15/01/2002 - 21:00

Tourism the brightest jewel in the Kimberley

15/01/2002 - 21:00


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THE natural wonders of the Kimberley are the focus of a tourism industry that is fast becoming the driving force of the State’s far north.

Tourism the brightest jewel in the Kimberley

THE natural wonders of the Kimberley are the focus of a tourism industry that is fast becoming the driving force of the State’s far north.

The region has taken some hard hits in the past six months with the collapse of Ansett and, more recently, the decision by Wesfarmers and Marubeni Corporation not to go ahead with their $500 million sugar project, but authorities believe the Kimberley will survive the setbacks and continue to blossom.

Minister for the Kimberley Tom Stephens said the region was a resilient one, underpinned by a strong resource and tourism sector.

“The resources sector is strong, with diamond and zinc mines in the region, but tourism is the fastest growing industry in the region, despite the impact of Ansett, and it still has an enormous capacity for growth,” Mr Stephens said.

“The tourism industry continues to expand, with Kununurra recently named the top tourist town in Western Australia.”

In 1999, domestic tourists spent more than $230 million in the region and, with multi-million dollar safari parks on the cards and resort hotels either planned or under construction, that figure is expected to rapidly multiply in coming years.

The latest proposal for the Kimberley involves Kerry Packer’s Consolidated Pastoral Company, which, if successful would develop a $50 million African game reserve in the region.

Under the proposal, Mr Packer would pay the State Government $1 million and surrender 140,000ha of pastoral lease in exchange for freehold title over 16,800ha.

While he is the only one to involve exotic animals, Mr Packer is not the only investor to recognise the Kimberley’s eco-tourism opportunities.

The Australian Wildlife Conservancy this year purchased Mornington Station for $1.6 million with the ultimate aim of developing a bush safari camp and nature sanctuary on an 82,000ha portion of the 400,000ha property.

Conservancy managing director Barry Wilson said there already was accommodation on the station but the organisation was looking to “smarten it up a bit” and could potentially spend several million doing so.

“The camp is about introducing visitors to Australian wildlife and the Kimberley is a shop window for the very best of what we have in WA,” Mr Wilson said.

“There are some really extreme environmental experiences to be had up there.”

And in the more traditional tourism sector, two proposed Broome resorts, Cable Beach Sanctuary and Pinctada Resort will provide a total of more than 250 accommodation units for visitors to the region.

A 200-bed backpacker resort also is in the pipeline.

The Kimberley’s rapidly expanding tourism industry is second only in economic importance to the mining sector, which is dominated by diamonds.

The Argyle Diamond Mine accounts for 79 per cent of the value of the Kimberley mining sector.

In the 1999/2000 financial year, the mine produced 51 million carats of the precious gem valued at $703 million, a 15 per cent increase on the previous year’s production levels.

The diamond market, too, is expected to grow, with the Kimberley Diamond Company making its first foray into the competitive field in May next year.

The small company this year ended its long-standing feud with Argyle Diamonds and bought the Ellendale diamond field, about 200 kilometres east of Derby, for $23.25 million.

And in a strange twist, Argyle Diamonds is providing vendor finance to Kimberley Diamonds after the small miner struggled to raise the purchase price.

The new company recently found a new lamproite mine in the Ellendale field and is conducting a drilling program to test the mine features.

The Kimberley is also home to a $157.6 million zinc mining industry, a $19.3 million lead industry and a $7.2 million iron ore industry.

Agriculture is a third industry expected to dominate the region in years to come, with the WA Government reconfirming its commitment to stage two of the Ord River irrigation project, despite the recent setback.

Late last year, Wesfarmers and Marubeni Corp-oration decided not to proceed with their joint venture sugar development, giving the sugar price volatility on the world market and the potential expansion of Brazilian operations as reasons.

Stage one of the Ord River project generates about $70 million of mixed agriculture and horticulture each year, however the development of stage two would see this figure increase threefold.

While another precious gem dominates this sector, the climate that generated a $161 million pearl industry has also been identified as ideal for the large-scale commercial breeding of red claw crayfish, prawns, aquarium fish and trochus.


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