11 September 2019

Community urged to "have your say" on draft Light to Light plans

| Ian Campbell
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Ben Boyd's Tower, south of Eden, the start of the Light to Light Walk. Photo: SCT.

Ben Boyd’s Tower, south of Eden, the start of the Light to Light Walk. Photo: Sapphire Coast Tourism

One of the state’s most isolated and untouched locations is at the centre of $8 million redevelopment plans; money and attention that makes those who love this pink, blue, and golden part of the New South Wales Far South Coast nervous.

Public consultation is currently underway for the Draft Light to Light Walk Strategy with community info sessions in Pambula, Eden and Bega starting today – July 31.

The comment period runs until August 26 with all those involved in the discussion to date encouraging interested community members to get involved and help shape the final outcome.

The Light to Light Walk extends for 31 km from Boyds Tower on the southern shores of Twofold Bay near Eden to Green Cape Lightstation, where you can look into Victoria.

Generally speaking, the trek takes three days and two nights to complete; Bittangabee and Saltwater are the two more formal campgrounds where toilets and other facilities are available, however, more basic camping at Mowarry Point and Hegartys Bay is also popular. A night at the end in the old lighthouse keeper’s quarters at Green Cape is a touch of luxury.

The popularity of the walk has been growing, driven by its stunning natural beauty and remoteness and the work of local low impact tour operators like Light to Light Camps and Light 2 Light Coastal Walks, who utilise the formal campgrounds.

That interest is about to be supercharged with $7.9 million in works proposed through the NSW Government’s Environment and Tourism Fund.

Mowary Beach, a highlight on the Light to Light walk

Mowarry Beach, a highlight on the Light to Light walk. Photo: Light to Light Camps

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Executive Director Robert Quirk says the Service will carefully consider community feedback and the outcomes of environmental and cultural assessments in progressing any amendments to walking track upgrades and the Light to Light Walk Strategy.

The proposal is to “significantly upgrade and realign the existing Light to Light Walk in Ben Boyd National Park, to create a world-class coastal Walk, including NPWS-managed accommodation for walkers,” the draft strategy says.

“Camping where there are no facilities is creating potential environmental impacts, particularly with increasing visitation, with evidence of fires in areas where fires are not permitted.”

The project includes “two new roofed accommodation sites to provide a hut to hut style experience for walkers.” Those sites are Mowarry Point and Hegartys Bay – which currently caters for walk-in tent campers only in an informal setting. There are no facilities at either location and outside of the park admission fee, camping at these sites is currently free.

“NPWS intends to manage the upgraded hut to hut style walk experience, with on-site ‘Hut officers’ at each accommodation site, similar to the current operations at Green Cape Lightstation and a number of other NPWS properties,” the draft says.

The project is expected to be completed in 2021.

“Each accommodation site is proposed to cater for a maximum of 36 walkers per night.”

“Pack camping and other informal camping, i.e. camping at sites where there are no facilities, will no longer be permitted on the Light to Light Walk. This includes pack camping at Leather Jacket Bay, Mowarry Point and Hegartys Bay.

“Increased capacity for tent-only camping is planned for Saltwater and Bittangabee campgrounds. Day use at Leather Jacket Bay, Mowarry Point and Hegartys Bay will continue to be available.”

Rainbow Cave, a feature of the Light to Light Walk. Photo: Light to Light Camps.

Rainbow Cave, a feature of the Light to Light Walk. Photo: Light to Light Camps.

The loss of Mowarry and Hegartys as camping options outside of the proposed bunk bed solar-powered huts is one of the main concerns as awareness of the draft increases.

“That would restrict public access to one of the most isolated, pristine, and rugged wilderness areas of Australia,” says Graham Rose who has launched an online petition.

“These remote camping and renowned fishing locations are unspoiled, sensitive and ecologically significant areas.”

Since 2017, Jenny and Arthur Robb, have helped people tackle the walk through their Eden based business Light to Light Camps.

Walkers with the Robbs only need to carry a light day pack, Jenny and Arthur provide hot showers, great food, and comfy beds in tented accommodation mainly out of Saltwater campground. “No camping gear required,” their website boasts.

They also support more self-sufficient full pack walkers with vehicle transfers and food drop-offs.

Mrs Robb is also an active member of the Eden Chamber of Commerce.

While she welcomes the investment in upgraded facilities, Mrs Robb hopes local knowledge will guide the strategy from here and fears the current proposal might undermine the very appeal of the walk.

