NSW has a heap of multi-day hikes, but are there any that people are travelling from interstate, or even overseas to walk? Mmmm, possibly not. Brendan thinks the Blue Mountains would be the ideal place for a world-class hike. Here’s why.


In November 2021, the NSW Government announced a $50 million investment into the Blue Mountains which will include a new five-day walking track linking the Wollemi and Blue Mountain National Parks. I’ve always thought that the Blue Mountains lacks a world-class hike and would be the perfect location for one as well.

NSW’s Hikes Are Great – They’re Not ‘World Class’

The Six Foot Track has been called ‘one of NSW’s iconic multi-day walks’. What an indictment on the quality of hiking infrastructure in NSW. I walked the Six Foot Track about five years ago with this image in mind. While there were some beautiful spots, such as camping by Coxs River and walking up through Nellies Glen, there were also sections sharing fire trails with 4WDs and walking through private grazing land.

Then there’s the Katoomba to Kanangra hike, which provides that wilderness fix but isn’t accessible to a lot of people due to the difficult terrain and requirement for navigational skills. These hikes don’t hold a candle, let alone a headtorch, to the Overlands and Routeburns of the world.


Barn Bluff side trip on The Overland Track credit_ Kate Donald, @katealiice, best multi day hikes in tasmania

The well-marked and accessible Overland Track, TAS

The Demand is There – The Potential is Only Just Being Realised

National parks have become drawcard tourist destinations in the past 10 years, with 60.2 million visitors to NSW Parks in 2018, a huge increase from 33.8 million in 2010. Blue Mountains National Park was the most visited, with 8.4 million in 2018, up from 5.0 million in 2016, owing to its natural splendour, location near Sydney, and multiple transport options.

The demand is certainly there for a Great Walk; 19% of visits to NSW Parks are part of a multi-day trip, 12% of visitors are from outside the state, and walking is the most named activity by visitors at 64%. Finally, this potential has been recognised by Government.


Want to make new friends? Hiking might be the answer! - Kate Reid, Lockleys Pylon, blue mountains

The beauty of the Blue Mountains attracts visitors from all over the world | @katereidwriter


Whenever government implements a new policy, regulation, or investment, an analysis needs to be completed to check if it’s worthwhile. One part of this is almost always cost-benefit analysis, a tool used by economists to see if the benefits of an intervention outweigh the costs. Pretty intuitive!

Often these are used as a tick-box exercise after a Minister has already decided what they want to do (politics trumps economics), but even in that situation, they can provide helpful information on what to expect, and which option to implement to achieve the desired objective.

What would a cost-benefit analysis of a Blue Mountains hike look like?

Let’s start with the benefits.

Firstly, there’s the actual spend on the hike itself by walkers. For the Grampians Great Walk, it was estimated that 34,571 people would use the trail in 2025, with approximately three nights per walker at $50 per night for the majority of walkers, and $375 per night for the bougie among us. This totals $6.4 million in 2025, but these benefits are annual so will flow to the State on an ongoing basis.

Truly world-class walks also attract people from other states and countries, so their spending is captured as a benefit, as without the existence of the walk, this money wouldn’t have flowed into the NSW economy.

For the Three Capes Track in Tasmania, it was estimated that 66% of all walkers would not have visited Tasmania if the walk was not there, and would spend money on transport, accommodation, food, a fridge magnet etc. This non-walk related spending was estimated to be greater than walk-related spend for the Three Capes Track.


the Free Capes – A Self-sufficient Guide to Camping The Three Capes Track, Emma Abberton,

The gorgeous Three Capes Track

But It’s More Than Just Cash Flow

Pure monetary transactions such as this, however, don’t completely capture the benefits of a wilderness walk. Just some of the non-market benefits include recreation values, improved physical health, improved mental health and wellbeing from both the exercise and being in nature, educational values for school or university groups, heritage values, and social values such as impacts on the local community.


Take The Chairlift From Thredbo And Hike to The Summit of Mt Kosciuszko, Alex Parsons, Snowy Mountains, people, friends, hike

Hiking builds healthy communities

These are easily ignored as they’re not actually priced in markets, and a reason why we don’t protect the natural environment as much we should.

