Geotourism and Geotrails
Geotourism is emerging as a new global phenomenon which fosters tourism based upon landscapes. Its definition has recently been refined as a form of tourism that specifically focuses on the geology and landscapes which shape the character of a region.This advances an earlier concept of geotourism as strictly ‘geological tourism’. Geotourism promotes tourism to ‘geo-sites’ and the conservation of geodiversity and an understanding of earth sciences through appreciation and learning. This is achieved through visits to geological features, use of ‘geo-trails’ and view points, guided tours, geo-activities and patronage of geosite visitor centres.
In summary, the Geological Society of Australia has formally defined ‘Geotourism as tourism which focuses on an area's geology and landscape as the basis for providing visitor engagement, learning and enjoyment’.
In the practice of geotourism, it is recognised that interpretation should be expanded to include biotic characteristics of landscape i.e. the living parts e.g. fauna (animals) and flora (plants), in other words, biodiversity as well as cultural features – past and present (including indigenous culture), non-living and built.
Tourist group on the Three Sisters Walk, Blue Mountains - image courtesy Angus M Robinson
‘A Geotrail delivers geotourism experiences through a journey linked by an area's geology and landscape as the basis for providing visitor engagement, learning and enjoyment’.
Geotrails should relate directly to the tourism experience of a journey linking destinations. In Australia, geotrails have widespread appeal, and are not perceived to compete with or impact on land management/access issues. Geotrails are relatively easy to establish and represent a very cost effective means of enhancing regional development.
Geotrails are best constructed around routes currently used by tourists; in essence geotrails should form logical journeys linking accommodation destinations.
The concept of a geotrail is explained by a well-illustrated BBC story of a road in remote north-west Scotland that 'takes you through the story of our planet, from the dawn of the planet to the rise of complex animal life':
Best Practice Geotrails in Australia
Best practice geotrails aim to meld the geological heritage features of a region with a cohesive story. They should incorporate and package in the biodiversity and cultural components (including mining heritage) of the region through which the geotrail traverses.
Through the Geotourism Standing Committee, the GSA has recently made a submission in respect of an EOI for tourism services at Uluru and Kata Tjuta National Park within the Red Centre National Landscape. The GSA believes there is a significant opportunity for regional tourism in the earth history story, not only relating to Uluru and Kata Tjuta, but using the park as a base for exploring the geoheritage of the greater region. For example, the Red Centre Way (embracing the Mereenie Loop) represents an excellent example of a geotrail which can achieve this objective, as well as linking the Region to the cultural and environmental interpretative facilities located in Alice Springs.
Red Centre Way - image courtesy Angus M Robinson
Western Tasmania has an exceptionally rich and diverse range of geological features in a small area, including folded and glaciated mountain ranges, ancient volcanoes, world class ore bodies, rare minerals, and ancient fossils. Here, the handiwork of the massive forces and landscape-forming processes of the “Living Earth” are evident in nearly every view. Rocks from all the major geological periods of Earth history are found here, and the region contains Australia’s best examples of glaciated landscapes.
The West Coast’s European history is centred around geology and mining. The West Coast GeoTrail provides information to enable visitors to understand and appreciate the geological processes which formed the rocks at each site, and the landscapes which can be seen. Some sites also show how man has interacted with the geology and the landscape.
Each site has a roadside sign, either a large sign with information and explanations, or a small sign showing the relevant QRCode weblink to the Living Earth website http://thelivingearth.com.au/ which has general and detailed information on all the sites, for visitors to learn more about the geological and landscape evolution of the West Coast.
Western Australia’s Mid-West Development Commission (MWDC) is seeking to establish WA’s first major geotourism development to be built on a geotrail model, focused on the Murchison sub-region of WA. The MWDC believes that the ancient Murchison geology provides the ideal platform for unique, nature based tourism experiences of global significance, particularly to the ‘experience seeker / dedicated discoverer’ market. The Mid West Tourism Development Strategy (2014) concluded that the region’s iconic nature based tourist attractions were not developed to their potential and that its visitor appeal was not fully realised. The Strategy has identified geotourism in the Murchison sub region as a potential ‘game changing’ tourism initiative.
In Victoria, the Kanawinka ‘Geopark’ covering the volcanic and karst region of western Victoria and southeast South Australia is now being developed as a geotrail. Recently, two local government authorities (Mount Gambier and Southern Grampians) agreed to provide limited logistic support for a continuing geotrail arrangement and with added support of local community groups.