Ongoing COVID disruptions, supply chain issues, and wet weather have contributed to delays in the opening of the new Metung Hot Springs facility in East Gippsland.
“It is coming together, we do hope to have something open by the September school holidays. It’s just in what capacity,” managing director Adrian Bromage said.
The first stage of the development set to open to the public will feature seven pools and 10 glamping units, each fitted with private geothermal bathing barrels.
“We’ve spent a lot of time putting our major infrastructure through, which allows us not only to do stage 1 but move into stage 2 and 3, 4, 5 of the development,” Mr Bromage said.
“It’s a really big long-term plan to develop the Metung Hot Springs.”
Future stages of development include a wellness centre, amphitheatre, and food-bowl kitchen-garden.
The existing golf course restaurant and bar will become known as the Metung Country Club.
Residents flag environmental concerns
Besides anxiety around traffic, noise, pollution, and hoards of tourists putting a strain on services, environmentally-minded residents have raised concerns around the bulldozing of wetlands on the Metung Hot Springs site.
“That wetland is on the edge of Lake King,” said long-term Tambo Bluff Estate resident and Landcare member Jenny.
“And it’s very critical as a filtering system for the quality of water in this very large catchment area to make sure that the water that then goes out into Lake King is a good standard and quite clean.
“Now it’s just going to be mud that’s coming out of there.”
She said the habitat of birds that once frequented the area had been destroyed, as their food and water supply had dried up with the draining of the wetland.
Mr Bromage agreed that the infrastructure and ongoing construction works had left “a little bit of a mess” on the site, but maintained the water had been contained with no runoff into the lakes.
“I absolutely understand their concern. For us, the proof will be in the product,” he said.
“We have a revegetation action plan that we will roll out across the site, which is to re-establish it to a beautiful environment.”
Emphasising that connection with nature was the “core business” of the Metung Hot Springs.
Mr Bromage said the re-landscaping of the site would encompass extensive revegetation of native trees and plants alongside ornamental streams and a natural lagoon to welcome bird life and wildlife back to the area.
Managing the masses
Mr Bromage said, in its 15-year history, sister enterprise the Peninsula Hot Springs had reached pre-COVID annual visitation numbers of 550,000 people per year.
Over time, the facility had expanded accordingly with more pools, glamping accommodation, wellness infrastructure, and 24/7 round-the-clock bathing.
However, the downside of the Peninsula facility’s remarkable success has been the excessive crowds.
Busloads of day trippers from Melbourne and noisy group gatherings have contributed to a diminished user experience for bathers seeking personal space and a peaceful, tranquil experience.
But Mr Bromage said Metung would be different.
“We’re three and a half hours from Melbourne, so we won’t have that access to the Melbourne market as Peninsula do for day trips,” he said.
He expected the facility would typically attract a longer-term visitor who would stay for a few days and explore the greater East Gippsland area, feeding into the broader tourism economy.
“The wellness movement is about peace and quiet, it is about self-care”, he said.
“We’re trying to create an environment where people can come and connect with each other, but also connect with nature and enjoy their quiet space.”
With 75,000 visitors exploring the Buchan Caves each year, Mr Bromage predicted a slow build of visitors to the Hot Springs.
Hot springs history
Metung’s history of hot springs dates back to 1929 when a deep geothermal bore was drilled by Point Addis Co.
In 1960, a paddling pool was created for children followed by three cemented recreational public pools that were open from 1976 to 1996.
Original plans for a resort development on the current Metung site were proposed 30 years ago by late First National Real Estate co-founder Charles ‘Chas’ Heath.
He envisaged the Kings Cove residential development as a 400-lot subdivision surrounding the golf course with a 250-room resort and a 350-berth marina.
“The bore was developed 30 years ago in 1992. It’s geothermal, it’s a natural resource,” Mr Bromage said.
“We’ve had our hot water flowing for the past three years on the site, we can operate that bore to develop the bore and test the bore.”
In the new development, geothermal water will flow through the pools at a high rate so the pools will not require chlorine.
Grey water from the pools will be reused to maintain the golfing green.
He said he would be “stoked” if the Metung Hot Springs could attract 50,000 people in the first year, and help the surrounding region’s sluggish winter economy.
“We’ll be very mindful that it’s not a theme park, it’s a sanctuary. It’s somewhere you can go to relax and enjoy.”