Australian Walking Company quizzed on proposed Flinders Chase development

PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT: An arist's impression from AWC of what the seven-unit sleeping pods will look like in the landscape at Sanderson Bay on the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail.
PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT: An arist's impression from AWC of what the seven-unit sleeping pods will look like in the landscape at Sanderson Bay on the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail.

The Islander newspaper has quizzed the developer proposing to build luxury lodges on the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail in Flinders Chase National Park.

Environmental groups and friends of the national park have expressed concern about the development being proposed by Australian Walking Company.

Their concerns are expressed in the letters to the editor in the November 29 edition of The Islander.

AWC says it plans additional consultation with Island residents and has already met with with Mayor Michael Pengilly, KI Commissioner Wendy Campana, council planner and Kylie Bamfield and Pierre Gregor from Tourism KI.

It encourages anyone with specific concerns to contact Kirsty Aitkin at Kirsty@australianwalkingcompany.com.au 

Here are responses from AWC to a list concerns put forward by the Kangaroo Island Eco Action group:

The planning and approval process

In January 2017 the State Government called for Expressions of Interest (EOI) then a Request for Proposal (RFP) to develop accommodation facilities and services associated with the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail (KIWT). 

In February 2018, the State Government announced The Australian Walking Company (AWC) as the successful proponent. 

AWC lodged their Development Application for consideration by the State Commission Assessment Panel (SCAP) on November 19, 2018.

As per the requirements of the Development Regulations 2008, SCAP will seek expert input on various aspects of the development from the Coast Protection Board, Native Vegetation Council, Kangaroo Island Council and the Country Fire Service.

Community consultation about the specifics of the proposal

AWC has commenced a public information process. An initial three and a half hour community drop-in session was held at the KI Yacht Club on Tuesday, November 20 and a further public information session is planned as the company’s development assessment progresses.

AWC has also commenced discussions with key stakeholders and representative groups.

The proposed tourist accommodation is envisaged under the Kangaroo Island Development Plan and is consistent with the intent of the Conservation Zone. In addition, the accommodation complies with the Flinders Chase National Park Management Plan. 

Environment, social and economic impact assessment

The Department of Environment and Water EOI document was designed to ensure that the successful proponent best addressed the criteria of economically, environmentally and socially responsible.

Privatisation of the park. Who owns the accommodation and land beneath them? Is there a lease arrangement?

The Crown remains the owner of the land and AWC will fund the infrastructure. At conclusion of the lease, the infrastructure becomes the property of The Crown, or will be dismantled and removed by AWC under the direction of The Crown.

Flinders Chase National Park will remain accessible to members of the public and commercial tour operators (CTOs). The KIWT will continue to be run and managed by DEW.

The inclusion of AWC’s eco-sensitive accommodation will provide another option to trail walkers. 

A commercial lease arrangement has been negotiated between DEW and AWC. The terms of the lease are confidential.

SLEEPING PODS: An artist's impression of the seven-unit sleeping pods proposed for Sanderson Bay, which will accommodate a maximum of 14 guests.

SLEEPING PODS: An artist's impression of the seven-unit sleeping pods proposed for Sanderson Bay, which will accommodate a maximum of 14 guests.

Impact on the ‘wild’ west coast

The proposed accommodation is located on the west coast of Flinders Chase National Park, which has wild land qualities and is recognised as a special and impressive place.

The design, placement and management of the trail accommodation will seek to minimise impacts to the area’s special qualities, while allowing people to experience the natural beauty and to connect with Flinders Chase National Park through walking and sleeping on the trail. This was a key focus of the EOI.

Poor precedent re development in wilderness areas

Australian Walking Company (AWC) was formed in August 2015 and brings together the expertise of award- winning market leader Tasmanian Walking Company (TWC), and owners Geoff Dixon, Brett Godfrey, Rob Sherrard and Scott Malcolm. One of AWC’s six core values is “Environmental and Cultural Integrity” - aiming to have a positive impact on the local environment and community, engaging in relevant environmental, conservation and community projects.

The consortium has 30 years’ experience in operating high quality, multi-day wilderness walks, including Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk, Bay of Fires Lodge Walk, Cradle Mountain Huts Walk, Wineglass Bay Sail Walk and Three Capes Lodge Walk. AWC's partner TWC is a recognised leader in environmental tourism practices winning numerous national tourism awards. Earlier this year, TWC was inducted into the hall of fame at the Qantas National Tourism Awards as Australia’s best eco-tourism operator for the third year running. 

The KIWT is a key pillar of DEW tourism infrastructure on Kangaroo Island and has already brought more than 4000 walkers to the island who have experienced walking the wild west coast of Flinders Chase and stayed in a mixture of tourism accommodation, both on and off park.

The scale, design, placement and management of the AWC accommodation is sensitive to the wild and rugged character of the trail area. AWC will have walking groups with the eco-sensitive accommodation being run and managed to minimise impacts – for example all waste, including black water (Sewage) will be removed and disposed off-site.

Management of the lease

The lease will be managed consistent with the obligations under the National Parks and Wildlife Act, and the terms are commercial in confidence.

Income predictions

This information is commercial in confidence.  

 Access road construction

Access tracks suitable for light All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) traffic will be constructed to enable management activities and waste extraction. The exact alignment of these vehicle access tracks has not been finalised, however it is likely that a combined total of approximately three km of track suitable for an ATV will be required.

AWC will work with Kangaroo Island experts on the restoration and maintenance of vegetation at the sites.

Extensions of the walking trail

Spur walking tracks will be required for AWC guests to turn off the main KIWT and access the accommodation areas. These spur walking tracks will be constructed to the same standards as the existing KIWT.  The exact on ground alignment of the spur walking tracks has not been finalised yet, however it is likely that approximately seven km of spur trail will be required to complement the existing 61 km KIWT.

Exclusion of the general local public

Independent walkers, who have booked, will continue to enjoy access to the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail and the associated camping facilities. Likewise, Commercial Tourism Operators (CTOs), who currently offer services along the trail, will continue as normal.

AWC operate with professional, experienced guides who will be chaperoning a maximum of 14 walkers throughout their stay. The addition of AWC’s product to the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail will provide an opportunity for the public who are not confident enough to visit the wilderness without guides or require greater convenience to access the park.  

 Tasmanian Walking Company (TWC) has operated commercial accommodation on the Overland Track in Tasmania successfully alongside independent public walkers for the past 30 years.

The Cape Du Couedic Lighthouse keepers’ cottages, which will be included in AWC’s accommodation package for trail walkers, will be restored over a three-month period. When re-opened, the cottages will again be available for bookings from the public.

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