As nature intended: How Wonga Wetlands became a tourism asset

26 December 2014

From a reclaimed water system to an environmental haven, Wonga Wetlands has established itself as one of Australia's premier environmental sites. And AlburyCity has a long term vision to make it even better.

Wonga Wetlands is located a short distance from the cities of Albury/Wodonga, sitting on the border of North East Victoria and southern New South Wales.

Since the late 1990s Wonga Wetlands has operated as a reclaimed water wetland, serviced by council's nearby wastewater treatment plants. But the intricate network of lagoons and waterways has since become its own unique ecology attracting birdlife and eventually tourists.

In summer the reclaimed water irrigates 150ha of pine and hardwood plantations and nearby pasture. In winter however, the wetlands are flooded attracting vast birdlife.

It's this unique approach that site supervisor John Hawkins says has helped Wonga Wetlands become such a popular tourist destination.

"It's an ephemeral wetland, and we operate it in the way mother nature intended," he says. "In the summer it's dry, but in the winter it's flooded which attracts all kinds of migratory birds looking for wetlands."

Today the wetlands are visited by more than 8,000 people annually including school groups and tertiary students keen to learn more about birdlife and wetland ecology. Meanwhile six bird hides cater to birdwatching enthusiasts who are given access to approximately one-third of the entire wetlands, ensuring a great view of the wildlife in its natural environment.

On any given day a keen birdwatcher can spot pelicans, black swans, freckled ducks, cormorants of all varieties, whistling kites and the white-bellied sea eagles which all call the wetlands home.

Wonga Wetlands has become an unexpected tourist destination in Albury, and council has plans to capitalise even further.

Community consultation has recently finished on the Draft Wonga Wetlands Tourism Product Development Masterplan. The ambitious plan identifies nine strategies aimed at enhancing one of Albury's great assets.

They include:

  • development of an interpretive centre and functions/events space
  • improved trails and viewing platforms
  • a themed mountain bike course
  • ropes and flying fox course
  • better access points for canoeing and
  • other water based activities and improvements to the lagoon ecology

With careful management and a continued focus on conservation, Wonga Wetlands is set to continue its transformation from one of Albury's great assets to a regional tourism and birdwatching treasure.

This article will appear in the August edition of Wetands Australia