This week the combined environment groups of Tasmania launched their tourism vision for the Tasman Peninsula – the Tasman Coastal Trails.

Their initiative, thoroughly researched and costed, paves the way for a new thinking to how tourism should be planned when it comes to providing the best opportunities for visitors which accommodates the ultimate protection of the environment and the economic prosperity for the local community.

Disillusioned by the state government’s planning stealth and fiscal unaccountability in proceeding with its fundamentally flawed and grossly expensive 3 Capes Track, conservation groups felt compelled to provide a credible alternative. The imperative here was a broader vision of how a region should be promoted and managed whilst providing an inspiring tourism ideology that protects the natural heritage being concurrent with an increased level of visitation.

The Coastal Trails initiative is modeled on the Great Ocean Walk in the Otway and Port Campbell National Parks in southwestern Victoria where visitor activity operates inside the national parks whilst all the commercial developments are outside the park boundaries. The Great Ocean Walk offers a wide range of accommodation, which could be similar in application to the external or fringing environs of the Tasman National Park.

One of the keystones to Tasman Coastal Trails initiative is the construction of a information/interpretive centre near Eaglehawk Neck that would provide visitors with information about the Tasman National Park’s spectacular natural features and fascinating cultural heritage, the walking trails, the scenic tours, and the local accommodation availability. Whilst most notable tourism regions have something to provide basic information to visitors, the Tasman Peninsula draws a blank here. Remarkably most visitors driving into the Tasman Peninsula are unaware that they are even approaching a national park, and often think there is little to explore beyond the Port Arthur Historical Site. Consequently this is why most tourists only visit the Peninsula as a day trip.

The other main feature of the tourism initiative is a continuous walking trail beginning near Eaglehawk Neck leading south, which follows some of the park’s the most spectacular and diverse features (including a beach walk) that was excluded from the Government’s 3 Capes plan. The beauty and simplicity of the extended walk is that it could be undertaken in several sections or in one continuous trip over 3-4 days, this is quite similar to the approach of the Great Ocean Walk.

With the exception of the Cape Pillar wilderness zone, almost the entire scope of the Tasman National Park has reasonably short access to its remarkable features. The driving concept behind the Tasman Trails is to promote and upgrade the day walking trails as an all year round destination that would encourage visitors to spend more than a day in the region and use the local overnight accommodation which should ultimately stimulate the economic prosperity of the local community.

The Tasman Peninsula has enormous potential for low impact eco-tourism. So far only the coastal sea cruises have been established. There is an abundance of opportunities with regards to wildlife, walking and camping tours, replete with development opportunities on the external fringes of the national park.

There is no question that the state government’s position in developing the Tasman National Park was initially driven by former Premier Paul Lennon in tandem with the assertive lobby from tourist entrepreneurs who espouse that many of the internal zones within Tasmania’s National Parks should be open for commercial development aimed at the high end of the market.

But beyond the state government’s political might their myopic vision for development in the Tasman National Park was way off the mark, which saw them unaccountably pouring money into a the completely unworkable and poorly planned 3 Capes project, which is estimated to cost around $62 Million upon its completion in 2016. That’s another $40 million that will be drained from the taxpayer’s purse for a project that seems on all accounts to be economically unviable. After many years of planning the government has yet to receive a committed ‘expression of interest’ from a commercial developer. That fact alone says a lot about the confidence of the project.

The Tasman Coastal Trails concept is estimated to cost less than $20 million, and depending on the overlay of tracks it may be quite a few $million less if the current trackwork is completed around the Cape Pillar region.

The success of the Great Ocean Walk in Victoria attests that the Tasman Trails model would be highly feasible. All it needs is recognition now, and a well thought out government strategy that would fund and promote the region’s inspiring development. It’s not too late for a new vision!