“You can’t have done more market research about this particular market then I have,” she says.

“The people who want to walk with a [full] pack, 99% of them walk it in two days and stay at Hegartys.

“They bring everything with them, they want that personal challenge, they love the fact that they can bush camp, they don’t want to be in a big group.

“We do a lot of [vehicle] transfers for them, that’s the way they want to do it.”

The vibrant colours of Ben Boyd National Park. Photo: Light 2 Light Coastal Walks.

The vibrant colours of Ben Boyd National Park. Photo: Light 2 Light Coastal Walks.

Mrs Robb believes it makes more business sense to have camping options that cater for all needs right along the 31 km track. She fears people will be escorted out of the park or moved on if they put up a tent at Hegartys or Mowarry.

“And I can not understand why there needs to be anything at Mowarry,” Mrs Robb says.

“It’s too close to the start of the walk (8km) and it is just an amazing, special place. It is so quiet and beautiful, putting cabins there would spoil it.”

Mrs Robb is urging people to engage with the process, “please don’t through the baby out with the bathwater, this is one of the only forested coastlines in the world.”

According to the ABC, a leaked early version of the Light to Light Strategy talked about a bid to have the route listed with ‘Great Walks of Australia‘ which describes itself as being a “unique collection of independently owned, guided, multiday walks.”

It’s private, corporate interest that has rattled some and generated strong feelings on the ‘Ben Boyd – Light to Light Not Great Walk – Community Action Group‘ Facebook page.

“I have been fishing Green Cape for 42 years and have a real affection for the area’s natural beauty; it is an amazing place and it needs protection,” Mick Ripon writes.

“I am anxious about allowing commercial interests/developments within National Parks due to the inherent conflict of interest, specifically when National Parks are viewed as a resource for private, commercial gain versus National Parks as areas set aside for the protection of habitat.”

Whales are part of the Light to Light appeal. Photo: Light 2 Light Coastal Walks.

Whales are part of the Light to Light appeal. Photo: Light 2 Light Coastal Walks.

Local members of the advocacy group the National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) have had two briefings on the proposal so far. President of the Far South Coast Branch David Gallan says the group is reserving judgment at this stage.

“NPA members are forming our own response to what has been a changing proposal which is still short on figures for any sort of business model to run the Light to Light walk,” he says.

“We are somewhat happier to learn that it will not be branded a ‘Great Walk’ that would involve ‘luxury criteria’. The Great Walk schemes in other states have often been controversial and such proposals would have significant impact on wilderness values.

“This part of the coast is special containing the vulnerable Eastern Ground Parrot and endangered Southern Brown Bandicoot. The scenic values are highly regarded and the heritage listed sites are great places to watch passing pods of whales.

“Limitations on free walkers, especially where they camp, and possible future limited access to Green Cape Lighthouse accommodation are of concern.

“At this stage, NPA members are still drafting their own responses and we encourage others to do so as well after reading the online material and engaging with Park management at public meetings,” Mr Gallan says.

The NPWS says it will continue with the planning and assessment processes for the walking track, hut accommodation and for the adaptive re-use of buildings at Green Cape Lightstation. “NPWS intends to make documentation available to the public through the Draft Light to Light Walk Strategy and the Review of Environmental Factors later this year.”

To explore the full Draft Light to Light Walk Strategy and to make a submission check the Office of Environment and Heritage website.

Informal, walk-in, open house information sessions with NPWS staff will be held on:

  • Wednesday, July 31, 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm – Pambula Hall, Quondola Street, Pambula;
  • Thursday, August 1, 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm – Eden RSL Memorial Hall, Bass Street, Eden;
  • Friday, August 2, 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm – Bega Showground Pavilion, Upper Street, Bega.
The end of the track Green Cape Lighthouse. Photo: Light 2 Light Coastal Walks.

The end of the track Green Cape Lighthouse. Photo: Light 2 Light Coastal Walks.

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Part of the lure of this is the remoteness. Now commercialising the whole thing makes it like any other place. You know, making money is not just the be all and end all considering the state of the world environment; let’s cut down more trees, make more hard surfaces and make sure people can get more access to everything.
One thing that can be done. Stop catering to people who can afford $350 odd bucks a night at Green Cape. Corporate greed will be the killer of pristine public spaces if we keep going this way.

