Big dollar developments inside of some of the country’s most iconic national parks have led to a diminished sense of adventure and immersion along their trails.

For brevity’s sake, this article focuses primarily on the Grampians Peaks Trail (which I hiked in December 2022) and the positive and negative ways that public and private investments in the park have impacted users’ experiences on it.

Read more: Grampians Peaks Trail: The Ultimate Guide to This 13 Day Hike in Gariwerd


Hike With a View and View With a Pricetag

How much would you pay for this view on the Grampians Peaks Trail?


Sunset at Gar Campground

Would you be willing to fork over, say, $533.50? 

No? Too much avocado toast last month? Or you just don’t want to splash out half a grand for one of Australia’s most iconic walks? Well, I suppose that’s too bad. This is mainly because – similar to the Green Gully and the Overland Track – well, you don’t have any other option.

Not only are the high fees associated with walking the GPT borderline extortionary, they’re also mandatory. There’s no other way to experience this trail in its entirety than to pay up. But why are folks having to pay so much?

Granted, there are sections of the GPT open for multi-day, overnight, and day hikes allowing for more financially accessible options. However, if you’re really trying to avoid the fees, the day walks suggested by Parks Victoria cover less than 30km total of the 160km trail.

Read more: Grampians Peaks Trail Booking Changes Will Allow for More Flexible Hiking Options

Where’s all this money going?

Lifestyle creep touches us all. From the most remote shores of Western Australia to the rugged capes of Tasmania, the spectre of development is ever-haunting Australian hiking trails. And what’s worse is that nobody seems to really want it.

According to a National Parks Australia Council poll, 78% of people are opposed to any private developments in parks. And beside that, 85% support increased funding for the already-squeezed national parks.

This is all to say that some basic development is probably necessary. Higher visitation inexorably means higher maintenance costs and increased infrastructure.

In an ideal world of remaining light on the land, this is what increased funding would facilitate. Think: more toilets, larger parking lots, and more camping areas and trails. These are ultimately positive projects that would increase everyone’s access to – and enjoyment of – natural areas.

Visitation to nature and national parks has certainly been on the rise in the last decade. From 2015 to 2019, the number of overnight walks in the Australian bush rose by 4 million from 10 to 14 million.

Grampians Gariwerd National Park alone saw well over 1 million overnight visitors last year. Since the end of the pandemic, these numbers have surely increased even more.

Given these stats, it’s undeniable that more trail infrastructure, especially in a place like the Grampians Gariwerd region, should exist.

A well-manicured, yet still natural-enough climb on the southern portion of the GPT

Personally I’m stoked that so many more people are getting outdoors. Everyone deserves equal access to nature. This is fundamental on a basic human level, and it’s also a core tenet of Parks Victoria’s National Parks Act. It’s also core to We Are Explorers.

But is this increased visitation leading to that type of ‘good’ infrastructure listed above? Or is it instead leading us into a future of more paved roads, luxury accommodation, and boutique holiday hiking packages?

When it comes to Grampians Gariwerd, it seems there’s a balance that’s attempting to be struck between these two types of development.

For example, many sections of the GPT have foregone the more traditional approach to ‘trail’, and instead have been converted into weatherproofed metal boardwalks:


How many helicopter trips do y’all think it took to get these things up on Major Mitchell Plateau?

Understandably, many of the boardwalk sections were built with intention to prevent erosion and protect the fragile heathland that they pass through, but I don’t know.

This feels more like a fiscal/budget-oriented decision than a conservation-oriented one. Wouldn’t a tiny bit of signage and a little bit of trust and education of folks go just as far and be much more immersive and rewarding?

Or is that just the Abbey-esque American in me? Perhaps I haven’t lived in the nanny state long enough to appreciate this type of prescriptive walking.

Read more: Why Are Australian Walking Tracks Being Over-Engineered?

What’s the true cost?

It’s well-known that Australia does love to over-engineer its trails, and I actually enjoyed the ‘cracked sandstone’ staircases that have been constructed along the GPT, but it’s also dangerous.

The door that these types of projects open, and the costs that are associated with them (and then passed on to the users), might be leading us down a trail that we didn’t really want, or even ask for.

And furthermore, these types of engineering only exist as long as the money lasts, as evidenced by this bit of the trail that’s still awaiting ‘upgrade’.


R.I.P my ankles

The disparities in quality and accessibility don’t just end on the trail.

Between Parks Victoria’s stalled development of large sections of the Grampians Peaks Trail and the new availability of private ‘luxury accommodation’ through licensed tour operators on other parts, the ball feels like it’s really being dropped on this project.

Let’s take a look at the numbers. If you want to hike the full GPT, it costs $48 per night to camp on a tent pad. This is already $38 above the average price of a Parks Victoria campsite, and yet Parks Victoria chair John Pandazopoulos says that this is an appropriate cost which is ‘ensuring the cost of maintaining the track and servicing all the sites’.

