02 May 2024

-Commercial accommodation could blight a park’s glorious pagoda landscapes-

Thursday May 2, 2024


Yesterday the NPWS advertised a 31 day public exhibition of an intention to lease three commercial accommodation sites to Wild Bush Luxury, a subsidiary of Experience Co. The lease proposal is for three sites with six cabins and a common lounge building at each site set in a spectacular rocky pagoda landscape in the Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area1. 


“The proposed developments would turn the NPWS tourism sustainability guidelines on their head. Instead of the commercial development being located on disturbed sites as per the guidelines, these commercial accommodation developments are located among pristine, spectacular pagoda spurs that even coal miners wouldn’t harm”, said Keith Muir, Hon. Project Officer for Wilderness Australia and its former exec officer of 30 years experience. 


Mr Muir said “The lease document reads like a sales brochure. The document hides commercial development with a fantastic description of the Gardens of Stone walk that’s not part of the accommodation lease and distracts the reader with wonderful descriptions of adventure. Then buzzwords seek to convince the reader its “an iconic walking experience”; “a major drawcard”; “a signature visitor experience of international standing”; “an immersive walking experience”; and “partnering with tourism leaders will enable NPWS to continue delivering world-class infrastructure.”


Choice doesn’t do product reviews of park development, but my expert analysis of the proposal is that: 

The NPWS is spending millions of dollars on a walk that benefits Experience Co, who’s binned the tourism sustainability guidelines and picked the eyes out of wild, rocky pagoda scenery for three accommodation developments. 


“The NPWS is supposed to protect pagoda landscapes in the Gardens of Stone, not facilitate development of delicate geodiversity. 

“Environment Minister, Penny Sharpe, stopped the Lost City development in November last year2 that would have impacted on the Lost City pagodas. 

Mr Muir said that “Minister Sharpe should avoid being inconsistent, uphold park standards and protect stunning pagoda landscapes by rejecting this commercial lease proposal in the Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area.”


For more information: Keith Muir, mob 0412971404
1 See pages 16, 17 and 18 in Proposal to grant a lease under section 151 of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 report showing locations, and proposed facilities pp 19-24.
2Minister Penny Sharpe, Media Statement, Gardens of Stone, Friday 3 November, 2023.

Artists impression of cabins in a pagoda landscape
02 Apr 2023

The surprise backdown that saw NPWS agree to the restart of the public review for two proposed tourism leases in the Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area must prompt the incoming Minns government to consider whether to proceed with these developments at all.

On Friday 24 March the NPWS notified Bushwalkers NSW that the Gardens of Stone lease notices for Wild Bush Luxury Experience Pty Limited and Trees Adventure Holdings Pty Limited would be readvertised over the coming months.

Nature Defenders* this week withdrew its case in the NSW Land and Environment Court to challenge the validity of the lease processes for these Gardens of Stone tourist developments, given the last-minute backflip by the NPWS.

Nature Defenders had initiated its case in response to the unwanted developments after the NPWS alleged in the Blue Mountains Gazette on 22 March that its Gardens of Stone lease process “was fully compliant with the requirements of National Parks and Wildlife Act.”

“Nature Defenders is prepared to take legal action to ensure lawful, open and transparent public consultation processes are followed when commercial leases are proposed in national parks and reserves”, said Keith Muir, spokesperson for Nature Defenders.

“We are now seeking information from the NPWS to ensure that the same unwanted proposals are not pushed forward this second time around.

“We also question the excessive infrastructure proposed for the Gardens of Stone that would spoil the natural beauty of the area that’s central to growing Lithgow’s tourism-based economy,” he added. 

“We support Nature Defenders in its efforts,” said Kirsten Mayer, executive officer of Bushwalking NSW Inc. “The leases must not be simply readvertised to overcome technical legal concerns. We don't want to see any leases to any private entities. Also, we want to see the pagodas protected and the zipline and via ferrata gone.”

“Conservation groups will continue to work to ensure that nature-focused tourism as outlined in Destination Pagoda report is delivered. Destination Pagoda can achieve greater benefits for nature and the local community by directing visitors to facilities in Lithgow,” said Annette Cam, spokesperson for the Blue Mountains Conservation Society.

