Innovation has been intertwined with nature at the recently unveiled Narrandera Skywalk.
The new tourism offering has been embraced by the community and despite some initial resistance to the project, there has been overwhelming positive feedback since it opened.
Shane Wilson, the deputy general manager of infrastructure at Narrandera Shire Council, says the skywalk has been one of the most dynamic projects he has worked on.
“It is fairly unique in its nature, especially in the Riverina,” he said.
“We are now getting enquiries from large tourism orientated city councils who are really interested in the design and concept, and I’ve been encouraged to enter the project into various local government awards.”
Perched overlooking Lake Talbot and the flora and fauna reserve, the skywalk features a 50-metre accessible walkway extending 15 metres over Lake Talbot at a height of 17 metres above the water.
The elevated walking platform is engineered to accommodate movement and as you walk along the skywalk, especially at the end, you may experience the unique sensation of noticeable movement.
Following the discontinuation of the state funded heritage railway bridge project (part of the ‘Playground on the Murrumbidgee’ project), Shane saw the potential to create something extraordinary at Lake Talbot and a reallocation of funding was sought.
“When the development application for the heritage rail bridge walkway got refused, we needed to equate a similar project which was tourism attracting and provide benefit,” said Shane.
“So, there we were with a quandary of how to spend $920,000 in total and how we could spend it to maximise an experience for the community.”
Like many good ideas, a concept emerged in Shane’s mind during the middle of the night.
“I thought, well we’ve got a lake, and it is in a little bit of a gully and not readily accessible to see, and then I thought people go to Galore Hill and rave about this tower they climb up, so I started thinking how would it be if we utilised our local topography?”
The next day Shane had a drone up surveilling three locations and he found a site he thought would be suitable.
“I came up with the skywalk concept, put it past the council and away we went. That’s how it evolved.”
The community consultation process was next and while the project was heavily disputed by a small group it has now been accepted.
“Since construction was completed there have been very limited negative comments from any groups,” said Shane.
“I think for many it was the unknown – something like this hadn’t been done before. I think there was concern it was going to be too intrusive, but it has turned out to be a positive for tourism and attracting people to the Riverina.
“Everyone I have spoken to now said they didn’t think it was going to look like that.
“They have absolutely embraced it.”
The skywalk provides an uninterrupted view of the lake and its surrounding natural beauty. A boardwalk and pontoon have also been built along the lakeside and soon there will be interpretative storyboards to create a more immersive experience.
“The best comment I’ve had so far was from a 95-year-old local lady. Her son took her down and she said it was the best view she’s ever had in Narrandera and she’s lived here her whole life.”
Stone stairs connecting the boat ramp and the Lake Talbot Water Park car park will also be upgraded for easier access and other improvements are also on the cards.
“The skywalk isn’t just about the view; it’s about becoming part of the landscape,” said Shane.
“The reason for it in that location is because for visitors to the area the pool is hidden, the caravan park is hidden, the lake is hidden and the koala colony which it overlooks on the southern side is also hidden.
“So, if we can use the skywalk as a leverage to promote people to go to that area, what will happen is they will drive past the pool and say, ‘I never knew that was there’, then they’ll see the caravan park and then the lake which they probably never knew existed either.”
With updated signage yet to be installed visitors need to make their way to the Lake Talbot Water Park where they will find the entry to the skywalk.
Shane believes the skywalk will be a great point of difference for Narrandera.
“It was never designed to be a standalone ‘look at me’, but if we can showcase the skywalk in our promotional brochures all of a sudden we are also selling the pool, the lake and the koalas as they are all in the same vista.”