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Have Parks Victoria Really Banned Scrambling in the Grampians National Park?

Bushwalkers scrambling on the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk linking Hollow Mountain with Mt Stapylton. One of the most spectacular day walks in Victoria.

Just before last Christmas Parks Victoria finally released the Greater Gariwerd Landscape Management Plan. Unfortunately in Parks Victoria’s haste to ban rock climbing across significant areas of the park they also appear to have banned scrambling and in doing so they have effectively closed three of the best adventure walks / scrambles in Victoria. Two of these walks are described in our popular walking guide Daywalks Around Victoria (the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk [Hollow Mountain to Mt Stapylton] and the Fortress summit walk).

Here at Open Spaces we had concerned readers contacting us and asking for clarification. It’s no secret that Parks Victoria have closed a significant number of walking trails in the Grampians (possibly to funnel walkers onto their newly constructed Grampians Peaks Trail and to simplify management responsibilities and costs), but to have banned visitors to the Grampians National Park from undertaking any scrambling – an innocuous and common pastime for many outdoor enthusiasts – seemed to be too draconian even for them. Furthermore, there had been no hint of initiating such measures within the Greater Gariwerd Landscape Draft Management Plan nor in the public consultation process that preceded it. Back in 2019 and again in early 2021 Parks Victoria had even given us assurances that such adventure walking trails were open (although not officially recognised). Even as recent as March 2021 Jason Borg (Regional Director, Western Region) had continued to express support for these walks and even the use of safety ropes, safety harnesses and safety helmets both inside or outside of what Parks Victoria call Special Protection Areas (SPAs). To clarify, although the majority of averagely fit and able bushwalkers find these scrambling routes (such as the ridge-line linking Hollow Mountain to Mt Stapylton) to be both enjoyable, easy and straightforward, some walkers (especially those less agile within clubs or school groups) use safety ropes to provide a bit more security.

You can read our full blog relating to this matter and Parks Victoria’s detailed responses at Grampians National Park: Safety Ropes, Bushwalking and Special Protection Areas.

With the the release of the Greater Gariwerd Landscape Management Plan Parks Victoria included the following table (p99) which was added without any consultation with either the bushwalking or rock climbing communities.

It is difficult to know why Parks Victoria decided to hastily adapt the North American Yosemite Decimal System (YDS), which is what Parks Victoria refers to as the Sierra Club’s “modern classification”, to divide hiking and rock climbing into five general classes. According to Wikipedia, “the exact definition of the (YDS) classes is somewhat controversial, and updated versions of these classifications have been proposed”. In fact, the Sierra Club (which is California based) have now reviewed the YDS ratings system and have new “Scrambler” definitions “to distinguish them from the closely related but not identical YDS ratings”. There is also the question of where and exactly how does the North American YDS actually fit in with the widely accepted Australian Walking Track Grading System (of which Parks Victoria has endorsed) or with the long established Australian and New Zealand Ewbank rock climbing grading system.

However the real issue is with how Parks Victoria have used the Class 3 definition, which equates to “scrambling with increased exposure, where handholds are necessary and falls could be easily be fatal”. Parks Victoria has decided that class 3 scrambling is to be regarded as “hiking” but only if it occurs on a designated hiking trail. And this is where things get really strange. According to Parks Victoria if class 3 scrambling occurs on a non-designated hiking trail (such as on the Hollow Mountain to Mt Stapylton traverse or to reach the summit of the Fortress) then it is to be considered rock climbing ‘whether ropes or other safety equipment is used or not’. What this effectively means is that although this stops all those pesky rockclimbers in their tracks it also puts an an end to what many experienced walkers take for granted as part of their normal outdoor experience – scrambling. There must be literally thousands of established walking routes around Australia and throughout the world that involve sections of so-called class 3 scrambling. Surely Parks Victoria cannot be serious in banning something so innocuous as scrambling. So, we decided to clarify the situation by contacting Parks Victoria. Almost a month later we finally received the following reply:

To say we were confused is an understatement. The first paragraph states that “class 3 off-designated track scrambling is not permitted outside of designated climbing areas”, and the third paragraph states that “in respect to the Fortress and the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk as described in your correspondence, off track hiking is permitted”. As both the Fortress summit and the Stapylton Amphitheatre walks are indisputably classed by their own adapted YDS system as class 3 this means that these paragraphs are contradictory.

The rest of the letter told us that unlike 12 months previously, safety equipment can no longer be used by bushwalkers unless they are on a Parks Victoria designated walking trail. Again, very odd. Also, the walking and scrambling route to the top of the Chimney Pots is no longer allowed as it is now located in a Special Protection Area, yet this is again strange as there is a designated walking trail loop around the entire Chimney Pots, up against the cliffs. Apparently you can apply to walk and scramble to the top of the Chimney Pots but only after applicants “document this request in writing including details of when, who and why they need to walk in this area”. If it sounds like a ban and looks like a ban then it’s probably a ban!

This letter from Jason Borg left us more confused than ever. I therefore emailed Jason again to point out the contradictions and soon received an email back, not from Jason Borg but from Will Cox, the acting Area Chief Ranger for the Grampians National Park. Will Cox and I exchanged a couple of confusing emails in which he finally stated that “Parks Victoria will be conducting a review of these hiking tracks along with many other tracks throughout the park through its implementation of the Greater Gariwerd Landscape Management Plan. As you can appreciate, I can’t pre-empt any outcomes of this process”. I summarised the conversation with, “So if I understand you correctly walkers can walk these trails until further notice?”. Will Cox didn’t reply so I took this to be a reasonable assumption of the situation as it stands.