“Resorts and adventure theme parks in the national parks and reserves aren’t eco-anything; these developments need to be removed from the reserve”,

”NPA welcomes appropriately located, low-impact facilities for nature-focused visitor use for NSW national parks and reserves.  We hope that incoming Environment Minister, Penny Sharpe, uses this pause in the leasing process for a major rethink”, said Gary Dunnett, CEO of the National Parks Association of NSW.

For more info, contact
Keith Muir, Nature Defenders, 0412 791 404

* Who is Nature Defenders?

Nature Defenders is a volunteer-led incorporated association and sister organisation of 4nature formed in 2016. Nature Defenders has been working closely with Keith Muir to support the aspirations of conservation groups to protect the Gardens of Stone from overdevelopment and deliver the ecologically sustainable tourism plan called Destination Pagoda.

The Lost City
The Lost City
18 Jan 2023

Wilderness Australia has described the public consultation process for tourism developments in the Gardens of Stone, announced just over one year ago by Dominic Perrottet, as a “sham”. It comes after no substantive information regarding multiple resorts and a theme park over the iconic Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area was provided to the public despite the NSW Government holding a 'consultation' over the new year break. The only details published by the NSW Government on the 20 year commercial leases were the names of the companies who would run the developments, and a “mud map” of where the leases may go.

Keith Muir, spokesperson for Wilderness Australia, said “we are talking about a protected public reserve that is being given away for exclusive commercial uses. Community views on how this should work, and if it should happen at all - are essential. The NSW Government’s pre-election attempt to bury this significant social and environmental threat to the Lithgow community is astounding.

“Wilderness Australia calls on the NSW Labor Opposition to oppose these leases and to ensure a sustainable tourist economy for Lithgow so that the unique environment at the Gardens of Stone can thrive and be enjoyed by all.

“The adventure theme park where children will be playing is near Lithgow and beside the Marrangaroo Military Base where live ammunition is used. Another lease covering four accommodation sites is in a remote and scenic part of the western Blue Mountains conservation area. There is a lot for the community to digest and respond to here.

Wilderness Australia slammed the NSW Government for conducting this consultation over the summer holidays, when by convention controversial proposals usually are set aside.  

“The consultation period ends today, just when people are just beginning to refocus after a break. How is it fair or reasonable to issue leases over a conservation reserve when people hardly get a chance to comment and have so little information to consider?” Mr Muir asked.

“Granting leases over a conservation reserve before these theme parks and accommodation proposals are put out for public comment places more risk on the NSW Government and the environment. Currently the adventure theme park site is not entirely owned by the NPWS, and the locations for the accommodation resorts aren’t finalised, so there’s a lot of uncertainty over even basic information. Why should the public trust the NSW Government to issue a commercial lease when it has not released the basic aspects of the leases they are proposing to issue?

“Transparency on the leases and the development details are entirely lacking. It’s a development deal over a conservation reserve done behind closed doors that will have substantial impacts on this public reserve.

Keith Muir is available for an interview on 0412 791 404.
Wilderness Australia can be contacted during office hours on (02) 9261 2400.

30 Aug 2022

The Gardens of Stone Alliance (GOSA) is calling on the NSW Government to optimise economic benefits for Lithgow and minimize scenic and ecological impacts by amending ecotourism development plans for the Lost City, a world-class rock formation 10 minutes from Lithgow CBD. 

NSW National Parks Association CEO Gary Dunnett said: “Lithgow would benefit more from a ‘gateway policy’, where accommodation, cafes and accredited eco-related facilities are situated in an entry to the Gardens of Stone region, at State Mine Gully.  

“Without such a policy, Lithgow will receive a fraction of tourism boost it should from the new reserve as visitors will come from the east, not from Lithgow. 

“We are particularly concerned at the way this proposal has been conducted. No other site has been considered and only preliminary conceptual documents have been produced before going into a state government tender process.  

“This made the proposal ‘commercial-in-confidence’ effectively excluding community consultation and necessary scrutiny of this tax-payer subsidized proposal in a publicly owned conservation reserve. 

“We have little confidence the necessary environmental standards and assessments will be met or maintained.”  

Blue Mountain Conservation Society President Madi Maclean said: “No other National Park or Conservation Reserve in Australia has a zip-line or adventure theme park.  

