Hidden swimming spots and dozens of new camping sites will open this dry season in Litchfield National Park, one of the Northern Territory’s top tourist destinations.
The NT government expects the new sites in the park’s Central Valley will attract more than 20,000 visitors in 2021.
The area has never before been open to the public.
Thirty-two campsites across three camping grounds, each with swimming areas, will open over the dry season months, starting in May.
The new sites include a lookout over an escarpment and bike and walking tracks connecting the Lost City, Central Valley and Litchfield Park Road areas.
Northern Australian parks director Lincoln Wilson said it would be the first area to open in Litchfield in more than a decade.
“When it’s open we expect around 20,000 to 30,000 people to come through this area each year,” he said.
“Currently we get around 330,000 visitors to Litchfield so it just helps spread the visitation.”
Work is still underway at some of the sites but they are expected to open progressively in coming months.
Mr Wilson said bookings with NT Parks and Wildlife to camp in the areas will be required because of limited space and the need to protect the environment.
“Some of the soils are fairly sandy and fragile,” he told a group of journalists who were given a preview of the sites on Wednesday.
“We’re trying to limit the numbers of people coming in here.”
Mr Wilson urged people to be patient as he expected there would be a rush of people wanting to visit the new sites.
Visitors will need a four-wheel drive to reach them.
The $17.5 million site upgrades are part of the NT government’s Turbocharging Tourism campaign, which the government said aimed to support more than 15,600 direct and indirect jobs in the Territory.
The NT government expects to introduce an online booking system for campsites and increased park fees in July.
Shona Whitaker, who was visiting the park from Queensland on Wednesday, told the ABC a booking system would make it easier for visitors to check if camp spots were vacant.
“Blogs said you need to be here at 10am to secure a spot. So maybe [online booking] would be ideal,” she said.
Her travelling companion, Ben Parkin, said they were drawn to visit the Territory after seeing advertisements on social media.
“It’s all over my Instagram, visit the NT, and it’s all the places we’ve seen or looking to go,” he said.
The NT government plans to release a draft master plan for its parks, including Litchfield, in November.
It will include a vision of how the visitor experience can be enhanced from 2022 to 2052.
Earlier this year the NT government came under fire for not consulting with Indigenous groups in naming the suggested sites.
A spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security said names of the new sites were yet to be confirmed and there would be consultation with traditional owners of the park, the Northern Land Council and other stakeholders.