Making waves

The proposed wave park site on Noosa's North Shore. Photo supplied.

By Phil Jarratt

A proposal for a low-impact wave pool facility on Noosa’s North Shore currently being considered by council is sure to raise the hackles of a few of our veteran environment warriors, the North Shore having been one of the more public battlefields over the years.

But on close examination, the proposal, by Noosa’s Mark Bain Constructions, ticks many of the boxes for sustainable development in a “visitor mixed use” zone, and fits our tourism industry ethos of “value over volume”. It certainly deserves more consideration than the dismissive, “We don’t want a Wet and Wild theme park in Noosa”, which came out of initial discussions with council.

I’m not a staunch advocate of wave pools, particularly those on a grand industrial scale – on my only visit to Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch in Central California I was appalled by the lumbering, noisy freight train that thundered across the valley to deliver the wave – but I do know enough about them to appreciate that there are pools around the world built to scale into an existing environment with minimal impact. If you think that every wave park has to look like Slater’s Surf Ranch or Melbourne Airport’s monstrous UrbnSurf, you need to look more closely.

In fact Wave Garden, the company that designed the Tullamarine mega-park, is the world leader in the field and has designed most of the existing pools considered eco-friendly, including the company’s research and development facility in the hills outside San Sebastian in northern Spain. I visited the site in Spain a few years ago, just as construction started on the facility, and frankly I wondered how it would fit into the landscape. Pictures of it now tell the story, but for clarification I contacted my friend Dave Mailman in France:

“You drive into the facility on a winding road through the Basque foothills. When you catch your first glimpse of the pool through the trees from above, it looks like a pristine lake or lagoon surrounded by lush green hills, with an incredibly picturesque farmhouse perched on a small hill right above it. It’s about as idyllic as you can get. So, yes, if you take the time to plan it out properly with a great landscaper, you can make it look almost entirely natural, especially if you were to camouflage the machine room with wood siding or grow bamboo or other large shade trees around it.

“As for the experience itself, it’s awesome. It reminded me of a great head-high day in the Maldives. As for the noise, maybe just a slight humming or swoosh as the wave gets pushed out in the corner. The Basques are very serious about theirs being the most environmentally friendly system out there. And although there is the machine house at the top of the break, it’s not an eyesore like the train at Kelly’s or the plunger at Surf Lakes (Yepoon).”

The planned North Shore wave park is a Wave Loch “Surfloch” model at the cosy end of the range, using similar technology to WaveGarden and covering approximately the same footprint as the Spanish facility, including a lagoon of 4000 square metres. Last week I toured the Beach Road site with Mark Bain and consultant Jack Lewis from Pivotal Perspective.

Firstly, it’s a beautiful piece of bushland, big scribbly gums mixed with new growth saplings, skirting the neighbouring Beach Road Holiday Homes development which features, nestled at the forest edge, a discreet swimming pool, tennis centre and park of approximately the same footprint as the proposed wave pool. The Bain pool, at the far end of the property, would be tucked into a rise that hides most of the machinery and surrounded by forest.

Secondly, the Bain proposal is for one guest accommodation (or retreat) sleeping up to 10 people, who would have exclusive use of the wave park during their stay, with a much lesser impact than the existing 48 holiday homes and aquatic and tennis centre next door. (Yes, the long-term Bain plan is to add more eco-cabins on the nearly 15-hectare property, but never getting close to the size of the village next door.)

Thirdly, there are already several man-made dams and lagoons of equal size on private property on the North Shore, and other private sporting facilities in Noosa Shire of similar scale, including a private golf course at Tinbeerwah and an equestrian arena at Pomona.

There are many aspects of the Bain wave park proposal that need the careful consideration and due diligence that they are being given, including power use, noise levels when the wave is running, rainwater catchment and subsidiary salt water use if required, and protection of flora and fauna on the property and in adjacent corridors. But from the mountain of paperwork that I’ve seen, these are all being addressed comprehensively.

Of course, holders of North Shore developable land could simply leave it untouched (as some enviro-philanthropists have done) but this is not what Noosa Council wants. In fact one of its key questions to the would-be developers is how the “gross under-utilisation” of the site might impact the availability of visitor accommodation.

Who knows how this will end up, but if decisions are to be made on the basis that all wave pools are bad, then perhaps this needs a rethink. Let’s not throw the baby out with the pool water.

And what is proposed here is no Wet and Wild, or Kelly-sized filling of a flood plain.