A local bushwalking and environmental group is urging the public to think twice before sharing the locations of the Illawarra's hidden bush gems online.
Off-track sites including waterfalls and swimming holes were at risk of becoming notorious social media hot spots like the ones in the Royal National Park, where authorities have been forced to erect fences and issue daily safety alerts due to risk-taking behaviour, president of the National Parks Association's Illawarra branch Graham Burgess said.
"We all know what has happened at Figure 8 Pool and Wedding Cake Rock and crowds are now finding their way to a growing number of special places in our region as well," the NPA Illawarra posted on Facebook.
"The problem for those who manage our parks and reserves is the large number of people who seem to want a high level of thrills and adventure from their bush experiences with little respect for the environment.
"They find places that are challenging and exciting then let all their friends know via social media."
Mr Burgess said environmentally sensitive areas with no formal tracks were being damaged as visitors "slip down steep slopes, establish highly erodible foot tracks that don't belong or just take too big a risk to get that selfie".
"The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) simply can't provide proper tracks to all the sites, even if funding was available," Mr Burgess told the Mercury.
"There are various aspects to be considered when working out where a formal bushwalking track should be built and where not.
"There are some places that people should just not be going - or not going in large numbers or with inadequate experience."
While bushwalking groups including the NPA Illawarra regularly visit some of the 'secret' sites where they would like to see less foot traffic, Mr Burgess said these guided walks differed in a number of ways to Facebook meet-ups.
"When bushwalking clubs or knowledgeable and experienced individuals organise walks to adventurous places, as they have done over decades, the structure and policies of the club or group and the leader on the day dictates how the group behaves, what safety concerns there are to be considered, what the impacts on the environment may be and adherence NPWS or other authorities guidelines," he said.
The NPA Illawarra said they would like to see less formally arranged excursions adhere to NPWS guidelines on group sizes and for visitors to be mindful of what they shared on social media.
"We encourage people to get out and get active but we want to see all users of social media in reporting on their outings take a step back and think of the implications of what they say can have on our special places," Mr Burgess said.
Jenae Johnston, founder of Bushwalk The 'Gong - a venture that organises group walks and publishes tour guides (which are available on the Illawarra Mercury's website) - said she always takes the environment and personal safety into account when promoting some of the Illawarra's lesser-known trails.
"As tempting as it is to promote wild adventures, when you don't know the individual abilities of your readers it is essential to ensure you provide adequate warnings and information," she said.
Mrs Johnston said the answer to an influx of visitors to local hidden wonders was increased spending on infrastructure in our national parks and greater local presence online from the NPWS.
"People have an evolutionary urge to explore and be in nature and in recent times it has only become more popular," she said.
"My concern is for future planning of our natural resources.
"We need to create experiences and provide adequate trails that both preserve and protect places, but also allow for safety and future population growth.
"Wollongong has some of the most poorly maintained trails I've seen.
"Trails with old stairs and picket posts sticking out of the ground - more dangerous than a natural trail; trails that have been closed for longer than Bushwalk the 'Gong has been operating; trails that are not equipped for passing people and can only cope with one way or you have to go off-trail to pass; trails with inadequate signage, if any.
"Not once, ever, have I ever seen a NPSW vehicle or employee on any of my bushwalks in the Illawarra."