Hinchinbrook Island: An Undiscovered Paradise

Outdoor Staff — 10 March 2019
There’s nothing remote about the possibility of a trip to Hinchinbrook. Here’s how to make it happen.

There’s a pleasing logic to remote destinations. Because of their remoteness, they receive less traffic, and because of the reduced traffic they manage to stay untouched and pristine. 

The truth is though, it isn’t the remoteness of a place that reduces traffic so much as a place’s reputation as remote. And reputation, being informed by all sorts of jibber-jabber, isn’t always accurate. So we find a few destinations, relatively easy to access and not too far from urban centres, that remain as pristine as if they were in the middle of nowhere, on the other side of a shark-infested moat, surrounded by an armed guard tasked with fending off newcomers.

Sifting through the earth’s gorgeous places in order to uncover those that you can practically get to is the prerogative of us outdoors types, and an activity that has occupied many of us deep into the night. In our own late-night research sessions here at Outdoor, caffeinated to the point of insanity in our quest for answers, one of the places we have uncovered is the Hinchinbrook region in Queensland. Surrounded by more boisterously marketed hotspots, Hinchinbrook benefits from its reputation as far off, but really, it’s not more than a couple of hours’ drive from Townsville or Cairns. And that drive – through what is known as the Great Green Way – renders boredom a foreign concept.


Our readers in Cairns have it easy. They can simply drive down to Cardwell (180km; 2 hours, 20 minutes) or Lucinda (240km; 3 hours), using either of these places as their launching pad, their base on the mainland. 

And even for those who live in other cities around Australia, Cairns is but a direct flight away from major hubs such as Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Alice Springs, Darwin, Brisbane and the Gold Coast; and even further afield, such as from Auckland and Tokyo. The longest national flight is from Perth, at just over four hours; whereas those in Sydney and Melbourne are in for about three hours, and those in Brisbane a measly two. Wisely timed, booked in advance from one of the closer hubs, you could potentially pick up flights for under $200 return; hustled together last minute, from distant Perth, flights could be over $500 return. Of course, specials can change the game completely.

The best thing is, the drive down from Cairns can be a meaningful, enjoyable part of the journey, rather than a mere necessity. When you’re on holiday, that’s what you want – for the getting about, which forms such a big part of holidaying, to not feel like getting about at all. 

The drive hugs the coast, bringing you in close proximity to awesome detours, such as Mission Beach and Dunk Island. From Mission Beach, you can white water raft in Tully River, pedal the Musgrave Track, visit Tam O’Shanter National Park, dive the Great Barrier Reef and encounter wildlife such as cassowaries. From Mission Beach, you can also head to Dunk Island, which is half covered in national park and surrounded by conserved waters; here, you can roam around tracks through rainforest or swim in the clear ocean. 

Such a stop on the way from Cairns would basically break the drive in half, and if you so cared to break the drive up further, you could do so with the likes of Babinda Boulders, Wooroonooran National Park and Edmund Kennedy National Park. 


The other option is to go from Townsville, which is a little closer. From here, it’s 140km (one hour, 40 minutes) to Lucinda and 165km (two hours) to Cardwell. The slim distance is fortunate for the 180,000 who live in Townsville, just as it’s fortunate for those flying in – which can be easily done from urban centres in the east. It’ll take you two hours from Brisbane, Mount Isa and Toowoomba, and about three hours from Darwin, Sydney, and Melbourne. If you are wise with your flights, you could score them at around $200 return from Brisbane and $250 to $300 return from Melbourne and Sydney – if not for better on specials or selected dates.

Similarly to the drive from Cairns, the drive from Townsville tracks through a very special landscape, full of destinations that stand on their own two feet. For example, Paluma Range National Park; this place, that hugs the west side of the Bruce Highway (your route up north), will see you swimming in waterholes near Mount Spec and taking strolls along tracks such as Witt’s Lookout Track and Cloudy Creek Track.


So that’s what makes up the journey there – about six hours of your time, max, and most of that spent encountering the beauty of the Great Green Way. Of course, the best part is being there, in the pristine Hinchinbrook region, with its abundant opportunities to kayak and hike. Not many places boast 16 separate walks, each worthy of your attention. The distances, difficulties and landscapes of these walks are tailored to all possible tastes, and the one that may arguably most satisfy the adventurer’s palate is the Thorsborne Trail. 

This multi-day epic is on Hinchinbrook Island itself (which is hundreds of square kilometres in size). It takes you up rough-going peaks and down again to rocky and sandy shores, along a 32km track passing through rainforest, eucalyptus and swampland. Whilst stomping along, you reach Nina Peak (a radically jutting 312m summit, affording 360 degree views, that catches and holds the eye from down on the beach); the wide Zoe Bay with its white sands and adjacent rainforest; and Mulligan Falls, a short, wide waterfall snaking over rocks into an eminently swimmable waterhole. 

The ideal duration of the hike is three to five days (that’s light on the wallet when camping fees on the island are a tiny $6.55 per person per night). Such a timeframe allows for plenty of unwinding and immersion in the genuinely untouched environment, which has been religiously preserved through conservation; there’s no way a place can change too dramatically when only 40 people are allowed to hike it at any given time. Man has had no hand in shaping this place – only nature has, in its infinitely patient, agenda-free way, refining and refining over the millennia. 

The one question lingering is how to get there. By boat, is the answer, specifically on one of the ferry services. For example, Absolute North Charters can take you back and forth from both the north point (Ramsay Bay) and the south point (George Point) of the Thorsborne Trail, from both Lucinda and Cardwell on the mainland. Transfers from Lucinda to Ramsay Bay and then George Point to Lucinda cost $130 for adults; and for those wanting to repeat the trail in reverse, out of sheer love, it costs $90 for a return transfer from Lucinda to George Point and back again.


The Thorsborne Trail is just one way to experience the island and the region more broadly, in the same way that hiking is just one way – kayaking being the predominant other (I’d have an army of diehard kayakers coming at me with paddles if I didn’t mention this; rightly so). The beauty exists in the free-form, exploration style of paddling that the island, its channel and its coves cater to. 

To do all the facets of Hinchinbrook justice, we’ll delve deeper in future issues of Outdoor, looking into how to spend your time once you’ve found your way there (with ease). 

The key lies in seeing through Hinchinbrook’s reputation as remote, and simultaneously taking advantage of that reputation.


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