“The current proposal would degrade the very things that will attract tourists to the region—it’s scenic and environmental values. It would be like killing the goose that laid the golden egg.  

“The Gardens of Stone Alliance does not oppose adventure tourism development—we have actually promoted it, but it must be done in the right place and in the right way. 

“A well-operated zip-line could be suitably located in an area outside of the conservation reserve at State Mine Gully.”  

GOSA spokesperson Keith Muir said: “Sydney day-trippers would bypass Lithgow town centre entirely under the government’s current Lost City adventure park proposal, which is simply crazy.  

“One of the key arguments for the Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area was its ability to attract visitors and pump tourist dollars into the local economy. 

“But under the current plan, tourists would drive straight to the Lost City, bypassing Lithgow completely.” 

MEDIA CONTACT: Keith Muir | 0412 791 404  

A proposed commercial adventure theme park at Lost City is an attack on the national park idea.
A proposed commercial adventure theme park at Lost City is an attack on the national park idea.
05 Jul 2022

Foremost among the many concerns conservationists have with the management plans for the new Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area is the proposed adventure theme park at the Lost City. Lithgow’s primary lookout in the new reserve is proposed to be for the view of Lost City. Conservationists believe the adventure theme park should be located closer to Lithgow at State Mine Gully, where it would ensure increased visitation to the State Mine Heritage Park and the town.

The public comment period for the controversial draft Master Plan and Plan of Management for the Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area ends today.

Keith Muir, former Colong Foundation for Wilderness Executive Director, said:

“The State Mine Gully has far more potential as a location for an adventure theme park than Lost City site in the Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area. The proposals for a zip line and so forth will be more difficult and expensive to establish and service at Lost City, as well as more environmentally damaging.

Lithgow’s proposed main lookout attraction ideally presents the wild views of Lost City, which is a superlative example of internationally significant pagoda geodiversity. It would be a travesty for the majesty of this view to be spoiled by an adventure theme park.

Annette Cam, spokesperson for the Blue Mountains Conservation Society, said:

The iconic Lost City lookout precinct should follow the example of the Skyway and Scenic railway at Katoomba, where these facilities are tucked round the corner from the main view from Echo Point. Separating quiet enjoyment of the Lost City’s iconic wild views from the excitement of adventure tourism at State Mine Gully would create better visitor experiences and be a more efficient.

Road access at State Mine Gully would be by a short, sealed road, whereas the access between the top and bottom of Lost City adventure hub would use over 10 kilometres of dirt road. The State Mine Gully ties the adventure theme park to Lithgow, guaranteeing its tourism future. On the other hand, the Lost City site is likely to see tourists come from the east by Old Bells Line of Road and bypass Lithgow. The State Mine Gully location would help make the State Mine Heritage Park and Railway a viable tourist attraction.

The Lost City pagoda landscape is also an important site for biodiversity values, including stands of Wolgan Snow Gum (E. gregsoniana) and Whip-stick Ash (E. multicaulis) that should be protected.

Media contact:

Keith Muir                                                           Annette Cam
0412 791 404                                                      0450 215 125

The Lost City
The Lost City
06 May 2022

Today, the Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area was gazetted, with its draft Master Plan publicly released containing plans for major visitor and tourism development.

Keith Muir, former Colong Foundation for Wilderness (now Wilderness Australia) Executive Director, said:

“The Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area gazetted today must negotiate a political minefield if it is to be properly managed.

“The new reserve comes with significant funding that should protect and present its astounding pagoda landscapes and rare upland swamps, but a large chunk of money is ear-marked for a “Luna park” style amusement rides. Of equal concern are the planned built accommodation units that set a development precedent for Blue Mountains National Parks. Conservationists have kept the Blue Mountains parks free of this sort of development, so the new park’s big funding package is a poison chalice.

Tourism Master Plan will fail to give Lithgow the tourism hit it needs

“Under the reserve’s Master Plan released today the full tourism potential of Lithgow’s Gardens of Stone backyard will not be realised. While the Master Plan has placed high use visitor facilities close to Lithgow and enabled family-friendly visitor experiences, these offerings are not linked to Lithgow with a 2WD tourist loop road.

