisher, James Bracken, posted on social media, helicopters “have no place in the western lakes”.

“Going on a western lakes adventure is to embrace the remoteness, the peacefulness and connectivity you get from being a part of nature, not solely a consumer, a user,” he said.

Environmental groups have pointed out that permanent infrastructure and helipad would appear to be inconsistent with the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) management plan.

The ABC reports that:

The Wilderness Society’s Vica Bayley said that until 2016, the area was designated by the plan as “wilderness zone” under which no permanent structures for commercial operations could be erected, and no “standing camps” or “commercial aircraft landings”.

Mr Bayley said in 2015 the Liberal Government undertook a review of the first management plan of 1999 and released a draft document proposing changes that were by and large rejected by environmental and Aboriginal groups and the World Heritage Committee.

But it was the proposal to remove the word “wilderness” from “Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area management plan” which put even the state’s tourism industry body offside.

In 2016, the revised plan was released, with Mr Groom stating it provided “certainty for stakeholders and establishes an appropriate balance in the management of the values of the area while providing for a range of presentation opportunities”.

Mr Bayley said it appeared that within the 240-page document subtle changes had been made which had up to now gone unnoticed — including the area around Lake Malbena being altered from “wilderness zone” to “self-reliant recreation zone”.

The new classification is defined as being where “visitors can conduct recreational activities that require a challenging and relatively unmodified setting, including activities delivered by commercial enterprises”.

The Tasmanian Government has said “any proposal that is agreed to proceed will then need to go through all normal Commonwealth and state planning and approval processes”.

However, Mr Bayley said he not been able to find documentation detailing such processes.

“Holes are being made in the management plan where tourism developments are,” Mr Bayley said.

Photo: A map of the proposed camp at Halls Island, showing camp footprint (pink), existing 1950s hut (aqua), walking path (green) and approximate helipad location, with vegetation protection areas (blue). (Supplied: Dept Environment and Energy)

The main image of Halls Island comes from the ABC website. Photographer: Lyndsey Evans.