So there you have it. The Greater Gariwerd Landscape Management Plan has been released and scrambling may or may not be banned in the Grampians National Park. From what I can ascertain, this plan, even though it has been released, is exactly that, still a plan. Apparently Parks Victoria has communicated in writing that a set-aside will be posted on its website. However, if the plan is enacted as is, without changes, then class 3 scrambling will be banned and bushwalkers could be facing large fines for doing what many walkers around Australia and the world take for granted.

To be fair Parks Victoria appear to have painted themselves into a complicated bureaucratic corner over their hasty attempts to initiate sweeping rock climbing bans across the Grampians and in doing so have unfortunately caught up bushwalkers in the process. If our email conversations with Parks Victoria are anything to go by then it is obvious they are struggling with a complicated, poorly thought out and ultimately contradictory strategy.


  • Parks Victoria are in the process of banning class 3 scrambling in the Grampians National Park.
  • Bushwalkers are potentially facing large fines should they be caught class 3 scrambling on non-designated hiking trails.
  • According to Parks Victoria their class 3 definition is that ascending a given section of rock (whether it is 5m in length or 100m in length), whether with or without “ropes and other safety equipment” is “scrambling” if that section of rock is on a “designated hiking trail”; however, ascending that identical section of rock (whether with or without ropes and other safety equipment) is regarded as “rockclimbing” if it is not on a designated hiking trail. In other words, simply by designating a trail or by removing its designation, an ascent (whether with or without ropes and safety equipment) can be assessed as either class 3 scrambling or rockclimbing according to Parks Victoria’s whim.

If you wish to have an input regarding the future of walking and scrambling trails in the Grampians National Park, please consider writing to Parks Victoria. It would also help if you encouraged your bushwalking club to do likewise. If enough people voice their opinions then maybe Parks Victoria will be forced into revisiting this issue and come up with a less draconian solution, a solution that will benefit both Parks Victoria and bushwalkers alike. The following contacts include Bushwalking Victoria (who represent all bushwalkers in the state) and relevant Parks Victoria representatives:

Bushwalking Victoria:
Lily D’Ambrosio (Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change):
Matthew Jackson (Chief Executive Officer of Parks Victoria):
Jason Borg (Parks Victoria Regional Director, Western Region):
Will Cox (Acting Area Chief Ranger, Grampians National Park, Parks Victoria):
Stuart Hughes (Director of Park Planning and Policy, Parks Victoria):

In the meantime I’d recommend that bushwalkers consult with Parks Victoria before undertaking any of the walks discussed here. Parks Victoria can be contacted on 13 1963 or via email at
I’d like to also thank Parks Victoria for addressing our concerns.

The Fortress. One of the most attractive isolated rock summits in Australia and an historic bushwalking destination.

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Bushwalking Bans Looming in the Grampians/Gariwerd

Tourist hordes are swarming over ancient quarried edges beside a popular Parks Victoria walking track in the Grampians/Gariwerd.  Some are sitting beside quarried edges that are surrounded by graffiti. They are seemingly oblivious to the cultural heritage significance of the site.  Elsewhere in the National Park, graffiti (including false rock-art) spoils a rock shelter and threatens genuine indigenous rock art. Amazingly, this site is a Parks Victoria (PV) authorised campsite that is popular with walkers doing a multi-day hike. The Oasis campsite on the Fortress walking trail has tragically been trashed.

Graffiti on rock walls which run right up against the Grampians Peak Trail

Massive graffiti damage on a wall along the Grampians Peak Trail

At yet another tourist site in the Park, rock art is protected by a steel cage but tourists can easily scramble above and behind the cage location to find other less obvious but nonetheless easily discernible rock art and quarry sites that are marred by scratched and painted graffiti. The aforementioned tourist sites, and a number of others where damage to cultural heritage has occurred and continues to occur, remain open to all and sundry.  This is despite Parks Victoria having been alerted to the existence of cultural heritage at these sites and photographic evidence having been supplied.

New graffiti next to a quarry site at the Manja Shelter in the Victoria Range

Meanwhile, rockclimbers have found themselves excluded from vast tracts of the Grampians/Gariwerd and a growing number of key sites in nearby world climbing mecca, Mt Arapiles/Dyurrite.  Parks Victoria has consistently justified these exclusions on the basis of their “legislative obligations to protect cultural heritage”. Climbers have been perplexed by their exclusions from sites that have not been assessed for cultural heritage because of what PV management have called a “precautionary approach” (i.e. “we will keep you out just in case we might find something of significance there one day”). They are even more perplexed by their continuing exclusions from sites that have been assessed and where no tangible cultural heritage has been found. And they have been galled by what they see as double standards and the discriminatory application of regulations to some groups of recreational users of the Park but not to others.

Given that such blatant anomalies and discrepancies in the protection of cultural heritage sites have been pointed out to PV officials, and that Traditional Owners have stated that “protection of cultural heritage is non-negotiable”, it is understandable why some PV officials have privately admitted that it is inevitable that access to numerous tourist sites will soon be prohibited and multiple popular walking trails will be closed.