“Some of the development with roads and lookouts will ruin 2,350 hectares of NPWS identified wilderness using funds that would be better spent on a 2WD loop road.

“There’s truly nothing like the Gardens of Stone - the watershed of the Cox, Capertee, Wolgan, Turon and Wollangambe rivers, it straddles the Great Dividing Range. At almost 1200 metres, the new reserve protects the highest sandstone plateau in the Sydney Basin and will be a cool climate refuge from climate change. 

“The diversity and rarity of its scenery and native flora, and its dramatic Aboriginal cultural heritage will be enjoyed by thousands of people but without a 2WD suitable tourist loop road the Master Plan misses the mark for Lithgow.

"The thrill-seeking zip line ride just denies the reality that visitors are already spell bound by nature in the Gardens of Stone, and the on-park accommodation offer also drags people away from Lithgow and puts development into the park. What the hell is a park, if it’s not an area set aside from development for nature!”

Ben Bullen - Photo H. Gold
15 Dec 2021

Hut News Issue 398 December 2021

Cheers, tears and a storm of emails erupted in celebration within the Society when, on Saturday 13 November, the NSW government at last announced the creation of a new Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area (SCA).

The announcement came in a joint media release from the Premier, Dominic Perrottet, Environment Minister and Treasurer, Matt Kean and Deputy Premier and local MP, Paul Toole.

The decision transfers this spectacular area of pagoda landscapes, cliffs, waterfalls, woodlands and flowering swamps into the national park estate. The new State Conservation Area is made up of most of three state forests (Newnes, Ben Bullen and Wolgan) plus Crown reserve land near Mount Piper. There will also be small additions to the adjoining Gardens of Stone and Wollemi National Parks. The whole area is a combined total of 31,500 hectares.

The existing Gardens of Stone National Park lies immediately north of the new SCA. This park, created in 1994, was an early campaign success. However this left the three state forests unprotected because of active coal mining leases. In 2006 a campaign launched the Gardens of Stone Stage 2 Proposal and this has been the foundation document until today. In 2001 the 3,500 ha Mugii Murum-ban SCA further north was created.

The Campaign

This has been a long campaign going back to Myles Dunphy’s vision for the Greater Blue Mountains in 1932. The name, “Gardens of Stone”, was first used by renowned environmentalist, Haydn Washington. The Society has been involved in the campaign for over twenty years. The Gardens of Stone Alliance, made up of founding members Colong Foundation for Wilderness, Lithgow Environment Group and Blue Mountains Conservation Society, has been the organising force of the campaign. Nature Conservation Council boosted the campaign when it joined in 2020 and the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute joined more recently. We also acknowledge the long-term support of National Parks Association.

The Society in particular thanks Keith Muir from Colong Foundation and Julie Favell, Chris Jonkers and Richard Stiles from Lithgow Environment Group for their incredible persistence and conviction in achieving recognition for the Gardens of Stone The Society also wishes to thank all our members and supporters. You have helped make this happen through raising awareness, signing petitions, submissions, letters to government and supporting our public events.

We recognise some key Society members: Ian Brown, Brian Marshall, Karen McLaughlin, Peter Green, Janine Kitson, Yuri Bolotin, Joel Robinson, Thomas Ebersoll, Tara Cameron and Madi Maclean.

We also thank the many volunteers who contributed by helping plan, organise or run events, such as trips, giant banner drops, tours, stalls, MP tours, film nights, talks and exhibitions, particularly the Gardens of Stone In Focus photo competition and two day exhibition; by publicising and promoting the beauty of Gardens of Stone on facebook and other platforms. We also recognise the film makers who produced glorious and moving videos. It is difficult to acknowledge everyone in one short article.

It has been a long campaign with multiple contributions. A few highlights that stand out for me in the last eight years are:

The Planning Assessment hearings for the Coalpac open-cut mine proposal where in 2012 the Independent Planning Commission found that “the highest and best use of the area was for conservation purposes”. The mining proposal was refused.

In mid 2019, Destination Pagoda, the visitor management plan written by Ian Brown, was launched in Lithgow, Katoomba and Sydney. It showed that the SCA could function and support conservation values as well as promote nature-based tourism and diversify the local economy of Lithgow. Destination Pagoda became a new focus in the local campaign, promoted through social media and gaining local support.

