One of the Northern Territory's oldest and most isolated tourism ventures is closing its gates to self-drive tourists after more than two decades, with its owners blaming red tape and bureaucracy.
Lorella Springs Wilderness Park is located in remote Gulf country, on the edge of Limmen National Park, a natural wilderness home to some of the NT's spectacular waterfalls and ancient rock art.
Owner Rhett Walker said in a social media statement that his "dream has unravelled" and he had made the tough decision to close the park to most visitors, except for a select number of guided tour groups.
"It is not just the bureaucracy or the feeling of being forgotten and less supported in our remote location," Mr Walker wrote.
"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 described Lorella Springs as "one of the longest-surviving tourist businesses in the Northern Territory" and a major contributor to the tourism industry.
He has previously estimated his business welcomes 10,000 visitors each year "to camp, hike, birdwatch, fish or just escape to the great outdoors".
NT government cites 'raft of historic matters'
Mr Walker did not give detail on the red tape and bureaucracy he blamed for the struggles of his business.
NT Tourism Minister Nicole Manison said on Monday the government was working with the Lorella Springs tourism business "through a raft of historic matters".
"We're trying to give them as much support as possible to work through those, from a range of different agencies," Ms Manison said.
"I've met with them, I've certainly spoken to them myself, and tasked our agencies to sit down and work with them because it is an important tourism offering for people in that region."
She said the government wanted to see the operation continue to run "their very successful, wonderful business".
When asked what "historic matters" the government referred to, Mr Walker mentioned "main road access quality" but did not indicate why that would prevent him from servicing tourists.
In his earlier statement, Mr Walker said a review of the 2022 tourist season "led us to realise the impossibility of continuing with our current operating model" and the need to suspend the self-drive market for 2023 in order to restructure.
Tourism operators and travellers disappointed
Fellow tourism operator Dani Walter, who runs the Big4 Hidden Valley Holiday Park in Darwin, said the move to only partially open could have damaging flow-on effects for Territory tourism.
Tourism is a key industry for the Northern Territory, with visitors spending around $2.15 billion in 2021-22, according to the NT tourism department’s latest annual report.
NT Tourism’s latest annual report also indicated visitor numbers were up on the pandemic years, by 6 per cent to 1.31 million, and Ms Walter said any tourism venture closing could have an impact.
"Any blow like this, it makes a big difference," Ms Walter said.
"For some people, this is their big bucket list item, and you take that away, they don't come [to the NT]."
She said the closure could also have an impact on surrounding businesses in the Gulf region.
"A lot of these places, without tourism, they're nothing," she said.
"Just look at your roadhouses, petrol stations, small little cafes, probably little souvenir shops, little local shops that have just popped up for tourists."
Travellers hoping to one day tick remote Lorella Springs off their list also voiced their dismay.
Chris Bryse, a fly-in, fly-out worker who had just moved back to Darwin, said it was "frustrating".
"I want to go travelling, I want to see the place, do a bit of fishing, so it is – if I can't get access to places, it is a bit disappointing, yeah," Mr Bryse said.
A copy of Mr Walker's statement on social media has attracted thousands of reactions and comments, with many past visitors responding with shock and disappointment at the news.