Graffiti damage inside Hollow Mountain

Along waterways and beside lakes in the Grampians that are popular with both walkers and fisher-folk, there are a number of cultural heritage sites that are listed in the Aboriginal Heritage Register.  It feels inevitable that access restrictions or prohibitions will soon be applied at these sites too. PV have no options since they are required to meet their legislative obligations. These actions of course spell disaster for many of us. Bans on walking trails and climbing areas may take years to resolve and in many cases these sites may never open again. Bushwalkers might hope for a far more granular approach to protection of cultural heritage than is embodied in Set-aside Determination. Unfortunately climbers have suddenly found themselves faced with bans which currently prohibits climbing in over 550 square kilometres of the Grampians/Gariwerd.  Bushwalkers should look no further than recent history and politics, which suggests that hope alone will not be enough. Check out this Save Grampians Climbing post HERE for further details

Quarry site and graffiti as you enter Hollow Mountain
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Parks Victoria Halts New Grampians And Arapiles Guidebooks

To all of our loyal wholesale and retail customers it is with a great deal of regret that Open Spaces Publishing has made the decision to halt work on all of our planned rock climbing and bushwalking titles for the Grampians National Park and at nearby Mt Arapiles.

Our business moved to Natimuk in the Wimmera almost 7 years ago to concentrate on climbing and bushwalking publications and I would like to think that our guides have been of some importance to the tourism industry. Over the years we are proud to have printed and sold well over 110,000 of our own Open Spaces titles, generating over 5 million dollars in retail sales and helping to support numerous authors and small businesses. We had a number of climbing guides to the Grampians in various stages of production and had started work on the fourth edition of our very popular Arapiles Selected Climbs guide which was scheduled for release in about 18 months.

There is no doubt that the massive Grampians climbing bans (on an unprecedented global scale and which have come into force over the last 18 months) combined with the recent Bundaleer and Taipan Wall climbing and bushwalking bans, have forced Open Spaces to re-evaluate our position. In these uncertain times and given the likelihood of further climbing and bushwalking bans in both the Grampians and at Mt Arapiles we have decided to cease all of our planned publications to these areas. A business like ours cannot be expected to operate where there is no certainty. We are especially disappointed that Parks Victoria and the Traditional Owners have decided not to engage with the climbing and bushwalking communities and instead continue to foster this uncertainty. Our own recent discussions with senior Parks Victoria staff regarding our forthcoming Grampians bushwalking guidebook have also given us further cause for concern.

Open Spaces would like to offer our full support to all of the various rock climbing, bushwalking and reconciliation groups working towards a mutually beneficial outcome. We understand and are upset that this decision will directly effect the flow of tourism dollars into our Wimmera and Grampians regions but we feel we have no choice. This decision does not affect our existing publications and we will continue to act as a wholesale and retail distributor to titles on our current stock list.

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Grampians National Park: Safety Ropes, Bushwalking and Special Protection Areas

This article was added to on 10 March 2021 to include a letter from Jason Borg at Parks Victoria.

Many of you are probably aware that Parks Victoria have initiated sweeping rock climbing bans across the Grampians National Park in what are called Special Protection Areas (SPAs). At Open Spaces we have received a number of phone calls and emails asking whether these bans will effect bushwalkers who use safety ropes within SPAs. At least two of our Grampians walks in our Daywalks Around Victoria guidebook are directly affected. These walks are Stapylton Ampitheatre and The Fortress Caves. So we decided to write to Parks Victoria to seek clarification. Here is our letter (dated 27 May 2019):

To whom it may concern,
Open Spaces are currently in the process of writing an online update to the four Grampians bushwalks we describe in our popular Daywalks Around Victoria guidebook. This book has sold over 3000 copies and we have a responsibility to the groups, clubs and numerous independent walkers to attempt to clarify the somewhat confusing situation regarding the current Parks Victoria Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Two of our described walks (the Stapylton Amphitheatre, p44 and The Fortress Caves, p50) appear to be affected by the SPAs.

As you are no doubt aware the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk (the rocky ridge linking Hollow Mountain with Mt Stapylton) has long been regarded as one of the most iconic walks in the Grampians, it has been called the most spectacular walk in Victoria and sees hundreds of walkers a year (both teenagers and adults). The Echoes Block section of the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk (at the point where you leave the main walking trail to Hollow Mountain) appears to be within an SPA. It is our understanding that there is now a ban on the use of safety ropes within SPAs. Unfortunately many groups, clubs and independent walkers commonly use a safety rope to gain the top of the Echoes Block. Although the scrambling is easy, it is the safest way to bring walkers up. Safety ropes have been used on the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk for at least 50 years.

We are writing to you to inform you that we will be advising our readers that if they resort to using a safety rope within an SPA they face possible fines of over $1600. We will also inform our readers that a safety rope is therefore not allowed to be used on the initial Echoes Block section of the walk but is allowed to be used on the final steep northern scramble up to the summit of Mt Stapylton (as this section is not within an SPA).

The final scramble up to the top of the Fortress is also regularly completed by groups, clubs and independent walkers. Some of these people rely on the use of a safety rope to gain what is widely regarded as the best summit in the Grampians.

Question one. Is the Fortress within an SPA? It is difficult to tell as the official maps are lacking in detail. If it is within an SPA we will inform our readers that the use of a safety rope to gain the summit is no longer allowed.

