Paronella Park: A must see
A little over 3 hours drive north from Townsville, and 1.5 hours drive south from Cairns is an oasis in the rainforest.
Nestled on a 5 hectare property beside Mena Creek Falls you will find Paronella Park – a collection of buildings that tell a story of one man’s vision come to life.
The picnic area set against a backdrop of Mena Creek Falls was once a bustling social hub for picnics. You could even swim in the creek or hire a boat back in the day.José Paronella came to Australia back in the early 1900’s and became somewhat of a ‘Farm Flipper’ – buying run down cane farms, bringing them back to life and selling at a tidy profit – before returning to Spain to find himself a wife in the 1920’s.
José, with new bride Margarita, returned to Australia and purchased the property that was to become Paronella Park in 1929. It had long been José’s dream to build a castle and over the course of the next few years, with many long hours spent labouring and constructing by hand, that dream became a reality.
Paronella Park opened to the public in 1935 and over the years that followed the attractions included a Wishing Well, Ice-Cream Parlour, Theatre, Hall, Refreshment Room, Tennis Courts, Bowling Green, Museum, Tea Gardens, and more!
Extensive damage due to construction faults and the elements is apparent throughout the park and it’s hard to believe sometimes that these ‘ruins’ are in actual fact less than 100 years old. To be honest though, the aged appearance only adds to the appeal of this place!
Could you imagine walking up this steep staircase carrying buckets of sand? That’s precisely what Jose Paronella did while building the structures for his pleasure park.The Grand Staircase is one of the oldest structures on the property. The purpose of it’s construction was to carry sand from the creek below up the hill and to the area where the Paronella family home was built first, followed by the iconic castle-like building that we all know from the postcards and tourism brochures.
The Paronella family home still stands and is now the Museum. Park visitors can view old photographs, read documents about the park history and take a step back in time.There is something about Paronella Park that you can’t see in the tourist brochures. That is the feeling you get when you’re walking around the park.
Take the tour and as you’re listening to the guide tell the story about how José built the park, chances are you will find yourself thinking “Well, if he did it then anything is possible”. Inspired and amazed is likely what you’ll feel when hearing about this Spaniard who thought at least 20 years ahead of his time and didn’t listen to the many haters around him calling him crazy.
The history of how this place came about and the accomplishments within the Paronella family are impressive to say the least. For a man who came from a fairly ordinary upbringing in Spain, José had a dream to build a castle and he didn’t let anything stand in his way.
Quite the entrepreneur and innovator of his day, José created a tourist attraction that would continue to welcome visitors for decades after his passing.
The story of how the current owners of Paronella Park stumbled across the property and brought it back to life to the award-winning attraction it is today is one to be acknowledged and respected as well.
Around the park you will find a number of curiosities such as a bamboo forest, running streams and mini-waterfalls, walking tracks, and ruins slowly being overrun by nature. One peculiar sight we saw on our walk was a fallen tree that was strangely full of coins! Not sure of the story behind that one but it’s the little things such as this that make this attraction so much more than meets the eye.
As you’re leaving, stop and have a chat to Mark who will probably be standing on the front verandah of the reception building greeting and farewelling park visitors. It doesn’t take long to see the passion that lies behind his, and wife Judy’s, decision to not only purchase the park in the first place, but to also lovingly restore it and continue Jose’s dream of providing a place for visitors to enjoy.
Also be sure to ask the staff at reception for a return pass, as you will want to come back to Paronella Park.
Paronella Park is one of those places that seems understated from the highway, but then you step inside and find it oozing with inspiration and a certain dream-like romance.
From Townsville you want to hit the Bruce Highway and head north for about 2.5hours, before turning off the highway onto Silkwood Japoon Road. Another 20 minutes or so you’ll arrive at your destination in Mena Creek.
Where to Stay
Given that it’s a 3 hour drive from Townsville, not many people consider Paronella Park as a ‘day trip’ and chances are you’ll want to find some accommodation close by.
If you have your own caravan, camper or tent then you might choose to stay at the Paronella Caravan and Camping grounds – a free site for the night is included in your entry to Paronella Park! Other nearby options include the Mena Creek Hotel or the Tropical Bliss B&B, or Innisfail is only a 15 minute drive away.
Our visit to the Park was part of a 6 day holiday exploring Cairns and Innisfail, so we chose to stay in an Airbnb called ‘TreeTops By The Sea’ at Bingil Bay (roughly 45minutes away).
Day and Night
Paronella Park offers guided tours both day and night.
During the day, take a 45 minute guided walking tour and listen as your guide talks about the history and highlights that create this unique park. Tours of the fully restored 1930’s hydro electric generator are also available, and the cafe is open for a bite to eat.
Once the sun sets over Paronella Park, the castle and surrounding grounds are lit up by flood lights. Visitors are treated to some amazing photo opportunities, along with extra information and secrets not revealed during the day tours.
Visit the Paronella Park website for information about current admission prices and passes available.
Mamu Tropical Skywalk
Paronella Park’s sister attraction is the Mamu Tropical Skywalk and it’s one you should also put on your must-do list! This walk through the rainforest includes a 350m long elevated walkway, a 10m long cantilever and a 37m high observation tower. You will feel like you’re walking in the treetops, and the views are spectacular to say the least.
Learn more about our visit to Mamu Tropical Skywalk here
Opinions expressed in the above review are author’s own and individual experiences may vary.