The Never Never River and The Promise Land swimming hole is objectively stunning.
But in recent days, a dangerous bug briefly found beneath its clear waters brought to light a new issue facing the region.
Authorities say the NSW Mid North Coast waterway, which is not actively promoted as a visitors attraction, is being “loved to death”.
“Recreational water can sometimes be unsuitable for swimming, especially after rainfall when stormwater, wastewater and agricultural runoff can overflow,” Mayor Stephen Allan said.
“An increased visitation of people, pets and traffic to Never Never Creek over the festive season, is likely the cause of these poor-quality sampling.
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“The result of further samples conducted this week, suggests that it was an isolated issue. The water quality has recovered, however it is a good reminder of the fragility of the area, which we all need to be mindful of when enjoying the beauty of the area.”
Testing in the area had found a high reading of enterococcus bacteria which suggests fecal contamination may have occurred.
The Bellingen Shire Council warned swimming water with high levels of enterococcus can lead to illnesses, including gastro, ear infections, and skin rashes.
Lucy Menzies, the council’s sustainable environment and waste manager, told the ABC the council was aware of visitors going to the toilet on the banks.
“It has been very popular over the holiday period and there are certainly indications that people have been using the riparian area there along the banks for toileting purposes, which is quite unfortunate,” she said.
“It could also be [more] dogs being taken to the area as well.”
Locals were keen to give their two cents on a solution as news broke of the poo-induced poor water quality.
“Simple affordable ticketing system that regulates numbers to sustainable levels is all that is required,” one local suggested.
“Leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but photos – if you can’t go to a natural place and abide by those rules, stay in the city,” said another.
Others were quick to point blame at influencers.
“This is what happens when bloody Instagram and TikTok influencers start flogging these spots on their socials. All the flogs from Sydney rush there to get their own narcissistic 5 minutes of fame and ruin it,” they lamented.
“This is what social media and the “influencers” do to the once-secret spots … and it’s only going to get worse,’ said another.
Indeed, the waterway has gone viral on TikTok, with a number of accounts sharing the waterway with the world – including one dubbing it “Australia’s best-kept secret”.
The water quality has recently bounced back with the council removing a warning notice against swimming, but Mr Allan worries it could happen again.
He told the ABC options were running out as the council considers following in the footsteps of MidCoast Council, which recently had to ask the tourist to stay away from the seaside destination of Seal Rocks.
“It is something we’d definitely have to consider,” he said.
“It would be a shame if we have to regulate, but it is a pristine environment, and it needs to be protected, but we do have to balance that against the fact it is public land and people are entitled to visit.”
Never Never River and The Promised Land, in the Tuckers Nob State Forest, is managed by Forestry Corporation of NSW, which claims to have taken steps to mitigate the impact of informal recreation.
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