Question two. Has Parks Victoria considered that a no safety rope policy (within SPAs) will influence some walkers to forgo the use of a safety rope (due to the over $1600 fine) and which will almost certainly result in future accidents?

We understand that both of these walks are not officially recognised by Parks Victoria but considering that they are historically important, have a long history with walkers and are popular (particularly the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk) it would be hard for Parks Victoria to pretend that they didn’t exist, and therefore absolve themselves of any future responsibility.

Looking forward to your response, Glenn Tempest, Open Spaces Publishing

Here is Park Victoria’s response (dated 11 July 2019):

Dear Mr Tempest
Safety Ropes in Special Protection Areas

Thank you for your email of the 28th May, 2019 to the Hon Lily D’Ambrosio MP, Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, regarding Special Protection Areas and the use of safety ropes while bushwalking in Grampians National Park. As this issue falls within Parks Victoria’s responsibilities, your correspondence has been forwarded to me for my consideration and response. I apologise for taking so long to get back to you.

While Parks Victoria prohibits rock climbing within Special Protection Areas (SPA’s) there is no prohibition on the use of safety ropes to assist with the activity of bushwalking either inside or outside of SPA’s. Safety ropes are permitted if necessary for safety while bush walking and National Parks regulations are complied with (i.e. no damage to rock or use of bolts, no trampling or damaging of vegetation). Parks Victoria would be interested in working with you to provide clarity to bushwalkers on what defines the use of safety ropes while bushwalking and how it can easily be distinguished from climbing.

To clarify your question regarding Echoes block and the Fortress: Echoes block is within an SPA. The area is of significant natural and cultural value, and is not on an authorized walking track. Although bush walking is permitted in this SPA, the nature of this activity is “off track” therefore, bush walkers are reminded to adhere to minimal impact guidelines (tread lightly, keep group sizes small, don’t damage vegetation) and comply with National Park regulations. Safety ropes if necessary, should only be used as described above and not be the primary means of access.

The Fortress walking track is an authorized walking track that sits within a remote and natural area, where the activity of bushwalking on and off track is permitted. However, the walking track itself has an SPA layer over its entirety for the protection of important natural values. The summit of the Fortress is not within this SPA as the authorized walking track does not continue to this area. Bush walking in this summit area will need to adhere to minimal impact guidelines and comply with National Park regulations. Care should be taken when walking off track to consider remoteness and difficult terrain.

As you may be aware, a new management plan is being developed for the Grampians landscape, an area that covers the Grampians National Park and adjacent parks and reserves. This document will underpin strategic planning for the Grampians landscape over the next 15 years to ensure the precious environmental and cultural values of this iconic landscape are preserved for future generations to enjoy. This includes providing longer-term direction on matters such as access and usage of the park. The process to develop this plan will include opportunities for you to share your thoughts, attend public information sessions, and get feedback from Parks Victoria and key stakeholders on specific questions that you may have.

I will have local staff from the Grampians National Park contact you to meet you on site and discuss these matters further.

Yours sincerely
Sally Lewis, Regional Director Western Region Parks Victoria

So, just to be clear. Safety ropes are permitted if necessary for safety while bush walking and National Parks regulations are complied with (i.e. no damage to rock or use of bolts, no trampling or damaging of vegetation). I’d like to thank Sally Lewis (Regional Director Western Region) and to Simon Talbot (Chief Operating Officer) and Gavan Mathieson (South West District Manager) for contacting me with regards to this important issue.

UPDATE 10 March 2021

In February 2021 we had some further concerns regarding bushwalkers using safety ropes when scrambling inside or outside of Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Some walkers had contacted us asking whether or not they were able to use safety helmets and safety harnesses (particularly in regards to children, those less nimble or those less confident in their abilities). We wrote to Jason Borg at Parks Victoria on 29 January 2021 asking for further clarification regarding the use of safety helmets and safety harnesses. Here is his reply.

Perhaps the following graphic will help clarify Parks Victoria’s logic. Or maybe it won’t.

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Following the Wombat Poo Trail

Wombat poo and flower

Over the years I’ve developed a fascination for wombat poo. Nothing weird, more as a subject matter for my camera as opposed to collecting them for things like making paper with (which is apparently done commercially by some mob down in Tassie!) My native Victoria is home to many thousands of wombats and this amiable ambling marsupial is a common sight when visiting our parks and reserves. There are a few things about wombat poo that make it so interesting. Firstly, the poo is essentially square. That’s right, a fresh poo is pretty much cube-shaped. It boggles my mind that somehow a wombat’s intestine can knock out square-shaped poos. Also, wombats love to do their poos on top of things. On top of stones, logs, mounds and even low fence palings. Which is why they need to have their poos square-shaped – so they don’t roll away! Wombats pump out between 80 and 100 of these marvelous marshmellow-sized wonders each night. Not a bad effort. They place them in conspicuous positions to tell other wombats that this is my place so stay well away. Over time the poos melt back into the bush, back into the grass from whence they came. HERE is a bunch of my wombat poo pics (linked to my SmugMug site) to browse through – if you are so inclined…

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Open Spaces Tree Change

Open Spaces and it's new home in Natimuk, with the Natimuk Cafe.
Open Spaces and it’s new home in Natimuk, with the Natimuk Cafe.