One way to capture some of these values for tourism is the Travel Cost Method, which looks at the amount people are willing to pay to get to the site. This amount increases as people are further away from the site, and people view this as a cost like that of the Parks fees to do the walk.

The actual willingness to pay for people to do the walk and enjoy the environment is the entrance fee plus the travel cost. As an example, a travel cost study of Warrumbungle National Park showed the value of nature recreation use was $61.25 per visitor, and with 50,000 visitors annually the total value is around $3 million per year. For all its problems, economics does have some nifty solutions.

Weighing Up Economic & Environmental Costs

In terms of costs, this is a lot simpler. These essentially include the construction costs of building the track and the costs of managing it post-construction. For the Grampians Great Walk the construction costs included upgrade of existing track, construction of new track, new infrastructure such as bridges, and hiker camps, totalling $26.7 million.

One important consideration in looking at the costs is environmental damage. This is inevitable when building a new track, with land needing to be cleared and ecosystems being disrupted by construction activities.

The Department of Planning and Environment has numerous policies related to National Parks to minimise environmental disturbance. They even have a ‘Dance parties policy’, which doesn’t align with my key Dance party policy of no Bohemian Rhapsody (it’s too long, overplayed, hard to dance to).

Their ‘Walking tracks policy’ states that tracks must be located and designed to minimise environmental impacts and be appropriate to the setting. In the Grampians, the language around environmental protection was stronger, requiring that:

All infrastructure avoids disturbance to the environment where possible, or where unavoidable, provide suitable offsets in other park locations.

The analysis can be repeated for different options, such as different track locations, different track fees, and allowing private operators with upmarket lodging. Once all the costs and benefits are quantified, the final benefit to cost ratio is arrived at for each option by dividing the benefits by the costs. A benefit to cost ratio of greater than 1 is what we’re looking for, and the project option with the highest ratio is usually chosen.

Sounds Great! But is it great for everyone?

One important factor to consider is who realises the costs and benefits? Is it making society more or less equal? Investment in national parks would be positive in this regard; anyone can enjoy the recreation and nature benefits mentioned previously at a low cost.


Adrian Mascenon, Mystery Mountain, Newnes, Wolgan Valley, Blue Mountains, NSW, climb, summit, sunrise

This epic view shouldn’t only be for those who can afford to get there

The flow on benefits of regional spending from walkers is also important to consider. The closest town to the proposed walk, Lithgow, had 39% of its population in the lowest household income quartile for NSW, and only 14% in the highest quartile in 2016.

An investment in this region would provide a much-needed boost to an economy reliant on coal mining as the second largest employer in 2016.

Job creation is an interesting one. It’s only explicitly included in cost-benefit analysis as a cost in the construction and management of the track; taxpayer money will need to be spent on these workers. However, in Government media releases, job numbers are seen as a positive outcome of public spending, and most likely include flow-on effects from spending such as jobs created in hotels where walkers stay before and after. Once again, politics usually wins here, with the more jobs created the better.

Unemployment in Lithgow is currently at 2.8%, much lower than that for Australia as a whole of 4.0% (I had to check that as well Albo). Lithgow is not in dire need of new jobs, but wages should rise to attract new workers, and assist the community in transitioning from its historical major industry of coal.

Is NSW finally starting to catch up?

Australia and NSW are finally getting their act together in the creation of world-class walks. In the past 10 years there’s been the opening of the Three Capes Track in Tasmania, the Scenic Rim Trail in Queensland, and the Grampians Peaks Trail in Victoria.


Hiking Ancient Gariwerd – Stage One of the Grampians Peaks Trail, Emily Barlow, pancake stacked rocks, cliffs, mountains

The Grampians Peaks Trail


NSW has no such Great Walk, but that’s soon to change with the announcements of the Great Southern Walk from Botany to the Illawarra, and the Great South Coast Walk from Bundeena to Mallacoota, plus a new Blue Mountains Great Walk.

If the Government uses rigour such as cost-benefit analysis (amongst public consultation, environmental impact statements and others), then we’ll never have to hear about a walks rorts scenario.


Feature image thanks to @hikeandseek