Minyon Falls master plan

This revised master plan will guide the upgrade of visitor infrastructure at Minyon Falls and Minyon Grass picnic area in Nightcap National Park as part of the Tweed Byron Hinterland Trails project.

Following the public exhibition of the Minyon Falls master plan in late 2019, the day use area and car parks have been redesigned resulting in positive conservation outcomes for the site. We are now sharing the new site plans and the Review of Environmental Factors in advance of work commencing at Minyon Falls in November 2020.

The Minyon Falls precinct is a popular visitor destination in Nightcap National Park north of Lismore on the NSW north coast. Here you can see Minyon Falls plunging 130 metres into a deep pool amid tall forests and spectacular scenery. Located to the south of Minyon Falls, Minyon Grass picnic area offers picnic facilities, views to the falls and a track head for the walking track to the base of Minyon Falls.

The planned visitor infrastructure improvements will increase capacity and enhance visitor access and safety at Minyon Falls lookout and nearby day use area. The works aim to complement the site's natural and cultural values and provide opportunities for a more diverse range of visitors to enjoy our spectacular national parks.

The upgrade will increase parking capacity and improve the sense of arrival, access pathways and family gathering spaces at Minyon Falls, including a new viewing platform, picnic shelters and tables, and an educational amphitheatre.

Minyon Falls was attracting over 250,000 visitors per year, before numbers increased after the March-May 2020 COVID lockdown. It will also become the final destination for the multi-day walk proposed as part of the Tweed Byron Hinterland Trails project, opening in 2022. While the Minyon Falls lookout platform and walk to the base of the falls are both impressive, existing visitor infrastructure at the day use area does not currently meet the outstanding appeal of the site:

  • there is a poor sense of arrival in the existing picnic area, with timeworn picnic shelters and eroded pathways
  • inadequate signage fails to draw visitors to natural features and beyond
  • interpretation and education messages require updating in consultation with the Widjabul Wia-bul people, the Native Title Claimants for the area.

Overall, there is a need for upgrade and renewal to improve the presentation of the Minyon Falls Precinct. The upgrade will also improve the grade of access pathways to allow people with limited mobility to visit independently for the first time, allowing a more diverse range of visitors to enjoy this spectacular location.

Following the review of submissions and comments received after the exhibition phase, the master plan was revisited. We reviewed the designs for the car park and day use area to reduce the loss of large, mature trees and improve the sustainability of the site resulting in significant positive conservation outcomes. The redesign process included:

  • reducing the footprint of the day use area
  • retaining the majority of mature trees at the site
  • reconfiguring the car park to retain mature trees while providing increased capacity
  • minimising the installation of turf
  • reducing the footprint and construction size of the new lookout.

The revised concept will still deliver an exceptional visitor destination while minimising impact on the natural setting. The main entry picnic area will be enhanced with an all access winding pathway, improving the sense of arrival. A storytelling theme is proposed along this pathway to engage the visitor and draw them towards the Minyon Falls lookout. Picnic shelters and tables provide a flexible gathering space, and the viewing platform itself will be upgraded with a new curved structure. Minyon Grass picnic area will receive a minor upgrade with refreshed picnic facilities, toilets and car park.

See how the revised site plans compare to the draft master plan drawings in the video below (lookout design is indicative only).

We received 2 written submissions, both opposing the implementation of the draft master plan during the exhibition period.

The key issues raised in the submissions were:

  • The scale of the proposed development (including car parking and viewing platform) is inappropriate for the site ('overpowering') and will degrade the natural amenity of the location.
  • A large number of trees will need to be removed resulting in a loss of character and habitat values, which is unjustified.
  • The planned grass surfaces and shelters are out of context with the natural environment and impose an 'urban' feel to the design, not in keeping with the forest setting.
  • The original visitor facilities were planned in the 1970-80s to avoid tree removal and impacts on wildlife habitat, visual amenity and history. The footprint of the new master plan should be further constrained to protect the site.

Issue: scale of the proposed development

National Parks and Wildlife Service response:

  • The proposal to provide additional car parking facilities at Minyon Falls day use area (an increase from 42 to 96 car spaces) was outlined in the proposed amendments to the plan of management (Tweed Byron Hinterland Trails project).
  • The car park currently receives 250,000 visits per year, with over 400 per day during holiday periods.
  • The limited capacity of the existing car park creates safety and environmental issues as visitors park along road verges damaging vegetation, hindering visibility and forcing people to walk along the road.
  • The car park has been reconfigured to assist in the retention of large, mature trees while still providing increased capacity to 93 car spaces.
  • The collector paths will enhance visitor access and improve pedestrian safety.
  • The design layout separates short-term visitor from stay and dwell visitors, which will make more effective use of the site.
  • In order to protect and enhance the site's scenic values:
    • other than the lookout, all new facilities are from the Park Facilities Manual and similar to those used in parks throughout the State
    • disturbed areas will be rehabilitated with local species to reduce visual impacts and help blend the design into the natural environment
    • the lookout footprint has been reduced and existing vegetation has been retained within the lookout structure to help reduce visual impacts, especially when viewed from a distance (e.g. Minyon Grass).

Issue: Removal of existing trees and urban feel to design

National Parks and Wildlife Service response:

  • The original design has been scaled back significantly to retain the natural beauty of the site.
  • Mature trees are being retained as features and important habitat.
  • We have removed or reduced elements such as turf from the design with plans to retain more natural surfaces.
  • Some hazardous (senescing) trees will still require removal to reduce risk to visitors.
  • We will remove vegetation growing within cracks near the falls edge to reduce the risk of rock fracture and future rockfalls.
  • The new design will supply opportunities for visitors to understand, enjoy and appreciate parks, and take maximum advantage of interpretive opportunities and scenic values.

Issue: Planning for future visitation

National Parks and Wildlife Service response:

  • The National Parks and Wildlife Service proposal is in response to the high levels of visitation at the site and as an alternative experience to Wollumbin National Park.
  • The site has a long history of visitation and we constructed the existing platform, facilities and layout in 2000.
  • Visitation levels are much higher now than in previous decades. Visitor numbers are having an impact on the environmental quality of the area and elements of the infrastructure are at the end of their life cycle.
  • Doing nothing would result in further deterioration of the site, continuation and increase of environmental impacts and potential risks as visitor numbers continue to increase.
  • The planned facilities aim to address predicted demand, based on current trends, while limiting the visitor footprint and minimising impacts.
  • The master plan is consistent with the plan of management and National Parks and Wildlife Service policies as appropriate and necessary to meet park management needs.
  • National Parks and Wildlife Service are consulting with the Widjabul Wia-bul Native Title Claimants who support the project.
  • An Aboriginal Cultural Heritage assessment has been undertaken and management recommendations provided.
  • The proposed works are subject to a detailed Review of Environmental Factors in accordance with the requirements of the NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 to ensure protective measures are implemented to mitigate the likely impacts of the works on the environment.

What happens next?

Following public exhibition, the master plan was redesigned with significant changes. The Review of Environmental Factors has also been addended to reflect changes to the car park layout. No additional threatened plants were located, nor any additional hollow bearing trees that would be impacted. The net result of the redesigned carpark was a reduction in the number of trees requiring removal from 19 down to 5 or less. The Review of Environmental Factors is available for download.

The second phase of construction, from 1 March to end June 2021, will see the new lookout platform, access pathways and picnic area constructed.

Always check the NSW National Parks alerts page for up to date information on closed parks and safety alerts.

Minyon Falls, Nightcap National Park