A writer sharing travels, experiences, a love of festivals & events. Life is a journey and I hope to inspire others. Visit my blog at https://www.travelwithirenke.blogspot.com
Published June 28th 2021
Something special awaits with a visit to this 'park'. It's no ordinary park. It's a heritage-listed attraction that came about from the realisation of a dream and a vision by a Spaniard to build a castle.
For me this structure, that is the refreshment rooms on the lower level, was a highlight
Josť Paronella's story is an interesting one. He sailed to Australia in 1913 from Catalonia in Northern Spain and set himself up in Innisfail. Originally a pastry chef in his homeland, he made his wealth in Queensland through buying, improving and selling sugar cane farms. Travelling through the beautiful countryside, he came across a 'virgin forest' alongside a spectacular waterfall and decided this was the perfect location for his dream.
In the rural locality of Mena Creek in tropical Far North Queensland, his creation came to fruition through days and nights of hard work over several years. He was never a builder, nor an architect or engineer but a man able to learn from taking in the visual aspects of something he saw. The design of the castle came from his childhood memories of Catalan castles, of which there are some 600 in the Catalonia region. With Barcelona not far away, he was also inspired by famous architect Gaudi (responsible for the Sagrada Familia church).
Completed in 1935, Josť (together with his wife Margarita) welcomed guests to Paronella Park to enjoy the castle's movie theatre, which was transformed on weekends into a huge ballroom with live bands for entertainment and a massive ball of mirrors hanging from the ceiling, reflecting out a dazzle of coloured lights.
The ballroom that has seen better days in its heyday as the castle's main entertainment area
Surrounded by plantings of more than 7,000 tropical plants and trees (now a lush rainforest), the castle was not all that Josť created here. He built North Queensland's first river-driven hydro electric plant to power the 13-acres of the park, as well as bridges, tennis courts from crushed termite mounds and Teresa Falls (a waterfall named after his daughter). The latter was his most notable work. It saw him cutting a tunnel (that has an ornamental entrance) through a hill to save people the trouble of climbing around it to reach the miniature waterfall. Remember, he had no experience in doing any of these things. It's quite amazing and just shows you where there's a will, there's a way. Unfortunately, these days you can't venture to this waterfall as the ground is too unstable.
The tennis courts have gone but this structure looks like a spot for an umpire or spectators
The estate is divided into upper and lower levels that are linked by a 47-step staircase on one side of the castle and a service road on the other side. The upper level today features the ruins of the main castle and ballroom (caused by a fire), a wishing well, a cottage museum featuring a variety of interesting keepsakes, a cafe and gift shop. On the lower level, you have the pavilion with turret-topped balconies containing refreshment rooms and cubicles for swimmers, a large fountain and a number of avenues that lead you down paths of beauty, including Lovers Lane and the Tunnel of Love, Palm Grove, the Bamboo Forest and Kauri Avenue with its tower of Kauri trees that look like cathedral spires in a sacred forest.
For those with mobility issues, the staff are very accommodating and will drive you down to the lower level and pick you up later at an arranged time.
The property runs parallel to the creek, with a picnic area giving you views of Mena Creek Falls and the overhead suspension bridge. Fish bop about in the creek here and further down at the end of the property, where there is also a turtle nesting area. A variety of birds and butterflies have also become a part of the amazing habitat of the park's gardens.
A serene place to picnic and view Mena Creek Falls
There's a lot of beauty in the gardens and the structures to be seen today despite destruction from fire, a mass of logs from an upstream clearing descending on the park, multiple floods and a couple of powerful cyclones (Larry and Yasi) ravishing the area in past years. Both Josť and the current owners Mark and Judy Evans (Josť passed away in 1948) have restored parts of the park over the course of time to allow this 'almost lost world' to stay open.
You can learn more of the history of the park and stories around Josť by taking a tour or two. There's the daytime tour 'The Dream Continues', which is a 30-minute guided walk through the highlights of the park as it tells of Josť's dreams and visions, and a 'Darkness Falls' tour (45-minutes) where guests are shown the secrets and delights that are Paronella Park at night and it's a special way to extend your experience as there is a light show on the facade of the refreshment rooms, coupled with some beautiful pieces of music. You can do one or both tours and they're included in your admission price.
The 'Darkness Falls' Tour is magical with lights changing colour and music that mesmerises
There's also a self-guided Botanical Walk you can do with a booklet containing details of the park's flora and a Hydro tour that gives you insight into the engine room of this plant built at the face of a sheer cliff.
Entry to Paronella Park is $50 per adult, $45 for pensioners and $28 for children (5-15yrs), with your ticket valid for multiple visits over 2 years. A map, fish food, umbrella and torch are included in the admission cost and, for those staying overnight, there's 1 free night in the adjoining caravan park and campground. Alternatively, you can stay in an overnight cabin (with 1 Queen bed or 2 singles) onsite for an additional $98. Bookings are essential for the night tour and overnight stays.
Paronella is easy to get to by car. From Innisfail it is a 20-minute drive on the Old Bruce Hwy and from Cairns it's 90-minutes along the Bruce Hwy and the Innisfail Japoon Road (aka Old Bruce Hwy) leading into Mena Creek. If you don't want to drive, you can do a small group bus tour from Cairns. I did a combined day and evening tour called The Paronella Experience. It's operated by Tour Logistics, begins at noon, and takes in Babinda Boulders and Etty Bay for some cassowary spotting and afternoon tea before heading to Paronella Park for the day tour, followed by an optional dinner at Mena Creek Hotel and the finale of the night tour back at the park. The tour is great value at $128 per adult and $88 per child (5yrs & up) and includes everything mentioned in the park entry price. It was well organised with hotel pick up and our driver/guide went above and beyond for those with special needs.