HOLY HINCHINBROOK - Thornsborne Trail Hike by Ethan Astall

Just a stones throw offshore from Cardwell or Lucinda FNQ, floats - an island like no other; Hinchinbrook Island, forget the swim up bar and the overpriced cocktails- this King Kong  mountainous magic claims the title of the largest island national park in Australia. With steep mountain ranges reaching peaks of 1121 metres, covered in tropical rainforests, tall eucs, shrub lands, mangrove mud flats, too much lawyer cane then anyone could ever wish for, palm tree swamps, grass tree saddles, sandy beaches and fresher creek crossings then Fiji bottled water with more waterfalls then you can poke a stick at - you’ll be thinking...god i’d love to trek this whole island, and that’s exactly what we did. 

The island itself was once known for the Hinchinbrook Island resort, which was created by Keith Williams. The man was well known for his other more successful tourist destinations of Hamilton island and Sea World, however his creation of hinchinbrook was the least progressive and Williams sadly passed away before the resort could sell enough cocktails to make business and had closed its doors in 2010. Torn apart in true North Queensland style in 2011 by cyclone yasi  it then lost any chance of reopening when it’s standing remnants was burnt down by some local yahoos, (according to Karen at the local iga in Cardwell). 

The island today, is best known to people with legs and potentially legless fisherman keen to wet a line for the Thornsborne trail - named after Arthur Thornsborne. This epic trek is 32 km in length (without detours) and is obviously only accessible by boat (unless your keen to ride a salt water croc 8kms from the mainland with a tent and food) and will have you dropped off in thick mangrove lands that line the island at the western side of Ramsay Bay. Beginning the first km on the beach, you wrap your eyes around the breathtaking mountain ranges in the background, before then commencing the ongoing pass through of forests to beach, trekking 32km south to George’s point trotting every type of terrain you could imagine. 

Any research into the trek including Queensland national parks site (which you’ll also need a compass to navigate) recommends the trek to be taken over at least 3 nights and four days, so it goes without saying, you may be used to hiking...but are you used to hiking with a ten kilo pack on your back containing ten cans of tuna, 4 cans of baked beans, 2kgs of trail mix, 10 muesli bars, 6 L of water, a tent, a first aid kid, two yoga mats kept together with a tourniquet (in case of snake bite), bushmans, sunscreen and a change of clothes? Can confirm, this was the REAL challenge. 

The first day - we hiked from Ramsay bay to banksia bay, along the way we passed through beaches and eucalyptus forest, took a  fresh dip in a fresh water hole, where the base of a mountain meets the beach. Up over the next headland at banksia bay, we decided to set up the $12 Kmart tent at about 2 pm and rest the shoulders from the tonne of a pack and scope out the local croc grounds. What banksia bay lacked in banksia, it sure made up for in mosquitos - in terms of camp grounds about the island - this one probably wasn’t the pick of the lots, and we instantly missed the van and all its comforts of a real mattress - but hey we could only get up from here hahaaaa. 

The second day - HECK!!, without a doubt this is the most monotonous part of the trail , this stint we walked was from banksia bay to Zoe bay measuring in at 10.5km and is under the canopy of rainforest the entire hike,  below our feet was mud and swamp for most of the trek. But hey, take your shoes off and really get those negative ions flowing with some stagnant swamp water. There are no stops or camp grounds this entire stint, you do not pass through any beaches and you don’t pass go or collect $200. We both ran to the beach at the site of the opening to Zoe bay; for the pure excitement at the change of scenery and to sit down and snack on, again - trail mix, sharing the views with a half dozen goannas and a brown snake.

Zoe Bay has a large camp ground which is next to the opening of a large creek, with as you can imagine, has large mosquitos (cue, hand slap). Without much thought and after a draining day, we set up camp at this site then headed to Zoe falls which were only a short walk away. The trail opens up to the base of the falls, dropping twenty metres into a surreal, crystal clear, aqua swimmin ole beneath it, with its only inhabitants being a group of curious and toe nibbling jungle perch. From here, the trek ascends up a short, steep trek to the top of the falls - this infinity pool is like no other, overlooking Zoe bay with rising mountains in every direction that are covered in thick vegetation and clouds. It goes without saying we rethought the camp we’d set up and were quick to climb back down, pack up the tent to then unpack it at the top of the falls, for a much more serene nights camp, “how’s the bloody serenity up here darl?”.  Although seems we weren’t the only ones atop Zoe falls that night, we woke at 2 am to the sound of what we thought was an insect making strange sounds, which turned out to be a rat eating through our tent and into our only breakfast supplies of muesli. (Mouselie)

Day three - Waking to the feeling of melted bushmans sticking the yoga mats to our legs, we took a swim in the top of the falls while the sun rose and ate the mouselie bars before packing up the tent (now complete with airing rat holes) and hit the frog and toad. Today’s walk was planned to get us to mulligan falls, about 8km - the trek on this route reaches the highest elevation of the trek at only 260m elevation, and continues on a little saddle which is lined with shrubbery and black boys - overlooking sunken reef bay and again the many glorious mountains of hinchinbrook.

1 km from the falls the track Y’s to sunken reef bay (one hour return). It was only 9am so we thought...why not? On arrival the water was murky, the beach littered with drift wood and rubbish and there certainly wasn’t any reef that was sunk beneath the croc waters. We perched up for some smoko before spotting a coconut to crack open. Very underwhelming but, hey you never know until ya go. We hit the trek again towards the next falls, after Zoe falls we were pretty set we’d peaked for scenery, but yet again trekking into mulligan falls bloody blew us away again! Not a person in sight, just some lonely jungle perch  (not keen on a nibble), we took a dip and had some tuna and basked in the sun like the filthy island goannas we’d become. 

One pm on the clock and 7.5km to go until the end of the hike. We glanced the map to see if anything else was in between of interest..... there wasn’t. It was 5km along the flat deserted beach to the pick up point back to civilisation, we combed the beach for shells and choofed along the beach eager to complete the journey. Whilst walking the beach there are some drastic signs of erosion with massive eucs fallen over and others struggling to survive the salt water infiltrating their roots. We even found a coconut palm’s root ball still alive and hosting a little casuarina and young coconut palm that had been swamped by sand but still surviving. 

We rolled in to George point at around 3:30 in the afternoon and with high hopes, aching bodies, filth and mud in every crevice of our bodies, and a distinct lack of food left, we rang the ferry company to see if we could be picked up earlier then our planned departure of the following day, we were salivating at the idea of getting off this deserted island and into a real meal, imagining a real life castaway “WILSON” scene at the point. Bbzzzttttt, “nah mate no can do”... we set the tent up and battled the mozzies one last time, dreaming of the van, hot showers and a delectable Napoli topped parma coupled with a schooner; we tucked into our last can of cold baked beans and settled in for a five round game of uno, with fifteen hours left until pick up...but, who was counting.

All in all, mud and swamps aside - this trail takes you through almost as much emotions as it does terrains, and will leave you with just as many good memories as it does mosquito bites.