Operators of one of North Queensland’s top tourist attractions say they’ve had to slap a price tag on a previously free wildlife tour because of a massive influx of tourists threatening the experience. Cape Hillsborough, near Mackay, is best known for its pristine beaches, and more recently a unique wallaby and kangaroo sunrise tour that was featured on a nationwide Qantas inflight-safety advertisement.
As a result, the beach now attracts hundreds of tourists each week. They flock to the shore to watch the animals as they feed with the stunning sunrise as a backdrop.
The experience has been enjoyed by locals and tourists for free for more than a decade, but recently operators of a nearby tourist park say they’ve had to make some changes due to tourists putting the animals and themselves at risk.
The owner of Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park, Ben Atherton, said tourist numbers had quadrupled in just over a year and, while that was a positive for the region, the animals had paid the price. “We began to notice lots of people bringing down loaves of bread, chocolate bars, packets of chips, just all the stuff we shouldn’t be giving to wildlife, just to get a good photo,” Mr Atherton said. “When they’re being fed that by tourist after tourist, every day, the animals end up really crook, they can end up with lumpy jaw [bacterial infection] and all sorts of digestive issues. “But the biggest thing is, when that food runs out the animals can get quite aggressive. Not knowing that there’s no more food there, the animals will attack the person. That’s what we’re trying to prevent. We needed to keep everyone safe.”
Mr Atherton said that just after Cyclone Debbie there was a “massive influx of media coverage”. “Plus we were still riding off the back of the Qantas ad which was viewed by nearly 63,000 people a day,” he said. “And after that the dynamics just changed. The crowds just went nuts. We used to get 10 people a morning, now sometimes we get 140.”
Mr Atherton said the challenge was keeping the crowds safe as well as the animals.
The wallabies’ safety is paramount.
Hoping to provide a solution to the problem, Mackay Tourism stepped in to help regulate the experience by adding a price tag to the previously free tour. The tours will now cost $22 a head and $14 for children from May 21. The revamped tour will offer visitors a guided experience with a trained tour guide and headsets with commentary about Cape Hillsborough’s history and conservation.
Mackay Tourism General Manager Tas Webber said the move was necessary. “We believe management of the experience is what we need to do to make it sustainable for the long term,” Mr Webber said. “We’ve put measures in place to make sure there’s no physical interaction between humans and the wallabies, to make sure everyone can enjoy it and get what they’re after. “We were worried there would be some adverse interactions. This way we can ensure that doesn’t happen and the wallabies’ safety is paramount throughout the whole experience.” Mr Webber said controlling the experience would also help prevent incidents like the one at Lake Macquarie in the Hunter Region of New South Wales two weeks ago where a kangaroo attacked a tourist, leaving her requiring more than 15 stitches.
He said while the beach would not be closed to the public, he hoped the guided tour would encourage tourists to become educated about the animals, the region and the need for such sustainability measures.
Will the tourists still come?
Sunrise Wallaby Experience tour guide Samantha Tilden said she thought visitors would embrace the changes. “It’s just to keep it going. We’ve got the best interests of the animal and the visitors at heart,” Ms Tilden said. “It’s exciting to see such big numbers coming through. It’s great for our area. This place is beautiful, but we want to keep it that way for everyone.” German tourist Marianna Gil said she supported the idea and would still visit, with or without the fee. She said the price might better control numbers, making the experience more intimate and enjoyable for visitors. “We heard about the kangaroos and wallabies and really wanted to see it,” she said. “It is so amazing but we expected fewer people. “I think if you have to pay, put a cap on the number of people that can come. That would be better. The experience is still so worth it.” English tourists Gareth Davis and Faye Harrison agreed, saying they would still pay the price if it meant the animals were better looked after. “I thought it was great, but a lot more people than I expected,” Mr Davis said. Mr Atherton said the fee was a small price to pay for what was on offer. “We just want this experience to survive,” he said.