4 DAYS, 32km
If you’re searching for a perfect tropical wilderness, it would be hard to look past Hinchinbrook Island – located 180km south of Cairns in the Queensland Wet Tropics world heritage area, the island is a beguiling mixture of rugged granite peaks, isolated coves and unspoil beaches backed by rainforest . Add campsites nestled in the rainforest and the chance to swim in tropical waterholes and you have the recipe for one of Australia’s classic long-distance walks.
Day 1: Ramsay Bay to Little Ramsay Bay (6.5km 4.5 hours)
Begin the walk by catching a ferry (see ‘need to know’, below) from the town of Cardwell. The ferry crosses Hinchinbrook channel and then snakes up a tidal channell behind Ramsay Bay until it reaches a small jetty which marks the start of the Thorsborne Trail. From here follow the sandy track to Ramsay Bay, avoiding the temptation to take a swim (crocodiles and sharks both frequent these waters) and continue south to the end of the bay, cross a headland to Blacksand Beach then climb steeply up to Nina Saddle, the starting point for the Nina Peak side track.
Drop your packs at the saddle and take the side track, which ascends steeply for 250 metres, passing two rock slabs that provide excellent views, until you reach the double summit of the peak. This provides 360 degree views of much of the island, including the broad sweep of Ramsay Bay, the coast to the south and the rugged granite mass of Mount Bowen, which forms the spine of the island. After you’ve soaked in the views return to your packs and continue down to Nina Bay, which provides a pleasant campsite if you wish to undertake the walk in five days rather than four.
From Nina Bay the trail crosses another headland before traversing the aptly-named Boulder Bay; if the tide is high you may need to detour through vegetation rather than rock-hop. The final section of the day’s walking involves crossing a ridge and descending to Little Ramsay Bay, where the campsite is located next to a small lagoon. Water can sometimes be hard to find here – if there is none in the creek behind the lagoon you can try going to the southern end of the bay, walking around the much larger lagoon then up one of the rocky creekbeds that lead into it.
Day 2: Little Ramsay Bay to Zoe Bay (10.5km 6 hours)
Walk to the southern end of Little Ramsay Bay, crossing the tidal creek before rock-hopping around a headland, crossing another small beach and ascending to a saddle from which a 600 metre track descends to Banksia Bay. Continue on as the track crosses Banksia Creek and another saddle before making a rocky descent to the flatter country behind Zoe Bay, where a grove of paperbarks makes for a pleasant rest point.
After picking up your packs, follow the track south to North Zoe Creek, which will need to be crossed at low tide due to crocodiles (as you are reminded by a particularly disconcerting sign you need to wade past). After emerging from the creek the track plunges into lush tropical rainforest. This is much more extensive than the small patches the trail has visited so far and has a real jungle feel to it, an impression that is heightened by the buttressed tree trunks and exotic vines that wind their way into the canopy.
After an hour and a half of winding its way through the forest the track emerges suddenly on to the sand of Zoe Bay, a long crescent of sand backed by jungle and the rugged profile of Mount Bowen. The campsite is only about 400 metres to the north. After taking a break at camp it’s well worthwhile taking the track upstream along Zoe Creek to Zoe Falls. A swim in the large waterhole at the base of the falls is an excellent way to cool off and soak in the atmosphere of the tropics.
Day 3: Zoe Bay to Mulligan Falls (7.5km 4.5 hours)
At the start of day three head back to Zoe Falls, this time continuing past the waterhole and climbing (with the aid of a rope at one point) to the top of the falls. The track then continues climbing to a saddle which at 260 metres marks the highest point of the trail, providing views of Magnetic Island and the Palm Island Group to the south.
Descending from the saddle, the trail passes a junction with the track to Sunken Reef Bay (30 minutes each way) where there is an alternative campsite, then continues on to Diamantina Creek, which despite its name is wide enough to be called a river in most places in Australia. After rock-hopping your way across the creek the trail climbs again for a short distance before re-entering the rainforest and descending to the campsite at Mulligan Falls, half an hour from Diamantina Creek. Like the previous campsite this one comes complete with a waterhole and waterfall – avoid the temptation to clamber on the rocks above the falls and waterholes as they can be very slippery and people have died here.
Day 4: Mulligan Falls to George Point (7.5km 2.5 hours)
After filling your waterbottles for the last time (there are no water sources for the remainder of the walk), return to the main track and follow it towards the sea. The route stays in dense forest and crosses five creeks, most of which are dry unless there has been recent heavy rain. Even without water the creeks are impressive, as the huge trunks of rainforest trees crowd overhead fighting for sunlight.
After half an hour in the forest the track reaches the coast and the last – and longest – stretch of beach walking on the trail. Despite its name Mulligan Bay is quite straight and it has a wide beach, giving a more open airy feel to this section than the other coastal stretches of the walk. The most notable landmark on the beach is the outlet of Mulligan Creek, which is located about halfway to George Point and is essentially impassable at high tide. After fording the creek continue south and follow the beach around the point to the camping area, where the ferry will pick you up (assuming you arranged it before you started – see below).
NEED TO KNOW
Access to and from the island is by ferry, so before you go you should ensure that in addition to booking your ticket to the northern end of the trail (on Hinchinbrook Island Ferries – 07 4066 8585) you also have a pick-up arranged from the southern end (via Hinchinbrook Wilderness Safaris – 07 4777 8307). You will also need to organise transport for the 61km from Lucinda, where the ferry drops you off at the end of the hike, back to Cardwell where you caught the original ferry to the island.
Saltwater crocodiles frequent both the beaches and the tidal creeks of the island, so you’ll need to avoid swimming until the waterholes at Zoe Falls and Mulligan Creek where the rocky creekbed acts as an effective barrier (they’re worth the wait). The crocs also mean that you’ll need to time your crossings of the tidal creeks so the water levels are low – the best known and most dangerous of these is North Zoe Creek, but others you will need to be careful of include the creek at the entrance to Nina Bay and Mulligan Creek where it enters the sea. Click here to access tide times.
On a smaller and less deadly scale, the native rats of Hinchinbrook are infamous for chewing through almost anything – including packs and tents – in order to get at food. Most of the campsites have rat-proof boxes which they have yet to devise a way to break into. Last but not least, this is the tropics, so plan for drinking more than you would further south. Many of the creeks, especially in the northern part of the island, have small catchments so give the rangers a call before you go to check which water sources are reliable. This is a multi-day walk and you will need appropriate equipment and supplies; make sure you check with the rangers that you have everything you need before you head out.
OTHER THINGS TO SEE AND DO
This is the Queensland Wet Tropics, so there’s a lot more to see once you’ve finished the trail (apparently there is a nice reef somewhere nearby). Most of the well-known attractions in this region are either north of Cairns or in the Atherton Tablelands above the city, but one landmark well worth visiting that’s relatively close is Wallaman Falls, Australia’s highest single-drop waterfall, which is 50km inland of Ingham, on the Bruce Highway south of Lucinda. Click here for track notes for a selection of great day walks and more photos of wet tropics.
ACCOMMODATION AND SUPPLIES
Cardwell has a range of accommodation types available, while Lucinda is significantly smaller.
For more information contact the Rainforest and Reef Information Centre in Cardwell on 07 4066 8601 or visit http://www.derm.qld.gov.au/parks/hinchinbrook-thorsborne/index.html
These descriptions are a guide only. While we have made every effort to make them accurate, we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained while using them. Make sure you use an up-to-date map and consult rangers before heading out.