In the Atherton Tablelands, next to the Mena Creek waterfall, there lie abandoned “castles” nestled in a small patch of rainforest. When you first catch a glimpse of the grey stone peeking out behind giant ferns and tangled vines, you’d be forgiven for thinking you had suddenly been transported to some Central American archaeological site, give or take several millenia. But no, you’re still in Australia. This is Paronella Park.
Conceived and realised by Jose Paronella, a Spanish immigrant who dreamed of building a castle, it’s hard to believe that these buildings are not even a hundred years old, and abandoned for much less than that. The rainforest around them (actually a botanic garden) has restaked its claim incredibly quickly. Frequently quoted as the number one must-do in Queensland, you simply have to give this place a look. It’s utterly different to anything I imagined I would find on this flat continent.
For a backpacker such as myself, travelling on very modest means, I’ll admit I did balk a little at the admission fee. But the wonderful lady at the front saw my hesitation, and after a quick chat about how much I wanted to see the Park, she very kindly offered me a concession ticket (thank you kind lady, you made my day!). How could I say no? And the fact that your entry also includes a free return pass for the next two years, as well as a guided tour of the gardens and castles (and a second evening tour if you stick around for the whole day), it really is worth your time and money.
Paronella Park is just as beautiful in reality as it was in those Pinterest photos that drew me to it in the first place. The gardens are stunning, and much more varied than you’d expect – ranging from Australian rainforest to bamboo-lined pathways, to an avenue of tall Queensland Kauri trees. Bridges cross little creeks and stone paths lead you to hidden waterfalls and old tunnels. After the tour (really good, very informative about the history of the Park and the people who dreamed and created it), you’re free to wander the grounds for as long as you like. Maybe it was the time of year, or the time of day, but while exploring the gardens I felt like I had the whole place to myself. A PERFECT time for some sneaky timer selfies!
Another great thing to do in the Park is to wander down to the river to feed the turtles and fish that gather there at the sight of humans (suitable food is provided). It’s a funny thing to watch the turtles grasping slowly for the little balls of chow while the agile fish snatch them out from under their noses. Tossing a handful of food into the water causes a free-for-all to erupt as the river’s occupants fight it out.
After losing yourself in the jungle for the morning, the Park’s cafe is a wonderful place to relax for a while (free WiFi – winning!), before continuing on your journey.
If you want to stay a bit longer, guess what – the caravan park is free for the night with your ticket. Yes, FREE! If only I’d known that before. But I decided to continue my journey north towards Cairns, where I was going to go scuba diving for the first time!
Opening times are 9am to 7.30pm every day except for Christmas Day.
Ticket prices are AU$45 for adults and $24 for children. Included in this price are three separate tours, fish food, souvenir map, and one night free in the campsite. Prices are correct as of February 2018. Check the official website for more information.
Paronella Park is 120km south of Cairns, near Mena Creek.
Have you ever been to Paronella Park? Or have I managed to add it to your Queensland bucket list?
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When a love of travel meets a passion for wildlife…
I’m a zoologist who explores the world while working for conservation organisations. I write about my experiences in the hope of inspiring others to follow their dreams and see the beauty of this earth – in a responsible and ethical way.