Our family had been wanting to visit Paronella Park for ages but each time we went to Tropical North Queensland, we didn’t have time for any Cairns day trips. This time we were determined to get there and set aside a full day to explore the Atherton Tablelands region where Paronella Park is located. On our self guided trip, we planned to visit the Mamu Tropical Skywalk rainforest canopy walkway and Paronella Park plus a few other attractions before we returned to the Oaks Cairns Hotel.
Our day trip kicked off with stunning mountain views and more than 250 twisting turns on the road up Lamb Range to the extinct volcanic crater which forms Lake Barrine. This deep rainwater lake is home to amethystine pythons, snapping turtles and eastern water dragons and a stroll around the lake revealed them all along with a cormorant in search of lunch. The water was so clear we could watch the large bird pursue darting fish beneath the surface of the lake until it finally made a catch.
Our next stop was the Mamu Tropical Skywalk. Buying a combined ticket to Paronella Park and the skywalk is the most affordable and easiest way to visit these two attractions. A 40 metre cantilevered platform extends out into the rainforest and at the end of another elevated walkway we climbed a 37 metre high tower which had our heads in the clouds. The Mamu walkway has been designed to have minimal impact on the rainforest and is home to many animals including red-legged pademelons and endangered cassowaries. Brightly coloured birds and electric blue Ulysses butterflies flittered through the trees as we scampered along the path, trying to avoid the bitey March flies. Don’t make the same mistake we did and leave your insect repellent at the hotel.
After exploring the Mamu Tropical Skywalk, we went to Paronella Park to see the ruins of a rainforest-draped Spanish castle built by romantic visionary José Paronella in the 1930s. José was a local cane farmer who was inspired by childhood memories of Catalonian castles to build a turreted folly beside Mena Creek Falls. People thought he was crazy but José soon turned Paronella Park into a must see destination. This is an unusual place and most of the park is a ruin but the spirit of José’s grand dream lives on.
With a little imagination and the help of a guide, the lichen covered picnic tables, delicate fountains and remains of a grand ballroom took us back to Paronella Park in its heyday. Tours of the site are included in the cost of admission and shouldn’t be missed. There’s no need to rush your visit as tickets are valid for 24 months.
One of my favourite spots was the tiny museum which included everything from original Paronella Park souvenirs from the 1950s to the projector which turned Paronella Park into a picture palace. Watching a movie with the sound of Mena Creek Falls in the distance would have been a magical experience. After exploring Paronella Park we had time to stop at the Giant Curtain Fig Tree before we watched the sky turn liquid orange behind two of Queensland’s highest mountains on the drive back to our hotel. If you would prefer not to drive, it’s also possible to visit Paronella Park on a day tour from Cairns.
Disclosure: The writer visited as a guest of Mamu Tropical Skywalk and Paronella Park.