Water World wonders and worries

The entrance of Waburton Water World on Wednesday 13 January. Picture: JED LANYon

By Jed Lanyon

Warburton residents have again expressed their frustrations about overcrowding in town as scores of visitors take to the new Warburton Water World.

The new water play park has quickly proven to be a popular destination for families on hot summer days but some locals are concerned about parking infrastructure being stretched thin due to the high demand.

With international travel, and in some cases interstate travel restricted, the Yarra Valley has experienced an influx of tourists. The high demand of the Water World has seen visitors struggle to find a car park, with some resorting to parking on private land and creating a raft of road safety issues.

The park’s popularity sees heavy traffic in town on warmer days with residents taking to social media following the weekend of 9-10 January to vent about the chaotic traffic conditions.

Nearby the Water World park sits the Warburton Motel, it’s owner, Richard Stanwix told Star Mail the increased traffic and pedestrian numbers are a “recipe for disaster”.

“The water park is a fantastic addition to the town, it’s the most popular thing since sliced bread,” he said. “But council built the water park without thinking of parking and traffic management requirements.”

Mr Stanwix’s business overlooks Woods Point Road where he has a view of cars passing the new park, only to perform an illegal three-point turn to turn around to find parking space on the roadside.

“Because there’s so much traffic, they can’t perform a three-point turn. It ends up being a six or seven-point turn where they are perpendicular to the double white lines.

“The through traffic gets so annoyed by the people just stopping without putting on an indicator that as soon as they see a clearing in traffic, they accelerate out of the area.

“It’s a grave concern with kids zipping across that road, it’s a nightmare waiting to happen.”

Mr Stanwix said on multiple occasions cars would park on the motel’s property and block its entrance. He is forced to contact Warburton Police Station about the issues regularly.

“We asked VicRoads to install a ‘no standing’ sign to help provide visibility for guests exiting the motel and people have been parking in complete violation of those signs.”

Yarra Ranges Council’s director of environment and infrastructure Mark Varmalis said, “We’ve been pleased with the huge success of the Warburton Water World, with positive feedback coming in from community members and visitors alike since its opening in September.

“Last weekend saw big crowds out at Warburton Water World. While we’re excited that people are enjoying the new park, there has been some reports of people doing the wrong thing when it comes to driving, parking, crossing roads and social distancing.

“We are currently liaising with local land managers and owners to find some additional overflow car parking nearby for busy warm days.

“On-site traffic management, which was introduced on the weekend, will continue on warm days, encouraging people to park safely in other locations.

“We’ll also be working to enhance way-finding signage to Warburton Water World in coming weeks and months, making it easier for people to get to the park if they’ve had to park a bit further away.

“Our Safer Communities Team will also have officers out in Warburton, reminding visitors that parking safely and legally is key when visiting the region.”

Mr Varmalis said further upgrades are set to take place later this year and will include formalising the car park and footpath network, widening the road for access to the car park and other improvements to the general area.

“I would encourage all visitors to Warburton Water World to plan their trip with a back-up in mind, so they can head elsewhere if they arrive to a full car park – or return later in the day.”

Councillor Jim Child echoed this view posting to social media advising visitors to enjoy other Warburton attractions if they see the car park is at full capacity.

The popularity of the park has led to council extending the opening hours as the water jets will stay on until 9.30pm on days that exceed 35 degrees.

“This means that you can plan a trip to the park in the late afternoon to enjoy the water without the crowds,” Mr Varmalis said.

Traffic issues have been a recurring sign for residents as tourists flocked to Warburton’s Redwood Forest when Covid-19 restrictions eased in June last year. Severe overcrowding forced Parks Victoria and Victoria Police to act in closing the park for several months with the park finally reopening in mid-December.

Videos circulated online of cars lining both sides of Cement Creek and Woods Point roads at the entrance of the forest after the 200 or so parking spaces were filled. The park was closed in the interest of public safety during the pandemic.

At the time, Yarra Ranges councillor Jim Child described some of the behaviour in the forests as ‘disgusting’, while some locals took to social media angered by visitors who had left litter scattered in the area and in some cases toilet paper and faeces as there are no amenities in the area.

Mr Stanwix said it was common to see rubbish in Warburton after weekends of high visitation.

“After a busy weekend the town is left with exploding rubbish bins, filthy public toilets and a host of negative impacts from council not thinking through the increased volume of people.

“Build it and they will come, and they did. But build it and be ready when they come, they are not.”

What the locals are saying:

Jacqueline Frost

Times will change people will move on and crowds will settle down. Hopefully many will remember the pleasure Warburton gave them during this difficult time and come back when it passes. It will always be an asset to Warburton both as a tourist destination and a place for our children and grandchildren to enjoy, as well as meeting place for parents who need this connection. Yes it has its challenges at the moment but they will pass.

Leonie Shalders

There is plenty of parking at the water park, when the car park provided is at capacity the park is busy! People could just go somewhere else if it’s already full instead of overcrowding the park, parking dangerously and going in anyway.

Jenny Scammell

Great idea, but unfortunately the lack of parking is an accident waiting to happen!

Margy Iob

The Water Park is fantastic, but (the) major issue has to be the parking and maybe have someone there to control the volume of people. Everyone is parking just anywhere they can and this is becoming a dangerous issue with the amount of traffic that is within this area. Tourism is great for our town but safety has to be paramount.

Louise Keether Verdugo

I’m looking forward to the end of the holidays and the caravan park is empty and tourists are gone. Maybe then we can get back to enjoying our little paradise again. Mind you even with all the tourists I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Vicky Tait

I nearly hit someone today crossing the road with two kids in tow. She just jumped out in front of me, lucky I was going less than 40km/h. People are parking very dangerously both there and at Redwoods. How long before there is tragedy?