Cooloola Great Walk
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The Queensland Ecotourism Trails program is being delivered by the Department of Tourism, Innovation and Sport and the Department of Environment and Science to create genuine ecotourism experiences, unlock new income streams for the preservation and management of parks.
The enhanced Cooloola Great Walk project is being delivered through a collaborative model with the Queensland Government, the private proponent CABN, the local Traditional Owners, the Kabi Kabi People, and the local community.
Establishing low-impact, best practice ecotourism facilities along the Cooloola Great Walk enhances one of Queensland’s national park long distance walking experiences and makes it more accessible to a broader range of visitors.
This project is a great opportunity to create new jobs, support existing business and attract new visitors to the Sunshine Coast region.
The Cooloola Great Walk, Great Sandy National Park is an existing 102 kilometre walking and camping experience that links Noosa North Shore with Rainbow Beach.
It is situated between the Fraser Island World Heritage Area and the Noosa Biosphere Reserve, contains amazing biodiversity and rich Aboriginal cultural heritage and is extremely valuable to local communities and the regions. Visitors can discover perched lakes, ancient sand dunes and a diverse range of ecosystems including coastal woodlands, heathlands and rainforest, each boasting unique flora and fauna.
The existing walk is a rough Grade 4 track with steep and sandy sections and recommended for experienced walkers. Visitors can walk the trail over five days and camp in designated walkers’ camps along the way. Shorter walks and separate four-wheel driving tracks are available through the Great Sandy National Park.
Explore the existing Cooloola Great Walk on the Department of Environment and Science website.
Proposal and benefits
The Queensland Ecotourism Trails program is exploring opportunities for new and iconic ecotourism experiences that will responsibly share national parks with domestic and international visitors.
In 2020, CABN was announced as the preferred proponent for the enhanced Cooloola Great Walk project to offer carefully designed eco-accommodation and low-impact communal spaces to complement the unique landscape along the Great Walk. This will create a new, more accessible experience for visitors to the Walk and encourage people to stay longer and spend more in the regions.
CABN proposes to construct five new walker eco-accommodation camps along the Cooloola Great Walk, which will provide cabin accommodation for self-guided walkers and commercial guided tours. The development will be ecologically sustainable, in line with best practice ecotourism guidelines, and will not interfere with ongoing public use of the Cooloola Great Walk. CABN is currently working with the Queensland Government to finalise designs and to seek necessary environmental and development approvals. Construction of the eco-camps is currently expected to be completed in early 2024, depending on final approvals being granted.
The Queensland Government and CABN are also working collaboratively with local Traditional Owners the Kabi Kabi People to ensure their business development aspirations are considered; provide employment opportunities during construction and operation; and deliver unique cultural experiences as part of the ecotourism product.
The Cooloola Great Walk ecotourism project presents a world-class opportunity to:
- showcase the natural and cultural values of a cherished part of regional Queensland to deliver environmental, social and economic benefits to local communities and Queensland
- make the Great Walk more accessible to a broader range of visitors, while ensuring the important aspects and natural values of the area are maintained
- provide long term employment and business opportunities for Traditional Owners and their future generations
- support new and existing local businesses and support new local jobs in the region with the opportunity to develop and enhance local skills
- underpin long term growth for the Sunshine Coast and strengthening community resilience in regional areas
- provide stronger appreciation and understanding of Aboriginal culture through unique, contemporary and engaging experiences
- generate new funding sources and reinvestment to contribute to preserving, protecting and presenting national parks and their cultural heritage
Showcase Queensland’s natural beauty
Increase understanding of Indigenous culture
Create local jobs opportunities
Between 31 May 2019 and 22 August 2019 the community was invited to share their ideas and knowledge on the Cooloola Great Walk to help shape its future planning. Input and feedback from the consultation was sent to the shortlisted proponents as part of the 2018 Expression of Interest process to help them deliver an enhanced experience.
In June 2021, the Queensland Government undertook further community consultation and engagement on proposed ecotourism development along the Cooloola Great Walk. This consultation involved interviews with key local stakeholders, including local and Queensland Government representatives, conservation groups, local businesses and community groups, and a community events were also held at Noosa and Rainbow Beach, including community information sessions and ‘pop up’ stalls as several community events.
Frequently asked questions
The Queensland Government has selected CABN as the preferred proponent for the Cooloola Great Walk ecotourism project. CABN is an Australian expert in off-grid, eco-friendly accommodation with existing operations in South Australia and Victoria.
