EIGHT KILOMETRES off Queensland’s Cardwell Coast is Hinchinbrook Island, a place so special much of it is off limits and hikers are limited to just 40 a day.
Fringed by beautiful beaches, the island is famed for its varied terrain, from craggy mountains, where delicate heath vegetation flourishes, to patches of eucalypt and rainforest. Its unique habitats also shelter rare and endangered flora and fauna, including the Apollo jewel butterfly and the Phais tankervillaea orchid.
Hinchinbrook's protected paradise
Hinchinbrook has been protected since 1932, falls within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and, at 39.3sq.km, is one of Australia’s largest island national parks.
“It’s just beautiful,” Cardwell resident Helen Tuffley says. She’s lived on this coast for seven years and crossed to the island on her boat more times than she can count.
Hinchinbrook is a 40-minute boat trip from the small coastal town of Cardwell, which is about halfway between Cairns and Townsville. The narrow, mangrove-lined Hinchinbrook Channel separates the island from the mainland.
More than 30 species of mangrove thrive within the channel, on the island’s shores and on the mainland, creating one of the most abundant mangrove habitats in the Wet Tropics. Dugongs and dolphins have been spotted and the channel’s mangrove forest supports healthy populations of green sea turtles and rarely seen estuarine crocodiles.
Trekking the Thorsborne Trail to Zoe Bay
Named for the late Australian conservationist Arthur Thorsborne, the 32km Thorsborne Trail winds its way from Nina Bay in the north to George Point in the south, and can be walked in either direction. Helen walked the track over four days and says the highlight was visiting Zoe Bay.
“It’s a lovely beach and we walked up through the rainforest to a waterfall, and then climbed up to the top of the falls with the help of a rope that’s there, and we had a beautiful view looking north over Zoe Bay.”
Some parts of the walk were challenging, Helen says, but it really depends on the time of year you visit – heavy rains during the Wet cause creeks to swell, making them difficult to cross.
Walkers can expect tropical forests, golden, sandy beaches, rocky headlands and bubbling creeks. Look for native birds, such as the pied imperial pigeon and the beach stone-curlew (near threatened on the IUCN Red List).
Detours off the main path include the one-hour-return walk to Nina Peak, where the highlight is a view of Mt Bowen (1121m), the island’s highest peak.
There are seven camp sites along the main track. Six are on or near beaches, while the Mulligan Falls site, at the southern end, is under a lush rainforest canopy at the foot of the falls.
Visiting Hinchinbrook Island
Getting there: Hinchinbrook Wilderness Safaris operates transfers from Cardwell to points along the track's southern end (www.hinchinbrookwildernesssafaris.com.au). Hinchinbrook Island Ferries transfers trekkers to the northern end; book through the Cardwell Rainforest and Reef Visitor Information Centre on 07 4066 8601.
Walking the track: Only 40 people are permitted on the track at one time, so book well ahead, especially from May to October – the more popular, cooler and drier period. Permits cost $5.15 a person a day: get them from www.parks.nprsr.qld.gov.au/permits. The track isn’t graded and is often very rough. You need a reasonable level of fitness.
What you need: Trekkers must be self-sufficient. Drinking water can be obtained from streams and creeks, but the visitor centre recommends you carry in about 4L of your own – depending on the season and how many days you’re on the island.
In the wetter months – May to July – the freshwater reserves are usually full but many of the smaller creeks dry up in the warmer months, and you’ll need to consider carrying in more water.
Pack purification tablets and contact the info centre for more info about water access/quality. Five of the seven camp sites (all tents only) have toilets and all have food storage containers to protect rations from resident white-tailed rats. All rubbish should be carried off the island.
More info: Detailed trail notes at www.greatgreenwaytourism.com/thorsborne. Park alerts and track closures are listed on Queensland National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing's website (www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/park-alerts). Also check www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/hinchinbrook-thorsborne and