What started out as a Facebook page has become much, much more for local nature-lover and chief operations officer for a local property investment company, Jenae Johnston- who has single-handedly proven there’s an untapped eco-tourism market hovering at the base of the escarpment.
Jenae started ‘Bushwalk the Gong‘ to document her weekend hikes around Wollongong, unknowingly unlocking a huge local nature-loving community.
“People started connecting with my page,” says Jenae, “and before long I was offering group walks and trail guides,” she says. “Now I partner with the National Parks Association – Illawarra Branch and we work together on education about local information, trail signage and maintenance so people can appreciate our beautiful local area.”
Jenae says while the majority of her social media followers are aged between 25-35, the people who want to walk with her are anywhere between 16-65. “People of all ages love to get into nature,” she says. “Sometimes they just need someone to show them the way.”
Jenae says she fully supports claims by Wollongong Councillor Mithra Cox, who says National Parks and Wildlife Service funding cuts are badly affecting our enjoyment of the escarpment.
“National Parks trails are poorly marked and publicised around Wollongong,” says Jenae. “Our tracks need better signage and maintenance so people stay ON the track and therefore do less damage to the environment. It’s hard for people to do the right thing when you don’t know where you’re going.”
Jenae says Mt Keira would be a great place to walk, but the track is not maintained, with a large section closed due to a rockfall in addition to poor signage – so instead, the crowds flock to Austinmer.
“Sublime Point has become the ‘go-to’ because people don’t have other options,” she says. “I train there too – but I now encourage people to park at the top and warm up by walking down before the work really starts. It’s better for the people who live around the bottom of the track who have a litter and parking issue with the influx of people.”
And when it comes to beauty Jenae says she can’t go past Wodi Wodi. “That’s another track that is badly in need of some TLC and signage,” she says, “but the views from Mt Mitchell are incredible!”
Photos thanks to Bushwalk the Gong Facebook