QLD 2023, 8-12 May: Up to and including Paronella Park

Monday we continue our travels north, and stop overnight at a tiny place called Calen, somewhere between Mackay and Proserpine, where we camp at a huge private property on a ‘river’, which we must cross to gain access; the first time the car and van drive through (around 20cm deep) water over rocks and boulders, which the 4WD has no problem with.  We end up literally camping for free as the owners don’t come to collect the advertised $20, and waive it when I call them the next day. Only one other family is camping here, and it is beautiful.  Importantly for Arno, Telstra reception is unexpectedly excellent, so he can watch Max Verstappen win the Miami Formula 1 race; and Jen is in her element seated in the sunshine beside the tranquil creek, to do some yoga, meditate and read. We build a fire, and enjoy another magnificent sunset, followed by a sky full of stars.

We have 2 more stretches of driving before our scheduled arrival at Paronella Park. So Tuesday we enter the ‘Whitsunday Region’, and stop near Proserpine for yet one more terrible (and expensive @$5.00 each) takeaway coffee, which we end up tossing (again).  Learnt our lesson, regardless of whether a fancy coffee machine is present (which is Arno’s clearly flawed yardstick) we’ll stick to our own percolated (or Nespresso when on power) brew.

Apart from making some lousy regional coffees, we find Queenslanders generally house-proud with well-cared for properties.  Councils make an admirable effort to provide for their communities, and to attract tourists like us; the towns are clean with many nicely manicured parks,  some nice artwork scattered around, plenty of playgrounds and bike/walking trails.  The people are laid-back and friendly, and the rules far more relaxed than we’ve (had to) become used to in NSW.

After a long drive around 5.5hours to cover 400km, we arrive at Balgal Beach our chosen site for the night. And are we happy we picked this one!  A local golf club, which has around 15 sites to camp, showers, toilets, a wonderful swimming pool, and a large terrace overlooking a beautiful dam, with mountains as the backdrop. Happy hour, and today is pizza night, which is surprisingly good.  We chat with a Kiwi (who moved to Queensland some 15 years ago) as he has an amazing heavy duty bike cover (our Fiama one is beginning to have more duct tape than material).  Another bit of research to do as they’re customer made.  We love this stop, which is only 2 km or so from the highway and about 2.5 hours from the first 3-night stop where we will meet up with our friends.

Wednesday morning we leave before 8am and drive through more sugarcane on both sides of the road.  We arrive at ‘Tropical North Queensland’ once we pass Ingham.

We stop at a nice little town called Cardwell right on the coast, with stunning views over water, edged by mountains from a (again!) great wide cycle/walk path along the water with native plants and grass well-maintained.

Arno discovers a bakery, and Jen ducks into the hardware shop, always in search of something to make caravan life even more functional and practical.

Caldwall…. along the main road

We arrive at Paronella Park 5 minutes after check-in time and join Deb & Phil who have had a coffee while waiting for opening hours. When we start to set up, we notice a couple of Curlews have made their nest under a bush between our sites, and we are careful not to disturb it more than we have to. Once we discuss this nest, we also notice that our sites are not as beautifully mowed as all the others around it, and it’s clear when we mention it to the staff that they are aware, and our sites had been blocked (but clearly someone made a mistake by allocating them to us). We promise to give the birds and nest a wide berth, and minimise disturbing it, which they seem to appreciate and are comfortable with.

We pack a lunch and without wasting too much time, we head out to the Mamu (treetop) walk about half an hour’s drive). It’s (still!) nice weather, and we enjoy our 1-hour return walk, while catching up on the past 6 weeks since we last saw each other during our shake-down trip to Tuncurry in March. We drive some 20km further and enjoy the beautiful Millaa Millaa Falls. As it’s getting later in the day, and the temperature is dropping, even die-hard Jen (ha) decided not to venture into the pretty fresh water.

Paronella Park is an interesting place, and very popular (even more so since they opened 60 powered sites with first-class, modern amenities in March).  The attraction is a castle that was built by a Spaniard called Jose Paronella for his bride in the early 20th century and defied all cynics when he tabled his dream idea which included powering it with hydropower (unheard of for private use in Queensland up till that time) making use of the Mena Falls right beside the land he had purchased. He worked day and night during the dry season to beat the rains (including moving boulders from the water to land lower the water level and allow him to build the hydro plant, and then return them to raise the water level).  The castle and land around it were purchased in a derelict state in 1993 by a couple who made it into what it is today, with around 80 staff.

We have booked our night show tour at the castle in Paronella Park for after dinner, and we enjoy the light-and-sound show in the dark.  We have a few drinks afterwards and for the first time since we left home, we are not in bed before 11pm.

Thursday we see the Castle and the entire 13 acres of the Park by daylight. We cross the suspension bridge by day this time (the safest pedestrian crossing over the falls) and it is as wobbly as it was last night. It rains a bit on and off, and we have our tour at 11.30am, which turns out to be very informative and we learn a lot more about the visionary, persistent, entrepreneurial and succesful man Jose Paronella was during his 60 years on this earth. The rain forest/jungle is full of surprises and laid out to make the most of the Mena falls and the river. There is a turtle nesting area, Kauri trees Paronella planted from seed 90 years ago in avenue arrangement, so that when standing on one end provides a clear view in between the trees to the Falls; a picnic area with beach, where the stone picnic tables are tiered to provide all visitors back in the day, the view of the Falls, and much more. If you’re interested, more information can be found here.

We have a lazy lunch and stroll back, and have plenty more to talk about. We have booked a table at the local hotel (which, like the camping, and the Mamu skywalk we did on Wednesday, also falls under the ownership of Paronella Park) and spend some more money here. A few more drinks and chats and plenty of laughs at the caravans under the awning with an occasional shower now and again, and the curlews screeching at the change of shift. We have learnt that mum sits for several hours on the eggs to keep them warm, while dad feeds and does whatever else a bird does; then he relieves her, and she goes off for a few hours of ‘me-time’. But they are a bit noisy.

Friday we decide Babinda Boulders will be good to visit. Not too far from our base, and as we arrive in the National Park’s car park, there is a busload of young adult overseas tourists all in swimmers, dead-keen for a swim in the billabong. We quickly work out that there are more people than boulders there, and so continue to search other boulders on a nice hike.

We walk along in our rain jackets and are grateful the air temperature is pleasant, as soon we are drenched in the downpour. It is however beautiful to be walking over the hilly track in this rain forest along rushing water that flows over the huge Babinda. ‘Babinda’ comes from the Wanyurr Yidinji words, ‘bunna binda’ meaning ‘water passing over your shoulder‘, a description of water rolling over the boulders in the Babinda Creek. (meaning ‘throw over your shoulders’ (being the water). (source)

We see fungi looking like dressed up little people, and rust coloured mushrooms that look like seashell, or Japanese fans ready to present something to you. The forest consists of various shades of green, ranging from lime to olive, in a myriad of ferns and palms. It is clean, fresh, and so tranquil.

With soaking pants and skirts, we climb back in the cars and dry ourselves before getting out with umbrellas in Babinda town for a coffee and the famous meat pies for lunch.

We drive to Innisfail to stock up on some groceries, and a brake cable for Jen’s bike, and head back to camp, where we enjoy the rest of our day just taking it easy seated under the awning in the torrential showers. It is our last day together, and we plan to drive on together tomorrow until we will stay here, and Deb & Phil move on and head south again.

We have had a great 3 days here and enjoyed some beautiful scenery and attractions together with our friends.

This post’s trip: https://goo.gl/maps/aWSGo4hZ3AuptvCS7

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