One of the Northern Territory’s most spectacular destinations is shutting its gates to self-drive tourists after almost 25 years.
Lorella Springs Wilderness Park, located on a remote private property in the Gulf of Carpentaria, revealed it will not be reopening after the wet season, except to those in a pre-booked tour group.
The family-owned patch of “paradise” is home to the some of the NT’s most stunning waterfalls, swimming holes and ancient rock art.
However, in an emotional post shared to the wilderness park’s Facebook page on January 13, owner Rhett Walker explained that while it is “not goodbye” – running Lorella’s tourism as it was “has become impossible”.
“This announcement is going out with a heavy heart, a lot of emotion and a bit of fear, as we step into the unknown,” he began the post.
Mr Walker explained he spent his entire life turning Lorella into what it is today but it had grown so popular, it had become a victim of its own success.
“Forty years ago, it was a piece of land in the middle of nowhere, that nobody wanted or even showed interest in. It protected my family and I when we were at our most vulnerable, and in return it allowed us to care for it and made us its ‘keepers of the land’,” he said.
“It connected with us several decades ago and has led our lives ever since. And so, it only came naturally that we decided to let Lorella welcome others too.”
Mr Walker has spent the last 25 years doing tourism in Lorella, opening up his backyard to the public to share the “beautiful wonders” of his private property.
However, with great sadness he said he cannot reopen to drive-by visitors in 2023.
“It is not just the bureaucracy or the feeling of being forgotten and less supported in our remote location,” he said.
“It is not just either the pressure from those who do not accept that I, too, have an attachment to this land and care for it. It is the above and more.
“The red tape has become too much for us to keep things as they are.”
Mr Walker said there was a time when his vision was so clear that the sacrifices he had to make in his life only seemed natural and fair.
“However, in recent times, with more and more restrictions being laid on us, I have been losing that dream and far from becoming easier, the running of Lorella’s tourism as it is has become impossible.”
“Please believe me when I say this: we feel and share the disappointment and shock. However, unfortunately, this situation is mainly out of our control.”
Walker described the park as “one of the longest-surviving tourist businesses in the Northern Territory” and said there were thousands of people in Australia and abroad who loved the destination.
“At Lorella, we have it all – for the nature lover, the bush walker, the bird watcher as well as the outback explorer, the remote camper and anyone keen to discover our unique Top End savannah region – a true wilderness sanctuary,” he added.
Mr Walker gave no further details on the red tape and bureaucracy he blamed for the difficulties forcing Lorella to close.
NT Tourism Minister Nicole Manison said the government was working with the business “through a raft of historic matters” and it wanted to see the operation continue to run.
“We’re trying to give them as much support as possible to work through those, from a range of different agencies,” she told the ABC on Monday.
Mr Walker’s post has attracted thousands of comments from stunned and irate Aussies.
“I am so sorry to hear this. After all your hard work, how can they let this happen? This is absolutely appalling. It will be all about the money and completely mismanaged just like what has happened at Adels Grove,” one person wrote.
“We were planning on coming back to celebrate our 20th anniversary and renew our vows this year. It’s just so very sad,” they added.
Another wrote: “I visited Lorella Springs 5 years ago. I am a single woman. At that stage 73, I drove a Holden Rodeo 2009 model 4×4 Ute and towed a small van. This was one of my most amazing adventures in my life.
“To hear the wonderful unique adventure Lorella Spings is closing due to GOVT RED TAPE is a national disgrace.”