It’s been a tough ten years in print publishing as the internet revolution continues to change the way we create and distribute information. Traditional printers across Australia have been putting off large numbers of staff or closing their doors for good. Wholesale distributors and book shops have been similarly affected. The introduction of smart-phones and tablets using e-books cut further and further into the traditional book market.

It’s no secret that we at Open Spaces have not been immune to the tsunami which has raged around us. At times it felt that we were shoeing horses in a blacksmith’s shop, all the while watching automobiles speeding past on the road outside. We changed tack accordingly and provided our newest walking titles with comprehensive GPS coordinates, which were able to be downloaded directly from our website. As far as we know this was a world first. Open Spaces also joined up with iCrag to create Australia’s first interactive climbing apps for both Apple and Android. We were very proud of how our Arapiles Selected Climbs and Rockclimbs Around Melbourne turned out as apps. We even changed the concept of our books, creating smaller print runs of slimmer, less expensive editions (such as our Western Gorges and Victoria’s Goldfields), which gave us the ability to update quickly and regularly. These innovations helped us to stay in business but despite this we at Open Spaces are under no illusions as to what the future holds for many ‘less adaptable’ publishers in the traditional print industry. We don’t believe that the end of traditional books will occur any time soon but we feel that there will be a fundamental shift in how books will be printed. High-quality, fast, digitally printed books that will have very short print runs (usually under 500 copies) will start to make more business sense. Our latest book, Law Unto Himself is a good example of this print on demand style of publishing. In the end though we have to face up to certain truths. More and more people will use the internet as a prime source for much of their information and they will have less need to purchase traditional forms of print media.

Which is why we have made some rather large changes here at Open Spaces. One of our biggest decisions was to drop the publishing and distribution of all our cycling titles. Of all of our books it was our cycling titles which suffered the most. With few book shops able to sell our product (to the general public) and with almost no support from cycling shops we had no choice but to drop them. We have sold the remaining stock of our excellent Bike Rides Around Melbourne to a leading distributor (Woodslane) and we will no longer be stocking it ourselves. We have also dropped many of the smaller less popular titles in our range, simply because we couldn’t justify holding so much stock.

Perhaps the biggest change for Open Spaces was that we have sold our premises in Melbourne and moved ourselves to Natimuk, a small town in the Wimmera region of Western Victoria. Natimuk is within spitting distance of the famous Mt Arapiles and the rugged Grampians mountains are nearby. This change in lifestyle will allow us to do more of the things we love. Tracey Skinner, our office administrator, has followed suit and moved up to near Natimuk with us. In fact, she and my partner, Karen, are now owners of the popular Natimuk Cafe, which is open on weekends for locals and visiting climbers and walkers.

Finally, Open Spaces would like to apologise to any of our customers that may have been inconvenienced by the inevitable chaos involving our move. Things should now be running smoothly again and we look forward to a bright future where we will continue selling and distributing walking and climbing books for many years to come.


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Healthy Parks – Wealthy People



For many years the various organisations that have run Victorian Parks have had an objective of increasing visitor numbers. The most recent incarnation, Parks Victoria, has gained a new objective – a greater proportion of Parks expenditure is to be raised from users and less is to be provided through government budgets. Are the two objectives compatible? The recently released Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) and its proposed increases in camping fees assumes the two objectives are compatible. I believe the RIS uses weak research and an avoidance of challenging questions to maintain this pretence. Here is why.

Horizontal equity – merely an excuse for regressive cost shifting:

The fundamental objective of the RIS is cost recovery for camping in parks. This objective is partially justified by the principle of horizontal equity. Stripped to its basics as used in the RIS, this is the principle that all users should pay the full costs of the camping services they use in Victorian Parks. No one group of campers should subsidise another. There are two problems with this simplistic principle.

  • Why should horizontal equity only be applied to campers. Why should it not be applied to day visitors or to those who derive benefit merely from knowing that Parks exist and are accessible? The answer is that campers are more easily regulated.
  • More importantly, the proposed fee structure will apply the same nominal costs to campers irrespective of income and so will discriminate against lower income campers who will be required to pay a greater proportion of their disposable income to camp. Its impact will be felt most strongly by those who choose camping as an affordable form of recreation. This is hardly horizontal equity. It is a form of regressive taxation. This regressivity will change camping behaviour in ways not anticipated in the RIS.

Most camping visitation is to low cost options – suggesting price influences camping choices

Three quarters of camping visits are to basic and very basic camp sites. Currently these sites have modest fees. The high useage suggests price is likely a factor in the choices of many of campers. This issue is dismissed by the RIS using short citations from a study by Deakin University. Too little detail is provided to determine if sample used in the study is representative of the high number of users of low-cost sites. But if the sample is representative, half of the respondents suggested they would choose another option if camping prices rose. This limited evidence of camping ‘price elasticity’ is dismissed in the RIS with no explanation. This is a fatal flaw in the RIS logic.

