The abandoned resort at Hinchinbrook Island in 2015, four years after Cyclone Yasi.
The abandoned resort at Hinchinbrook Island in 2015, four years after Cyclone Yasi.

Iconic island resort a paradise lost

ONE of Queensland's most iconic island resorts will be lost to tourists forever after the Palaszczuk Government secretly scrapped the destination's 45-year-old lease.

The Courier-Mail can reveal that the leasehold area of Hinchinbrook Island was withdrawn late last year after disputes with the owners over unpaid fees and numerous attempts to revive the resort failed.

Environmentalists will praise the move after campaigning against Hinchinbrook's redevelopment for decades, however the decision is another blow to Queensland's archipelago of island resorts, many which sit in ruin.

 

Hinchinbrook Island Wilderness Lodge, pictured in 2012 – a year after Cyclone Yasi.
Hinchinbrook Island Wilderness Lodge, pictured in 2012 – a year after Cyclone Yasi.

 

The move ends Hinchinbrook's chequered history as a resort destination after the Bjelke-Petersen government handed the first lease to Queensland's original "white shoe brigade" developer Keith Williams, who built Sea World and developed Hamilton Island.

The resort last operated as Hinchinbrook Island Wilderness Lodge and won eco-tourism awards in 2004 for its unique treehouse accommodation.

The idyllic 34km island between Townsville and Cairns was also the destination for Hollywood film Nim's Island, which starred Jodie Foster and Gerard Butler.

 

Hinchinbrook Island Wilderness Lodge Stairs to nowhere.
Hinchinbrook Island Wilderness Lodge Stairs to nowhere.

 

However, the resort at Cape Richards was closed in 2010 after the global financial crisis and subsequently being smashed by cyclone, destroyed by vandals and ravaged by fire.

One developer proposed rebuilding the resort but baulked at paying the $800,000 owing in lease payments and rates.

The Department of Environment and Science confirmed that the lease had been withdrawn.

"Hinchinbrook Island National Park is set to be rejuvenated with the Queensland Government committed to return the dilapidated resort at Cape Richards to the natural environment," the department said.

The abandoned Hinchinbrook Island resort after Cyclone Yasi.
The abandoned Hinchinbrook Island resort after Cyclone Yasi.

Companies will now tender to remove the remaining remnants of the resort and restore the site which has already been partially consumed by tropical undergrowth after years of neglect.

"The initial clean-up and removal of resort materials is scheduled to occur before the end of the year," the department said.

"The actual cost is not expected to exceed $1.3 million.

"The tourism lease has outstanding debts of $499,519.99, as at 20 December 2018.

"As the resort area has always been national park, there is no legislative or legal action required for the area to continue as national park."

The move comes three years after former environment minister Steven Miles urged island owners to develop their properties or risk having their leases given to others who would.

"The embarrassing thing is most are on state-owned land, including national parks - so to do nothing is unacceptable - we need to take action," he said.

 

Hinchinbrook Island Wilderness Lodge is gradually falling apart.
Hinchinbrook Island Wilderness Lodge is gradually falling apart.

 

"This issue is holding back Queensland's tourism appeal."

Department of Natural Resources and Mines figures show 16 of the 30 leasehold resorts between Cape York and Fraser Island are currently closed.

Several of these, including Hayman and Daydream islands, are poised to reopen soon while developments are planned on others, including South Molle and Lindeman.

However, others island resorts, including freehold destinations like Dunk Island, remain in limbo after being ruined by cyclones while the owners are unable to afford redevelopment.

Tourism Industry Development Minister Kate Jones denied the permanent closure of Hinchinbrook signalled that Queensland would never be revived as an island destination.

 

Moth Creek, Mulligan Bay at Hinchinbrook Island. Picture: Tourism and Events Queensland/ Stephen Gregg
Moth Creek, Mulligan Bay at Hinchinbrook Island. Picture: Tourism and Events Queensland/ Stephen Gregg

Ms Jones said the islands needed to offer different experiences and the Government was exploring eco-tourism opportunities on Hinchinbrook.

"We are supporting the redevelopment of Daydream Island, Hayman Island, Lindeman Island and South Molle Island," she said.

"However, in the case of Hinchinbrook, providing an eco-tourism experience is the best way forward."

Ms Jones said this would include upgrading Hinchinbrook's renowned walking tracks and opening expressions of interest into operating a small number of "glamping" tents.

She said the Government wanted "hiking boots and not more white shoes" on Hinchinbrook.

"Environmentalists have wanted us to hand back Hinchinbrook," she said.

"And there are people who don't want even eco-tourism there.

"But we think this is the best way forward."



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