There were a number of rallies in the Gardens of Stone and in Lithgow and they lifted our spirits.

We also thank the parliamentarians who drove this proposal:

Environment Minister, Matt Kean, for getting it over the line;

Trish Doyle, our local member, for her long term support and for ensuring the Labor Party added protection of the Gardens of Stone into its platform at the last state election;

Cate Faehrmann, Greens MLC

Catherine Cusack, Liberal MLC.

Next steps

The next step is the establishment of the new SCA with professional park management of the area and consultation on the proposals.

Protect the Gardens of Stone Banner
19 Nov 2021

Media release 19 November 2021

Keith Muir, former Colong Foundation for Wilderness Executive Director, said:

“After what must be the longest protected area campaign in history, the Colong Foundation welcomes the new Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area of over 30,000 hectares which positions Lithgow as the gateway to the Gardens of Stone region.

“The new reserve ranks in the top 20 of most floristically diverse of all State Forests, National Parks and Reserves in NSW, just behind Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, but outranks them all on geodiversity diversity.

“The funding provided will permit the establishment of a world-class tourism and conservation reserve protecting and presenting an astounding array of heritage values. It will improve the protection of internationally significant pagoda landscapes and remaining rare upland swamps. The area includes 84 threatened plant and animal species, such as the Giant Dragonfly, and 16 rare and threatened communities.

“The untapped tourism value of Lithgow’s Gardens of Stone backyard lies in the diversity and rarity of its scenery and native flora, and in its Aboriginal cultural heritage. These values will be protected and enjoyed by thousands of people.

“Lithgow will become the new Katoomba. Katoomba was once a coal mining town, having successfully transitioned to a tourism based economy in the 1920s.

“It is testament to the persistent community campaign from the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, Blue Mountains Conservation Society and the Lithgow Environment Group that this announcement has happened today.

“While this is a great outcome for nature, the threat to the World Heritage Area from the proposed raising of the Warragamba Dam wall casts a long shadow over today’s wonderful announcement.”

Wyn Jones with microphone by David Noble
29 Apr 2020

Media release 29 April 2020

Congratulations, together environment groups have pushed back against the 2000 hectare Augus Place mining proposal and with luck our efforts shall ensure NSW is not locked into coal-fired electric power generation for another 33 years.

Dr Brad Smith of NCC found out that the design life of the Mt Piper power plant is much shorter than the life of the proposed mine, defeating the main justification for such a long consent. The Colong's investigations revealed that restarting the Angus Place mine will be much more destructive that either the Springvale or Airly mines.

We have done well. 836 citizens lodged objections using the Colong webform and another 2365 came in from the NSW Nature Conservation Council before the exhibition period closed on Tuesday 28 April, 2020.

The groups in the Gardens of Stone Alliance have developed well reasoned arguments against the proposal for the planners and decision makers to consider. We've play our part, and the system should curb the worst excesses of this mine...

Of course the main task is now to work the political system to enable changes to the local Lithgow economy, and that is where Destination Pagoda comes in to assist with an alternative tourism economy. We can't let the community fall flat as coal declines in economic and political influence. Its about the change we need to see, not just opposing coal mines.

So together we have defended the heritage values and beauty of Gardens of Stone region, arguably the most important natural area in the state. Together we opposed the Angus Pace mine extension as it would ruin many of the remaining Newnes Plateau swamps and cause the virtual extinction of this nationally rare ecosystem. Angus Place proposal must not be allowed to cause far-field impacts on swamps and streams beyond its mining area and drain the Wolgan River and its swamps. The spectacular Wolgan Falls must continue to flow.

Cathedral Cave is indeed a natural cathedral, and the pagoda landscapes in and around the proposed mining area must all be protected.

Rain storm by Joel Robinson
01 Sep 2015

New economic research by Dr Jo Mackellar has demonstrated that Lithgow will gain significant job and economic benefits if a new state conservation area were created on its doorstep. The report, commissioned by the Gardens of Stone Alliance, assessed the potential visitors to a planned Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area and the economic contribution of those visitors to the local region. The research identified the community benefits to Lithgow from the new reserve.

The Destination Pagoda report cover