Price elasticity of camping demand – higher prices will divert campers

The charging of a $13 fee for a basic camp option may have little impact on the use of these facilities. However, most car-based camping sites that have till now been used as low-cost camping options are being re-classified as mid or high cost camping sites. The case of the Grampians is instructive. All eleven car-based camping sites in the Grampians have been classified as mid or high level service. Currently the majority are low cost options. After the new fees are applied, no low-cost options will remain. The daily fee per vehicle in any of these sites will be between $34 and $50 – a rise of between 170% and 300%. This is a very hefty rise. Despite the scale of proposed fee increases, the RIS makes no real attempt to assess the impact on visitation, other than to cite a poorly designed question in the Deakin survey which asked respondents if they were willing to pay a ‘reasonable’ fee. The concept of ‘reasonable’ is in the eye of the beholder. I imagine few respondents would have considered a 300 per cent rise to be reasonable. It appears the survey gave no indication of the potential scale of fee rises. This makes the survey useless as anything other than a tool for opportunistic citation. And this is how the RIS has used it. To paraphrase its argument- campers agree they would pay a reasonable charge. We define a 300 per cent increase is reasonable. Therefore campers will accept this fee increase. This is hardly credible analysis.

The survey should now be repeated and users asked whether the proposed fee increases are reasonable and whether they would be willing to pay them. We all know that the response to these questions would be very different to the repsonse in the Deakin survey. The outcome of the proposed fee increase can be predicted with reasonable confidence:

  • Fewer camping visit: A significant proportion of low income (and possibly other) campers will reduce their visitation to formal campsites. Some may convert to day visitation. Some may not visit.
  • Diversion to commercial facilities: Some current users will make an assessment that the price charged for basic Parks Vic camp sites is significantly more expensive than commercial campsites that offer services unavailable in Parks sites – hot showers, washing machines and camp kitchens etc. They will divert to commercial options. [This raises a suspicion that the fee rise is partly designed to increase the profits of private operators – particularly any future operators buying the new 99 year leases of park land]
  • Informal and illegal camping will increase. The RIS acknowledges that non-compliance with fees is already high (60 per cent). The fee rises proposed will provide a vastly increased incentive for non-compliance. Parks will need to either increase surveillance of informal camping areas, or accept lower revenue and the potential threat to park values.

Is the future will remote campsites be closed due to negative returns?

If maintaining park visitation was considered a real objective of Parks Victoria, much greater consideration would have been given to the price elasticity and cross-elasticity’s of camping. There would have been a serious attempt to estimate the level of fee increase that could be achieved without reducing visitation. The absence of such a consideration from the RIS suggests that revenue raising is now the over-riding objective of Parks Victoria. If the proposed fee increases do reduce visitation, divert campers to commercial facilities and increase informal camping, the revenue estimates in the RIS will be proved grossly optimistic. Little additional revenue will be raised, but visitation will have shrunk.

At the same time, increased illegal camping and non-compliance will require the diversion of Parks Victoria staff, if not to enforce revenue targets, at least to protect park values where these might be threatened by informal camping. This will either increase Parks Victoria’s costs, or more likely decrease the investment of Parks Victoria budget in the rest of the work needed to protect our Parks.

If these predictions become reality, Parks Victoria will face the realisation that many lower level service and remote camp sites will never be self-funding. Given the current climate, the next logical step would be to close these campsites as unviable. This future seems quite at odds with an objective of increasing park visitation. Park visitation will become a recreation only for the wealthy able to afford to stay in the higher level facilities (more than $200 a night) or in whatever up-market facilities are created on the 99 year leases. These will not provide low cost camping. Parks Victoria could then change the logo on its vehicles from “Healthy Parks – Healthy People” to “Healthy Parks – Wealthy People”. This would only require repainting one letter and should be affordable within the currently stretched Parks Victoria budget. At least then we would all know where we stood. Parks exist to serve those able to pay hefty visitor fees. The alternative is a fundamental rethink of Parks Victoria priorities and an investment in credible research.

[Open Spaces: This piece was provided by one of our regular readers and who wishes to remain anonymous. It follows on from Glenn Tempest’s short blog/response to the Victorian National Parks Camping and Accommodation Fees Regulatory Impact Statement (Healthy Parks, Wealthy People) from last week. ]


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Healthy Parks, Wealthy People

Victorian National Parks Camping and Accommodation Fees – Regulatory Impact Statement
The Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) has released a proposal for a user-pays approach to charges for camping and roofed accommodation in parks and reserves managed by Parks Victoria.
Victorians are invited to provide comment on the regulatory impact statement by 22 November 2013.

I just emailed the following response to the Victorian Government/DEPI (Department of Environment and Primary Industries) in relation to the Victorian National Parks Camping and Accommodation Fees Regulatory Impact Statement. If you feel strongly about these fee increases then I suggest you provide comment by the above date.


As a regular park user and author/publisher of some of Victoria’s most popular bushwalking and rockclimbing guides I would like to voice my strenuous objection to the proposed increases to camping fees within our parks and reserves managed by Parks Victoria.

Having read the proposal I cannot help but be impressed at the Victorian Government/DEPI in having created one of the most confusing, inconsistent and badly worded documents that I’ve ever read. Was this proposal rushed or is it deliberately obtuse?

There are so many issues regarding these proposals that it’s difficult to know where to start. Firstly, however, I have to say that I’m astounded at the size of the proposed increase in camping fees. A fee of almost $50 for an individual to stay one night at a campground designated as having a ‘high’ level of facility and service is simply outrageous. If these massive fee increases are intended to drastically lower the number of overnight visitors to our parks and reserves then you are definitely going about it the right way. Especially affected will be those in our society who are less well off. My suggestion is that instead of promoting ‘Healthy Parks, Healthy People’, Parks Victoria can change its message to, ‘Healthy Parks, Wealthy People’.

