A multimillion-dollar project will see walking trails in the Illawarra escarpment be transformed into the best in Australia, on par with epic trails in New Zealand.
As part of the NSW Budget, $31 million will be used to create a five-day walking track from Bulli to Botany with eco-cabins along the way, as well as creating 44 kilometres of mountain bike trails from Mount Keira to Mount Kembla.
Existing walking trails through National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) areas will be upgraded and new tracks created to link the 59 kilometre stretch, known as The Great Southern Walk, by 2024.
Former Kiama mayor Neville Fredericks has played an instrumental part in the plans having campaigned for this since the late 1980s.
"It's time has come and at last we're seeing the promise of major expenditure in what I believe will be one of the most significant in Australia," he said.
"What's been happening to date, there's been a lot of bush bashing and random tracks being pushed through the bush ... this will reduce damage to the environment by having one formalised track."
He said providing dedicated trails and overnight accommodation - be it sustainable cabins and "glamping" options - would reduce visitors disturbing native wildlife and fauna and increase tourism.
Now the chair of the lllawarra Escarpment Walking Track Partnership, Mr Fredericks has walked many of our nation's great tracks but said nothing compares to having a mountain next to the sea.
"A cliff-top escarpment walk really allows the public access to see the grandeur of these views," he said. "A lot of people are aware of this, but the accessibility has been a bit of a challenge."
Hikers will be able to start their journey at the Southern Gateway Centre in Bulli and head for Kamay at Botany Bay National Park, with overnight accommodation proposed for Maddens Plains, Garie, Wattamolla and Bonnie Vale.
A second multi-day walk will be announced in the coming months, Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said.
If you have a look at the success of eco tourism in places like Tasmania and the Northern Territory, this could easily become a key economic driver for the Illawarra going forward.MP Ryan Park
NSW national parks already attract more than 60 million visits a year, generating $18 billion in economic activity for NSW and supporting more than 74,000 direct and indirect jobs.
NPWS deputy secretary Atticus Fleming agreed the announcement was long overdue but was glad it was finally happening, with the walk expected to attract "hundreds of thousands of people" each year.
"National parks are an asset for everyone," Mr Fleming said. "Opening the doors, making them available for everyone regardless of age or ability."
Member for Keira Ryan Park said it was a game changer for the region.
"If you have a look at the success of eco tourism in places like Tasmania and the Northern Territory, this could easily become a key economic driver for the Illawarra going forward," he said.
"In addition it provides locals with the opportunity to enjoy our beautiful Illawarra Escarpment whilst at the same time providing a 'must do' for those coming to enjoy what the area has to offer."
Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery also welcomed the announcement and said people staying overnight would be the "big spend" with benefits.
"It means possible injections of more money and employment opportunities in the local economy," he said. "It will not only showcase the Illawarra but have greater economic benefits through tourism."
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