How to do Paronella Park in a day
If you were to ask me to reveal the best-kept secret I know in Queensland, I’d immediately know just the place.
For you see, in Tropical North Queensland lies a real-life fairytale. One that’s survived fire and flood and cyclone and even crushing from an onslaught of runaway logs.
It’s a love story of epic proportions, but more so of one man’s vision and dream to bring a pleasure garden to life for everyone to enjoy.
In a land flush with towering kauri pines, powerful waterfalls, and 50 shades of green, Paronella Park really has to be experienced to be believed. Point your GPS to Mena Creek near Innisfail, and prepare to come face to face with nature’s dance in, around, and over every surface of Queensland’s own Spanish castle ruins.
José Paronella had a dream…
The Spanish cane farmer arrived from Catalonia in 1913 and after 11 years of working the land and buying and selling farms, José had bigger plans in mind for his new home.
He returned to Spain, married a girl named Margarita, and sailed with her back to Queensland. Once José laid eyes on the five-hectare virgin plot of land, he snapped it up, ready to bring his vision to spectacular life.
To get the most out of your day at Paronella Park, it pays to be prepared. Here are all the ways you can explore:
The Dream Continues Tour
While you can soak up the magical surrounds of Paronella Park el solo, joining one of the 45-minute guided tours will bring its history most vividly to life in your imagination, and provide an understanding of how current owners, Mark and Judy Evans, have worked tirelessly to ensure the park doesn’t ever fall back into ruin.
When Mark and Judy purchased the park in 1993, it had been left for nearly two decades after battling fire and cyclone, left battered and overgrown. Since then, they have lovingly restored and explored the property, revealing more of its secrets with every passing year.
As you wander through the grounds, you’re transported back to a time when people would gather here to cool off in the creek, eat ice-cream cones in the sunshine after a game of tennis, and dress up for dances, movies and concerts in the castle.
Though you can’t step inside, you can conjure images of a ball covered with 1270 tiny mirrors, suspended from the ceiling of the hall during the best parties in town, and dream of watching films there with José and Margarita on a Saturday night.
Follow the Grand Staircase down to the Lower Refreshments Rooms, and cast your mind back to the ’30s and ’40s when visitors used it like a country club.
You’ll walk past the old changerooms, across the tennis courts, and through the tunnel to the spring-fed Theresa Falls, named after José and Margarita’s daughter, then end in the towering avenue of kauri trees.
From here, you can continue on your own, exploring the bamboo forest, peering into Mena Creek to spot turtles and fish, or just absorbing the romantic ambience.
The tours depart every 30 minutes from 9:30am until 4:30pm.
The Darkness Falls Tour
If you’re captivated by the park by day, returning at nightfall when the pathways, crumbling ruins and surrounding rainforest are illuminated by light adds that extra bit of magic.
Join the one-hour tour at 6:15pm each night, which touches a little on the history of the park but takes on a more naturalist vibe, with the chance to spot nocturnal wildlife and see this whimsical property in a whole new light.
The Hydro Tour
José was a clever man, so clever in fact that he harnessed the power of the waterfall on his special property in order to provide electricity to his fun park way back in 1933. Following a full refurbishment in 2009, the generator once again provides all the power used by the park and feeds back into the grid.
This is just one of the reasons for Paronella Park’s eco tourism credentials and awards.
Get your engineering geek on with an inside look at North Queensland’s first river-driven hydro electric generator on the Hydro Tour. Check at reception for more information when you arrive.
Tours run on demand and places are limited, but the tour provides an alternative view to the Mena Creek Falls and the park itself from the very Spanish-looking working power station.
Nuts about nature? Grab the 16-page Botanical Walk guide and map to head off on a self-guided orientation to the flora of this rainforest wonderland.
Drop by reception to pick up the guide, which details 88 of the plants, trees and ferns you’ll find in the park, all descendants of the 7000-plus plants José and Margarita added to the property back in the early ’30s.
But it’s not just the plants to ogle; the lush surroundings have become a haven for wildlife over the past 70 years. Keep watch for the brilliant blue Ulysses butterfly, azure kingfisher, and green tree snakes.
Feed the sooty grunter, snapping turtles and eels with your complimentary fish food once you reach the foot of the falls.
Right near the entrance to the park, housed in a cute little cottage (which was actually José and Margarita’s home), is the Museum.
In here you’ll see the original projector that beamed films onto the wall of the Hall, see signs advertising it as “the prettiest spot on earth”, and look through José and Margarita’s family album.
Where to eat
There’s a great cafe onsite serving up Devonshire Tea, smoothies and light meals so you can sit on the deck before or after your tour and linger over lunch.
Or if you prefer to find your own private patch of this paradise, visitors are welcome to BYO picnic and enjoy the fruits of José and Margarita’s (and Mark and Judy’s) labour.
If you’re staying overnight, there are also barbecue facilities available at the onsite Caravan Park.
The finer details
Tickets: An entry pass to Paronella Park has to be one of the most all-inclusive tour tickets you can buy in Australia. Passes are valid for 24 months so you can return and wander as many times as you please, but you also receive a guidebook to keep, fish food, and you can park up at the onsite caravan park for one night, too.
They also have selfie sticks and binoculars available for all guests to use, free of charge, so whether you like doing the spotting, or being in the shot, there’s a tool to help.
Adult passes cost $44, pensioners $39, and children (5-15 years) $23 each.
Opening Hours: Paronella Park is open every day, except Christmas Day, from 9am to 7:30pm.
Accommodation: A one-night stay in the onsite cabins costs $90 per night with one queen bed or two singles.
To get there: Head south from Cairns (around 1.5 hours) and drive towards Mena Creek on the Old Bruce Highway after Innisfail.
From Townsville (3 hours), drive north until you hit Silkwood then follow Canecutter Way to reach Paronella Park.