Many park users are travelers who don’t plan ahead but simply ‘roll-up’ to various campgrounds. So who thought it was a good idea to confine those park users to an online booking system upon arrival at the campground? A smart phone and a credit card appears to be the only solution but plenty of people still don’t own a smart phone (although if you confine our parks to wealthy users then this may not be such a problem!). Unfortunately even those with smart phones are not always going to get reception. I hope that Parks Victoria will take a lenient view of all of those (roll-ups, gray nomads, etc) that will end up breaking the law through no fault of their own.

One certain result of these proposed campground increases will be that many park users will turn to bush camping to reduce their costs. Unfortunately this will result in an increase in environmental damage. This proposal indicates that substantial bush camping fees will also be introduced. As a regular bush camper I cannot wait to hear exactly how this will be policed. It’s simply not fair that an already overworked and greatly diminished Parks Victoria staff be turned into a rural version of Melbourne’s ticket inspectors.


Glenn Tempest


Written submissions should be forwarded by 5:00pm Friday 22 November 2013 via either of the following:

Camping and Accommodation Fees
Land Management Policy Division
Department of Environment and Primary Industries
Level 3, 8 Nicholson Street



DEPI RIS Page link:

Fact sheet:

RIS executive statement:

RIS statement:

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When Is The Best Time To Walk The Overland Track?

Warwick Sprawson is our guest blogger. He is the author of  Overland Track which is available for purchase in our bookshop. Here, he asks the question – “When is the best time to walk the Overland Track?”

The ‘best’ season for hiking Tasmania’s Overland Track is as personal as your scroggin mix. Some thrive on the cold and solitude of winter, others on the long days and bustling huts of summer. Each season has its pros and cons.

Summer is the most popular season to walk the track. Many wildflowers are in bloom, carpeting the plains in vivid colours. The days are long, providing more daylight hours in which to tackle the track’s interesting side routes – trails off the route’s main spine. The average maximum temperature is a relatively warm 16.3°C, with temperatures in the 30s not uncommon. Summer also has the least rain, about as half as much as winter.

Your best chance of a view is in Summer. View from Barn Bluff
Your best chance of a view is in Summer. View from Barn Bluff

The downside of hiking in summer is that the huts and campsites are often busy, although the booking system – which runs from 1 October to 31 May – ensures the track is never overrun. If you want to hike in summer make a reservation early; the track is often fully booked from December to late January. In peak season you have to walk the track from north to south (Cradle Valley to Lake St Clair).

Inside Kia Ora hut. Huts can get crowded in Summer
Inside Kia Ora hut. Huts can get crowded in Summer

Autumn on the Overland is under-rated. Hikers can enjoy the spectacular golds and reds of the deciduous beech trees, usually at their best around Anzac Day. Apart from the Easter period, the track is less crowded than summer, and there can still be fairly good weather, especially in March. The first significant snow often falls in May (but snow can fall anytime on the Overland, even during the height of summer).

sign at Kia Ora Creek, April
sign at Kia Ora Creek, April

Deciduous beech
Deciduous beech

Autumn. Late afternoon near Pine Forest Moor
Autumn. Late afternoon near Pine Forest Moor

One of the best things about autumn hiking is the variety of fungi. You’ll see a huge range of shapes and sizes, the bright reds, oranges and yellows lighting up the dim rainforest.

Fungi near D'Alton falls
Fungi near D’Alton falls

Autumn fungi
Autumn fungi

Winter on the Overland is only for the hardcore. It snows frequently enough that the route can be hard to discern, especially in white-out conditions. Taking snow-shoes is advisable. The days get dark by 5pm, so there is less time to do sidetrips. Overnight temperatures can be as low as minus 9°C. Winter also has the most rain, making the track even wetter and muddier than usual.

Climbing the Acroppolis in snow. They had to turn back.
Climbing the Acroppolis in snow. They had to turn back.

On the other hand, in winter it’s likely that you’ll have the huts along the track to yourself, and be reasonably snug thanks to the coal or gas heater. You also have the freedom to walk the track in either direction and don’t have to pay the $200 Overland Track booking fee which is required during peak season. Winter also provides the occasional crisp, clear day which reveals the full majesty of the snowy landscape.

September and October are usually the windiest months, with the conditions becoming more stable in November.

Tasmanian Waratah
Tasmanian Waratah

Some flowers, such as the Tasmanian waratah, begin to flower in late spring. In September you can walk the track in either direction and save yourself the booking fee.

As you can see, every season has its advantages and disadvantages. So what’s your favourite season to hike? Why?

Warwick Sprawson’s Overland Track guide is available from the OSP bookshop for $19.95. The full-colour guidebook includes track notes, maps, flora, fauna, history and geology.

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Dog in the Mists

Back in 1964 my father wrote a short story for possible publication in England’s Popular Camping magazine. It was rejected by the editor and the original type-written manuscript was all but forgotten. It must have meant something to my dad since he carried it with him when he migrated to Australia a couple of years later. Dad died 11 months ago and as we approach the anniversary of his death I thought it would be fitting to finally publish his story, pretty much exactly as he had written it almost fifty years ago. I think he would have been pleased.