This proposal is an absolute travesty. It is an insult to the natural wonders and attractions that make Australia so amazing. I have been going to the Ben Boyd National park since I was a baby with my parents, and I am still heading down from Canberra every few weeks/months, 25 years on. I have so many special memories camping at Salt Water Creek as a kid, and as I’ve grown up, of taking friends and family on the Light to Light walk. I have seen the park change quite a lot since I first started visiting, with the various campsite re-developments, road closures and deforestation/reforestation areas, but none of that scares me like this latest proposal. It’s already been widely said, but this proposal is a disgusting and unforgivable money grab that will utterly destroy what makes this stretch of coastline so unique. I am appalled that this is even being considered. I have also read countless stories of people of all descriptions (old, young, fit, out of shape, locals, tourists, etc.) who have completed the Light to Light Walk in its current format without issue, and who are begging for it to not be changed. It is MEANT to be a challenge. It is MEANT to be distant from our every day lives where we already live confined in buildings, with running water. It is MEANT to be untouched, natural and simplistic. Please, do not go ahead with this proposal, it is an outrage and it would honestly break my heart.
I have spent years abroad, all over the world, and this has always been and will always be my favourite area on the planet. Please, do not take this from me, my friends and my family in the name of ‘tourism’ and so-called ‘ecology’. Tourism is why everyone goes there already, and you’re already saying its over-visited! How does this help?? A National Park is meant to be pristine and natural, you can’t come along and plant a few buildings and call it ‘an upgrade’, that’s preposterous. And how can it possibly be ecological? The reasons stated list ‘campfires in areas where they shouldn’t be’ and ‘no facilities’. Campfires have been a part of human life for a millenia, and in all my years of visiting the park I have never seen a campfire that caused damage that was in any way significant or irreparable to the environment. And by ‘camping where in areas with no facilities causing environmental impact’, I’m guessing you can only mean improper waste management (human and litter). Again, human waste is natural, but if its becoming an issue then SURELY the answer lies in education? If a child speaks inappropriately to someone, do you forbid it from ever speaking again, or do you teach it to be better next time? As a regular to the area, I’m confident my own waste practices are perfectly appropriate as they are, but if it means the park can stay as it is, I’d attend a briefing session with NPWS every single time before I go out on the walk than lose the walk as it is now. Additionally, I’d also happily sign whatever was required of me to vouch for my ecological practices and be held accountable to the letter. There are other solutions to these perceived problems than redeveloping this irreplacable national park. Don’t take this from the Australian people and don’t make a decision you will never be able to unmake. I want to take my own children here one day to share in memories of the childhood that I will forever cherish, and create some of their own.
Please, please, please leave the Ben Boyd National Park alone.
I will do everything I can find to help, but if anyone reads this that is involved in defeating this proposal, please let me know if there is anything further I can do.

Elizabeth Searle8:45 pm 26 Aug 19

I am Secretary of the Milton NPA on the south coast of NSW, and our organisation is supporting the extension of the Great South Coast walk which is proposed to run the Victorian border. We have sought comments from our membership on the issue of supported camping in the area in question, and feedback has overwhelmingly shown the preference to keep the option of free camping open for all. We feel strongly the area should not be open only to those campers who wish to pay for a more ‘catered’ walking experience.

Some comments about Mowarry. This area used to be a farm running beef cattle and owned by the Nicholas family (Nicholas Aspro). Parks put an end to their farming and this area became part of the National Park. Now Parks which removed all signs of habitation from the area now wants to build permanent camping facilities there. This does not seem to be part of a logical progression to turn the area back into its natural state.

Elaine Cozens3:37 pm 31 Jul 19

Very real reservations about the scale of the accommodation plans Will attend Bega info afternoon to learn more

I would love to do this walk but have to respond to Mrs Dobbs comment about no camp necessary at 8 km from start of walk. I would struggle to walk that far but would still love the opportunity. While I want the area to remain as close to it’s natural state as possible I would also love the opportunity to do the walk. Hopefully with community consultation a happy medium will be reached. Hopefully.

Grant Webster7:41 am 31 Jul 19

Calling what they are doing “public consultation” is quite a stretch. There is no “act of exchanging information and opinions about something in order to reach a better understanding of it or to make a decision, or a meeting for this purpose” (definition of consultation – Cambridge Dictionary). We have an online portal to send comments into the bureaucratic ether never to be seen again, and in a hall down the road we have some NPWS staff who are there solely to disseminate information on the strategy they WILL be implementing and who have no decision making power. This is clearly NOT consultation, although I have no doubt it will be passed off as such when they tick the box and implement the strategy as is.

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