How to Discover Every Inch of Hinchinbrook Island
The Jurassic landform sits eight clicks off the coast of Cardwell. One of Australia’s largest island national parks, Hinchinbrook is pristine, untouched and only 7000 visitors even think to come each year, making it one of Queensland’s most precious island destinations.
Composed of a kaleidoscope of colours and landscapes, Hinchinbrook’s 399km2 of national parkland flourishes with everything from mountain peaks and lush rainforests to thicket heaths and pearl white beaches.
From a traveller’s perspective, one of the most appealing aspect of Hinchinbrook is that there are no hotels. In fact, there is no accommodation of any kind. On this island it’s camping only, so you can be guaranteed an invigorating experience in nature without the risk of traffic.
This lack of luxe what makes Hinchinbrook such a draw for hikers, kayakers and boaters alike.
Whether you go by foot or paddle, let this be your guide to exploring Hinchinbrook Island.
Take care during cyclone season, November to April, as extreme weather conditions can limit access to the island as well as threaten the safety of campers.
Discovering Hinchinbrook Island by foot
Hiking Hinchinbrook is the best way to explore the island terrain. On feet, you’ll get to immerse yourself in the wilderness, swim in a plethora of falls, and pace the numerous trails mapping the island. Expect wet boots and sandy soles as you move between rainforest, creek and beach in just a few swift steps, such is the diversity of Hinchinbrook’s topography.
There are plenty of bushwhacking trails to explore, and most can be done in just a few hours, but the most famous is the Thorsborne Trail.
The Thorsborne Trail
From ascending to the top of Nina Peak, to a descent to the warren of mangrove-lined channels, hiking the Thorsborne Trail is the best way to really immerse yourself in the natural splendour of the parkland and truly explore Hinchinbrook Island.
Named after local naturalists, this trail is one of Queensland’s best coastal bushwalking experiences, covering 32km of ungraded track and taking about 4 days to walk. The terrain is rugged and untouched, so hiking experience and high levels of fitness are a must.
But this is not the kind of hiking adventure that ends with luxury lodges or even a roof over your head at the end of each day. Thorsborne advocates for minimal impact bushwalking, so hikers need to be completely self-sufficient to camp their way along the track and leave nothing but footprints in their wake. If you don’t know where to start, we have some packing tips to help you remember everything you need.
Hikers on any trail camp in one of seven designated sites dotted across the island, and a few of these are reserved for Thorsborne hikers only.
In order to uphold the minimal impact standards, the number of hikers permitted on Thorsborne is capped at 40 at a time to minimise the environmental impact. It’s known to book out during peak periods so make sure you book in advance.
Discovering Hinchinbrook by boat
Being that Hinchinbrook is within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, it’s an ideal location for keen fishers. The estuaries of Hinchinbrook Channel are home to a wide range of fish from mangrove jacks and king salmon to trevally and queenfish, but the real prize is the barramundi.
The Bandjin Traditional Owners roamed Hinchinbrook Island for thousands of years and fishing has always been an integral part of their culture. Visitors hoping to reel one in follow in the footsteps of their ancient practice, and like the Bandjin community, Hinchinbrook is dedicated to sustainable fishing practices and environmental preservation. Make sure to heed their environmental plan of management and guide to transit lanes to reduce impact on marine and intertidal environments.
Mooring on Hinchinbrook means you have your own transport to the estuary fishing around the island, and also gives you a choice of gorgeous camping spots on both the east and west sides of the island. Many boaters choose the Macushla camping area to settle their sand pegs for the night, but arriving by boat also gives you the opportunity to camp at the elusive Haven Camp Area, which not even Thorsborne hikers get to venture to. (Just be aware that access to this spot is tide-dependant).
Using Hinchinbrook as your island base, you can spend your days fishing before returning island-side to cook your catch and sleep under the stars.
Naturally, where there are barramundi there are crocodiles, and estuarine crocodiles are known to make their home in the waters in and around Hinchinbrook Island so it’s worth brushing up on your croc knowledge before heading out.
Why discover Hinchinbrook Island by kayak?
For those with sea legs and a sense of adventure, opting for a tour with Coral Sea Kayakers will show you the best of Hinchinbrook with a few more creature comforts than those by boat or boot.
Kayakers have the best of both situations, on a seven-day expedition from Mission Beach to Hinchinbrook, which includes time on and off the water.
Same as for the boaters, paddling around Hinchinbrook’s waterways will bring you up close with the myriad marine life that swim around these parts. But unlike most watercraft, the kayaks leave minimal environmental impact so participants can explore and enjoy the island without risk of damaging the pristine conditions.
It’s not all paddle time either. There’s just 3-4 hours paddling each day, which is more than enough to give you that rewarding sense of an active adventure while also allowing plenty of time to explore the island. Just remember to dial up the SPF while you are on the water,
Another perk is the catering, with the kayaks packed to the gunnels with wholesome meals for the trip. Every evening dinner is made using as much local, organic produce as possible to support local growers. Each bite is a testament to the region, so expect fresh tropical fruit picked along the Cassowary Coast, and, if the lines are lucky, ceviche prepared from fish caught wild and fresh that day. This is the peak of luxe treatment on Hinchinbrook, as kayakers still get to pitch their tents on the beach.
*Please note the temporary closure of all Queensland campgrounds in national parks, state forests and state-managed recreation and protected areas, in response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.