Dog in the Mists

by Brian Tempest

Lake District weather has always been a tricky forecasting area for the experts, and proved no exception for us, as we found out when we planned a winter camp on Scafell. The plan was to camp and climb Scafell and any other surrounding peaks we had time for, with snow and ice climbing thrown in as a secondary thought. The patron saint of good winter weather (whoever he is) was not looking our way and towards the weekend of late January the wind drifted to the west and a thaw set in.

Saturday morning saw the four of us leave Shipley in the van and a few hours later pull up at Dungeon Gill Hotel for lunch. The weather was undoubtedly gale force winds and would be “very dodgy” on the tops. We had chosen the Band to ascend from Langsdale but changed it to Rossett Gill which afforded more shelter. After taking photographs of the climbers on Gimmer Crag we made our way up the valley towards Rosset Gill on our left, and Stake Pass winding steeply up the fell to the right. We struck left across the rough wooden bridge and over the glacial deposits of the valley floor, towards the scree slopes and the rugged gorge of Rosset Gill. As the track became steeper so the wind became stronger, until at about five hundred feet above the valley floor we were forced into the gulley which we hoped would afford us better protection from the wind.

The excess amount of water flowing made progress slower and wetter until about three hundred feet higher we climbed out of the gully and onto the frozen shoulder, just away from the worst of the wind. Higher up we were again forced into the gully and after a lot of heavy slogging over ice covered rock we reached the top of the pass and lay down behind some boulders facing the valley. The broad expanse of the Langdale valley was spread out below us with the Pikes shrouded in heavy mist. To our right Bowfell climbed sharply upwards, the top lost in swirling mist and rain. The winter sun broke through above Dungeon Gill and traced a silver pencil-thin line of the stream on the valley floor some eighteen hundred feet below us.

The temperature was still falling (it had dropped twenty degrees on the way up and was already below freezing point) and if the high winds didnt ease soon, we would have difficulty with the tents later. A dark sky in the east made us realise the time and the necessity to pitch camp soon so wepressed on to Angle Tarn and with difficulty found the only piece of unwaterlogged ground in the area. In growing darkness and a howling wind we put up the two tents and crawled inside.

Camp. 1st Feb 64. At Hanging Knott above Angle Tarn.
Camp. 1st Feb 64. At Hanging Knott above Angle Tarn.

A long drawn out baying, blown across on dark wind and rain made us look outside. High on the crags above the tarn a large dog, like some spectral hound of the fells, came bounding down the steeprock slopes, the moon lighting its gleaming wet coat, giving it an uncanny and startling appearance. It was obviously lost and hungry so wecooked it a hot meal and gave it oatmeal biscuits, and later it curled up comfortably by my tent. At about 1am we were awakened by a scratching at the tent door, the weather outside was appalling, with driving rain and high winds threatening to blow us any minute into the tarn below.

Camp at High Knott above Angle Tarn.
Camp at High Knott above Angle Tarn.

The following morning was still windy but thankfully dry as I pushed the sleepy and somewhat smelly dog out of the tent. Before breakfast I climbed the steep fell to the flat plateau of Esk House. To the east, bright early morning sunshine flooded the valley below me, making the ice encrusted peaks flash like diamonds. Behind to the west and south dark clouds were piling behind Bowfell and scudding across the silver grey sky towards me. By the time we had finished a rather later breakfast than anticipated and broke camp, sleet and rain were driving down from the high crags of Hanging Knotts, creating miniature whirlwinds across the surface of Angle Tarn, before throwing itself in a lashing fury against the black wet crags.

After fifteen minutes walk we were in thick mist with visibility down to twenty yards, so we decided against Scafell and struck south east across the track from Ore Gap to Esk House towards the summit of Esk Pike. We had noted heavy snow and ice the day before and as we had brought axes along might as well put them to some use. We negotiated the ridge of Esk Pike and across patches of wet snow and thick ice to the boggy area of Ore Gap. The marker stones to the summit of Bowfell were a great help in the thick fog, and when the stones were hidden in mist the hound had an uncanny knowledge of our direction and plodded steadily forward to the next marker, and up to the steep summit of Bowfell. We huddled together under the summit rocks and munched our mint cake (I’ve heard that somewhere before?) before descending a thousand feet to the plateau below.

Summit of Bowfell, 2960 ft. 1st Feb 1964.
Summit of Bowfell, 2960 ft. 1st Feb 1964.

The area here, to where we were to descend The Band was difficult to find, but by checking the general wind direction and trusting to cannine intelligence made the top of The Band quite easily. By this time the rain had slowed to a mere drizzle, and as the mist cleared below us we could makeout the steep valley of Oxendale with picturesque waterfalls tumbling down its steep fells. Over to our left and across the Langdale valley Pike of Stickle pushed it rugged head into the wet mists above.

Below and along the fertile valley the chimneys of Dungeon Gill called a welcome return to the weary travellers. With the bad weather conditions the whole weekend had, in our minds, been somewhat of a failure, but this unexpected and rewarding view had more than compensated us all. With light hearts and a waggingtail we descended, past Stool End Farm and on to the hotel.

We had intended to take the beagle hound to Ambleside police station, but after changing into dry clothes in the car park at Dungeon Gill the dog had disappeared. After searching the immediate area and enquiring from climbers and hikers of the whereabouts of a stray dog we had brought in, reluctantly left. Although the car park was fairly full of people the funny thing was that no one said they had seen us arrive with a brown and white dog at all.

It seems strange that people so observant as country folk are, should miss a footsore and bedraggled dog. Or is it?