AN estimated 1.6 million tourists a year visit the iconic Twelve Apostles coastal drawcard yet there are only 25 toilets at the car park and information centre to provide relief.
It’s an issue that was flushed out on national radio yesterday on the ABC’s Jon Faine morning talkback, with complaints the facilities were grossly inadequate for a big Easter holiday weekend influx, when vehicles overflowed the boundaries.
Ten of the toilets are in a semi-permanent external block not connected to the main centre which has 15 toilet cubicles.
Regional tourism leaders and Corangamite Shire Council have renewed calls for an urgent injection of government funds to upgrade the centre and consider approving a proposed multi-million-dollar Loch Ard Interpretive Centre.
They have also again raised the option of a user-pays toll to generate income for maintaining and upgrading facilities.
Shipwreck Coast Tourism chief executive Carole Reid and Geelong Otway Tourism chief Roger Grant said Great Ocean Road visitor numbers were tipped to hit 3.6 million by 2030 and upgrades should be done as soon as possible.
“It’s not just the Twelve Apostles, but the whole Port Campbell National Park where improvements are needed,” Ms Reid said.
“We have world-class tourist attractions, but an absolute second-rate service.
“More people visit the Twelve Apostles than Tasmania and more than Uluru and Kakadu combined.”
Mr Grant said there was a risk of toilet effluent seeping into the ocean, but reports of an overflow at the weekend were yesterday denied by the Environment Protection Authority.
Corangamite Shire mayor Matt Makin said the toilets were a symptom of a long-standing lack of investment in the area.
“That’s why we are proposing the Loch Ard Interpretive Centre and rezoning for more tourism infrastructure,” he said.
“If we don’t look at investment opportunities now we risk having the natural environment damaged and missing vital economic benefits.
“A whole-of-government approach is needed on this.”
Tourism and Major Events Minister Louise Asher yesterday agreed the portable toilet situation did not create a good impression for interstate and international visitors.
“The state government is committed to improving tourism infrastructure, particularly in high-traffic areas like the Great Ocean Road,” she said.
“Tourism Victoria’s understanding of a new interpretive centre is that the project remains at final concept stage.”
Cr Makin warned that unless more tourism infrastructure was built and eco-tourism tours developed soon, visitors would trample through sensitive areas at risk of being destroyed.
He said the proposed Loch Ard Interpretive Centre would provide extra toilets and parking and keep visitors in the area longer to trigger overnight stays in the region.
It is estimated that only one in five visitors to the Twelve Apostles stays overnight in the region. Most return to Melbourne on a one-day trip.
Cr Makin and Ms Reid suggested a toll at the Twelve Apostles would provide income to maintain the park, but Ms Asher said the idea wasn’t in government thinking.