CABN’s ethos is to help people disconnect from the mayhem of everyday life and reconnect with nature, culture and loved ones by providing off-grid, sustainable and eco-friendly cabins and immersive experiences in amazing landscapes. You can read more about CABN here.
Proposal and access
The Cooloola Great Walk is a 102 kilometre hiking trail which traverses the Cooloola section of Great Sandy National park. The public trail runs between the Noosa North Shore and Rainbow Beach. The Walk can be undertaken in either direction.
The Cooloola Great Walk ecotourism project focusses on the middle and northern portions of the existing trail, between the Cooloola Sand Patch and Rainbow Beach. Two walking options are proposed for walkers for the eco-tourism offering:
- The six day walk - visitors will be transported by boat from Noosa to the first campsite, which will be located near the existing public Campsite 3, along the Upper Noosa River. From there, walkers will travel north and end their walk at the Rainbow Beach trailhead (near the Carlo Sandblow
- The three day walk – visitors will disembark from the Bymien Day Use area and will walk a loop between the two northernmost sites (located near Poona Lake and at Double Island Point) finishing at the Rainbow Beach Trailhead
Apart from the private eco-accommodation facilities, no additional infrastructure or facilities are proposed along the Cooloola Great Walk. The Walk and all existing public walkers camps will remain open and accessible to the public throughout construction and operation of the eco-accommodation camp. However the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service will be undertaking repairs and upgrades along the length of the trail to cater for the increased visitor numbers. Before visiting Cooloola, please ensure that you check the Department of Environment and Science’s Park Alerts page for any temporary closures of Cooloola Great Walk infrastructure that may occur once these upgrades commence.
Yes, the Cooloola Great Walk and the public camp sites will remain open for well-equipped, self-sufficient walkers. Other walking tracks, four wheel drive tracks, drive-in campsites and beach access within Great Sandy National Park will remain open to the public with information and trail alerts available from the the Department of Environment and Science’s Park Alerts website.
The Cooloola Great Walk ecotourism project proposes the construction of five new eco-accommodation camps, containing low-impact, best practice eco-accommodation and communal spaces along the Walk. These facilities will service both self guided and commercial guided tours along the Cooloola Great Walk.
Eco-accommodation will be designed to complement the unique landscape along the Walk. All facilities along the Walk must be delivered in accordance with the Department of Environment and Science’s Ecotourism Facilities on National Parks — implementation Framework and Best Practice Ecotourism Development Guidelines.
The Queensland Government and CABN are working collaboratively with local Traditional Owners the Kabi Kabi People throughout the process including exploring cultural experience opportunities on the Walk to share their stories with visitors to the region.
The Great Sandy National Park contains significant natural, cultural and recreational value. Ensuring that these values are maintained is an integral part of the Cooloola Great Walk ecotourism project. CABN is working with the Department of Environment and Science to develop a comprehensive set of environmental protection measures to guide construction and operation of the development. These measures include:
- Minimising clearing of vegetation to the smallest extent possible (limited to areas required for eco-campsite structures and infrastructure) and avoiding clearing of large/canopy trees
- Structure design and construction activities taking into account, and incorporating measures to reduce impacts on, critical ecological values of the surrounding area, such as threatened species, critical and unique ecosystems, wetlands and aesthetic/landscape values
- Incorporation of appropriate, nil-impact waste and wastewater management systems
- Ensuring long term use of the area does not increase pest, weed and fire risks through capping of visitor numbers, education and ongoing monitoring
- Incorporating aspects of local cultural heritage into design and commercial operations, in consultation and cooperation with Traditional Owners
Eco-campsites will include measures to mitigate the risk of wildlife to visitors and property, such as vegetation setbacks, fire bunkers and emergency evacuation procedures. The ecotourism facilities will also be operated in a manner that does not pose a significant fire risk to the surrounding area – flammable materials will not be stored on site and smoking will be prohibited at all eco-accommodation sites.
CABN proposes constructed semi-permanent cabins and communal structures at each of the five eco-accommodation sites. However, all structures have been designed to be compact, lightweight, and low-impact to ensure that they do not significantly impact the surrounding environment. All structures will be placed on raised supports, using minimal impact anchoring to ensure that they do not require significant clearing, disturbance of surrounding vegetation or fauna movement and surface and subsurface water flows.
The layout of eco-accommodation camps and design of cabins and communal structures will incorporate measures to maintain landscapes and prevent erosion. Clearing will be minimised and applicable only to areas required for placement of structures, infrastructure and new access tracks. Any cleared areas will be managed and monitored to prevent erosion (e.g. through the installation of erosion/runoff barriers) and, where possible, will be rehabilitated to pre-construction condition.
