A plan to fly in visitors to an eco-tourism and fishing camp at Lake Malbena is being considered. (Supplied: Wild Drake/RiverFly1864)
A plan for helicopter a fly-in, fly-out “luxury” fishing camp in Tasmania’s remote central highlands is in the final stages of approval, despite concerns over its suitability and the process.
The project is just one of several initiatives the Government says will help transform the state into the “environmental tourism capital of the world”.
The area is popular with those seeking a Tasmanian fishing experience. (Supplied: RiverFly1964)
The proposed camp sits inside the Walls of Jerusalem National Park.
It is one of several pitches for “new tourism opportunities in national parks and reserves” which made it past the State Government’s criteria for appropriate development.
It is now being assessed by the Federal Government and is open for public comment.
The “small-scale, niche operation … aimed at the very top end of the market” is centred on Halls Island, a small outcrop on Lake Malbena.
Award-winning 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.
Their application details plans for a maximum of 30 trips annually for up to six guests at a time for “natural encounters and lean luxury”.
Guests will be taken from a helicopter landing area to a “non-motorised watercraft” which will ferry them to Halls Island to stay in “three twin-share accommodation buildings of approximately four metres by three metres” with a “central kitchen/communal hut” and toilet facilities.
But the plan for permanent buildings and helicopter flights into the location is being questioned, with some in the fly-fishing community voicing their concerns in a Facebook group.
On the Tasmanian Fly Fishers page, Brett Michael Smith wrote he could imagine a scenario of “stalking a trophy after four days hard yakka in an area that is already small in wilderness standards, a chopper flies over with somebody whose money means more than your passion”.
The existing hut on Halls Island, built by Reg Hall in the 1950s, now owned by Daniel Hackett. (Supplied)
James Bracken believes 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.
But others were supportive of the idea, with another writing there were bigger problems to address.
“The wilderness hut tours are a unique experience and the heli-fishing may be an extension of that,” Brad Martin said, challenging opponents to visit a number of other locations where litter has been left.
Craig Vertigan said the proposal did not seem “that bad” and “my bet is that not many people would fish Malbena anyway and the chopper would hardly be noticed”.
Heli-fishing licence ‘under negotiation’
After taking power in 2014, the Liberal Government moved to develop “appropriate” tourism projects in the state’s Wilderness World Heritage Areas.
The then parks minister Matthew Groom called for expressions of interests from potential developers and a total of 25 proposals were “invited” to stage two.
RiverFly1864’s ‘Halls Island, Lake Malbena’ was one of several to be assessed as suitable, with the current status listed as “lease/licence under negotiation”.
But some have questioned how the fishing camp proposal, with its permanent infrastructure and helipad, has managed to progress to the stage of an arrangement being negotiated when such developments appear to be at odds with the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) management plan.
Process lacks transparency: Wilderness Society
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 had had no luck in finding documentation detailing such processes.
“Holes are being made in the management plan where tourism developments are,” Mr Bayley said.
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)
Hackett ‘proud of proposal’
Daniel and Simone Hackett have stressed their environmental credentials and track record of managing RiverFly1864’s existing camp at Skullbone Plains, 13 kilometres from Halls Island, and within the TWWHA.
Mr Hackett told the ABC RiverFly1864 was “proud of the proposal, and are demonstrating our commitment to what we believe is a very sensitive, low volume, niche proposal that can be used to share the cultural stories and wilderness that makes Tasmania so special”.
In the online submission by RiverFly1864 to the Federal Department of Environment and Energy, the details of the environmental assessment of the proposal, along with the assessment of the helicopter route past eagle nests are subject to a “do not publish” instruction Mr Hackett explained as being due to sensitive commercial information.
He added a version could be found online which was “essentially the project outline … minus the commercially sensitive information”.
He reiterated the design of the camp would mean the infrastructure “can be fully removed, with little or no evidence of its presence left behind”.
“We are extremely proud of our existing guided fly fishing business and the role it has played in putting the Tasmanian fishery on the global stage, while giving back through conservation and social initiatives,” he said.
Mr Groom retired from politics last September.
The current Minister for Environment Elise Archer has been approached for comment.