Hidden away in the lush rainforests of Far North Queensland lies the most unexpected of attractions. Paronella Park is the life’s work of Mr Jose Paronella who, from 1929 onwards, turned scrubland next to Mena Creek into a beautiful Spanish castle. Paronella Park is one of those attractions that really does not disappoint and it really is a one of a kind in Australia. Jose arrived in Australia from Spain in 1913 and planned for a perfect life for him and his fiancee, Matilda. Unfortunately after 13 years working hard on sugar cane farms and working his way up the ladder, he returned home to Spain to find that Matilda had married another man thinking he was dead! The most logical step was clearly for Jose to propose to (and marry) Matilda’s younger sister, Margarita, who made the journey to the unknown lands of Australia.
After purchasing the land, Jose set about building, mostly with his own hands, essentially a park for the pleasure of family, friends and the general public. There was a theatre showing movies, Tea Gardens, a swimming pool and tennis courts. Not only that, Jose planted more than 7,000 trees and created the beautiful Kauri Avenue with towering trees creating a perfect tunnel framing Mena Creek Falls. Unfortunately for the man, no matter how much effort he put in, it didn’t always go to plan. Paronella Park has withstood numerous cyclones, fires and floods with a constant, and seemingly never-ending, effort to re-build. To this day, even with new owners, the renovation continues as does Jose’s dream.
WHERE TO FIND PARONELLA PARK
As I said earlier, Paronella Park lies just off the East Coast highway between Mission Beach and Cairns and really is a must-do for everyone whether you’re travelling the full East Coast or just in the area for a few weeks. Driving inland from either north or south, you’ll join the Cane Cutter Way which winds its way through sugar and banana plantations surrounded by mountains shrouded in mist. The road here is worthy of more visitors itself; classic tropical Queensland.
WHAT TO EXPECT AT PARONELLA PARK
For $47 per person, you get free reign of the whole of Paronella Park as well as the 45 minute ‘The Dream Continues’ Tour and ‘The Darkness Falls’ Tour which includes a light show! Not only that, if you’re travelling in a campervan, you get overnight camping included which is an absolute godsend. One of the biggest stressors with road tripping in a campervan is working out where on earth you are staying each and every night. Along with your ticket, you get umbrellas, a map, a flora and fauna guidebook, bookmarks, a souvenir of the park itself (surprise, I now have two pieces of the building in my home in England) as well as food for the fish and turtles. Just don’t stay too close to the edge of the water when feeding the wildlife as, on occasions, saltwater crocodiles have been seen in the area. This probably goes without saying then but no you shouldn’t (and can’t) swim at Paronella Park!
As with nearly everywhere along the East Coast of Australia, this is another place that is a dream for travel photographers. My favourite shots were of Mena Creek Falls all lit up at night, the Kauri Avenue and just generally any of the buildings hiding deep in the rainforest.
My final thought, something really important, do not forget to bring insect repellent as there are plenty of mosquitoes!