Waste disposal is a critical aspect of the project’s delivery, considering the sensitivity of the Cooloola area to waste and pollutants, in particularly the impacts of wastewater on local waterways and waterbodies. Significant ecological and hydrological investigations have been undertaken to determine potential risks to ecologically and culturally significant waterways and waterbodies, and waste management systems will need to be incorporated to ensure there are no contamination risks to the surrounding environment.
A cap on visitor numbers will be imposed on the proposed eco-accommodation facilities along the Cooloola Great Walk due to the limited number of cabins that will be available to ensure that visitor numbers do not exceed what is ecologically and cultural sustainable for the area and to maintain the remote wilderness experience the Cooloola Great Walk provides.
The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service also caps user numbers on public campsites. Caps on public use of the area will not affect use of the private eco-accommodation facilities, nor will use of private facilities affect public use.
No, the Cooloola Great Walk is designed for and will continue to be for walkers only. Check the Department of Environment and Science website for details.
The Queensland Government and CABN are working together to finalise environmental approvals with the Australian Government and is assisting the proponent with the local government approvals to facilitate the delivery of the project. Most recently, the project was referred to the Australian Government for assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. More information on this process can be found on the Department of Environment and Science website. CABN will also require final approval from the Queensland Government for the construction of eco-accommodation sites and conducting of commercial operations under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 (Qld).
Opportunities and engagement
The Queensland Government has been engaging with the Traditional Owners, the Kabi Kabi People, in relation to the Cooloola Great Walk ecotourism project since July 2018. The Queensland Government has undergone significant investigations with the Kabi Kabi People in relation to the Aboriginal cultural heritage values of the proposed eco-camp sites along the Cooloola Great Walk.
The Kabi Kabi People continue to play an active role in planning the ecotourism project including assisting to select eco-camp sites, undertaking cultural monitoring and shaping the visitor experience.
The Queensland Government and CABN are working collaboratively with the Kabi Kabi People to explore opportunities to share their stories and culture with visitors to the region.
In late 2020, the Kabi Kabi People’s Aboriginal Corporation secured $25,000 through the Growing Indigenous Tourism in Queensland Fund to further develop plans for an authentic cultural experience on the Walk.
The Cooloola Great Walk ecotourism project will deliver direct benefits to the local community by encouraging more people to visit the region and stay longer by offering a new, more accessible experience for visitors to the Walk.
Several rounds of community consultation have been for the Cooloola Great Walk Project:
- Between 31 May 2019 and 22 August 2019, the community was invited to share their ideas and knowledge on the Cooloola Great Walk on-line, to help shape its future planning.
- The project has been referred to the Commonwealth for assessment under the EPBC Act, and the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment invited public comment on the project referral from 1-16 June 2021.
- From 1 to 21 June 2021, the Department of Environment and Science undertook extensive community consultation across the Noosa, Gympie and Rainbow Beach areas, which was intended to align with the publishing of the project EPBC Act referral. Targeted interviews were conducted with key local stakeholders including local government officials, conservation groups, business interests and tourist groups. A number of community events were also held at Noosa and Rainbow Beach, including community information sessions and ‘pop up’ stalls as several community events.
Additional community consultation processes may be undertaken in future as part of ongoing local, Queensland and Commonwealth Government approval processes. The Project Team will continue to meet with stakeholders, industry and community members about the Cooloola Great Walk project. The Department of Environment and Science may also provide additional opportunities for public consultation as part of its ongoing assessment of the project. Information on any upcoming consultation may be found on the Department of Environment and Science website.
October 2018 – Expression of interest launched
A market process for new ecotourism experiences at the Cooloola Great Walk was launched. The EOI phase closed in November 2018
October 2019 – Detailed proposals submitted
Detailed proposals submitted by shortlisted proponents for rigorous assessment by the Queensland Government
May to August 2019 – Community consultation process
The Queensland Government invited the public to share their ideas and knowledge of the Cooloola Great Walk via the Social PinPoint website which received over 4,000 visits
February 2020 – CABN announced as the preferred proponent
Q2 2021 – Community consultation and Australian Government environmental assessment
Lodgement and public notification of project referral under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth)
2024 – Construction of the eco-camps
Construction of the eco-camps is currently expected to be completed in early 2024, depending on final approvals being granted.
- Online form
- Phone: 1800 957 852 (Mon–Fri, 9am–5pm AEST)
Department of Tourism, Innovation and Sport,
PO Box 15168, City East, QLD, 4002
Last updated: 22 Sep 2021