From a rational standpoint though, this sounds more like translucent damage control than the truth. Because if that were true, then these sites would cost about the same as any of the totally finely maintained sites in Alpine, Otways or Wilsons Promontory National Parks, which are all $10-15 a night.

Thus it seems fairly evident that these prices imply the costs of overdeveloping the trail, and continuing that overdevelopment even after it has been opposed, foiled or stalled.

Grampians Peaks Trail, Taylor Bell, luxury campsite on the trail

Of course, you also have the option to pay $1,850 for three days and two nights in luxury cabins on the northern section of the trail, and the stated plan is to have these cabins eventually available along the entire stretch of trail, at a price which will surely exceed the current $6,000 package.

You could also just fuck around and fly to Nepal, walk up to Everest Base Camp, and gorge yourself on pizza and chicken wings every night for less.

$48 already feels ridiculous enough, especially when our consent to paying this much has been largely manufactured. But the best part is that $48 per night doesn’t always end up being one of the luxe campgrounds like Yarram or Gar either.

Due to how half-baked the original $33 million plan was, many campgrounds are decidedly more primitive. In some areas, there’s not much more than a shadeless, shelterless, parallelogram of flattened dirt with a couple of picnic tables, a pit toilet, and a water tank (which would be great if one wasn’t paying so much, to be honest).


Late afternoon in the shelterless common area at Durd Durd | Photo by Ultralight Hiker

At the end of the day, it’s hard to know who asked for all of this. And I guess that’s the point. Because let’s be honest. If the hut’s there, you’re going to use it – especially to justify how much you paid.

Who wouldn’t? I know I did. But did I necessarily want it? Did I need it? It’s worthwhile imagining instead a different GPT. A much more affordable one without boardwalks, shelters, rainwater tanks, and very elaborately designed drop toilets.

I think everyone on this hike has to ask themselves what they want the future of trails and national parks to look like, and if this is really it.

Can we not trust people to follow the basic principles of Leave No Trace, such as carrying a water filter, pitching their tent in established sites, and staying on a trail? And furthermore, why are people being charged so exorbitantly to encourage such an underestimation of basic human decency?

Again, everyone deserves the same access to the outdoors, and that sense of equity disappears at a rate of $48 a day. It’s hard to imagine any student, service industry worker, or casually employed person that wants to dish out this kind of money for a hike.

Read more: Are We Pricing Out The Ski Bums? Inequality in the Australian Alps

Public Parks for the Public

I totally agree with James McCormack that ‘the provision of new infrastructure – and that includes accommodation – within our national parks should be the preserve of public authorities. Period’.

Sure, the luxury huts on the GPT were built by Parks Victoria using public money. But why then is their use limited to those who can afford to pay thousands of dollars to have a tour operator lead them along the trail?

Folks are being priced out of their own backyards, and it’s being done in the name of bad faith conservation and ‘ecotourism’.

But even beyond this, I’d argue that the placement of new infrastructure like solar-powered huts and over-engineered trails is manufacturing the public’s consent to paying such high prices for hikes, thus inviting the fox into the alloy-reinforced fuel stove cooking area.

The next stop on these types of infrastructure projects is Cradle Mountain. Although maybe this kind of ‘ecotourism’ is just what you get when you mix capitalism and conservation.


Part of what makes this view special is that there’s not a cable car in it

In short, it’s understandable that revenue needs to be raised in order to fund basic maintenance of these natural places. However, neither private development and large-scale infrastructure projects nor private usage of public infrastructure, as seen on the GPT, seem like the best solution to underfunding.

Because – and correct me if I’m wrong here – it seems like entrusting a huge portion of land stewardship to a group of uber-rich white dudes hasn’t had the best historical outcomes in the past.

Regardless of this precedent, and apart from the many already-developed trails, more recent proposals to develop accommodation-based ‘holiday hikes’ in Beowa, Alpine, and Great Sandy National Parks have already been approved and are currently underway.

From a pragmatic point, the solution seems simple enough – increase public funding for national parks and emphasise smaller-scale infrastructure projects to de-incentivise the private developments within them.

As one of the most visited national parks in the country, perhaps in Gariwerd Grampians National Park, underfunding isn’t the underlying issue, and throwing more public money at the park isn’t the sole solution. But this isn’t the case for every national park around the country in which private infrastructure is being proposed and built.

Making bad faith arguments like ‘increased access’ (for a few wealthy boomers) and ‘creating economic opportunities’ (is it worth undermining an entire region to create eight new jobs?) is completely unfair to the majority of people who still want to enjoy nature in a more natural way.

Plus, this way, as long as entities like Parks Victoria are only receiving public funding, they’ll remain accountable for the best use and practice of the public trails that they maintain. Right? Right?!? Guys?!?!?!?