If you live in North Queensland, a visit to Hinchinbrook Island is a must. If you are physically able, walking the Thorsborne Trail along the length of this iconic island takes it to the next level.
It’s been a long time since I was there, and my efforts to walk the trail again were thwarted last year by my knee troubles. Whether or not I’ll regain enough strength to get back to hiking overnight is not certain just yet, so while that’s still playing out I’ll have to reminisce instead.
Hinchinbrook was my first fully self-sufficient overnight walk. I’d previously done the Inca Trail with porters and the Routeburn Track in huts, but this time we took everything and slept in a tent. I was pretty excited; walking through the unspoilt bush with everything I needed on my back was appealing on so many levels.
The Thorsborne Trail is one of the few walks in North Queensland that has efficient and readily available track transport (maybe the only one?). The boat trips to the island are a nice start and finish; Hinchinbrook channel is a scenic spot that is itself a destination for visitors. The island is a big mountainous one that I didn’t have any context for until I was standing on the beach at George’s point (for reference, we walked north).
Starting with a long beach walk is a good way to ease into the island. You get to do that nice tourist thing of enjoying the beach; forget the kilos on your back, for now, you have fresh legs and enthusiasm! We had a little shower of rain to cool us down and otherwise made it to camp without any issues, albeit a few close calls on the slick river rocks in the swampy forest.
Mulligan Falls is one of those picture perfect tropical waterholes: a waterfall cascades into a large deep pool surrounded by lush bush. It’s an ideal place for a swim to cool off. There was only one other hiker here, the result of the strictly controlled permitting system which only allows 40 people on the trail at any one time. To be honest, I’d guess half of them may not have even shown up as we encountered so few. We spent a relaxed and quiet first evening eating our dehydrated dinner and having a quiet cuppa before bed.
After a fairly civilised first night on the trail, we were into our second day, taking us through to Zoe Falls. This was a more physical day, with a hot climb to the top of the trail and some boulder-strewn creek crossings ahead. Along the way, we passed through a grove of blue banksias, found only here on Hinchinbrook, and I had a near-death experience with an enormous golden orb weaver spider when I ducked under a log and straight through its web (please note: I do not think spiders are cool). This is sometimes a well-trodden trail, but it’s also natural and rough in many places, sometimes with only tree markers as guides and a choose-your-own-adventure vibe. The unadulterated feel is what makes it such a great walk.
The day’s walk culminated with the view atop Zoe Falls, looking across the bay and onwards. Life felt good; tiring and dirty, but good. We headed down to the base of the falls for a well-deserved dip in the waterhole. After, we found a luxurious campsite on the beach, complete with a picnic table and million-dollar view. We set up camp and explored the beachfront before settling into our nightly ritual of dinner, tea, storage in the rat-proof boxes, and bed.
I slept heavily and woke at dawn. First light is the best part of the day and going to bed early in the night means you get to enjoy it. Being up and down with the sun is one of the most satisfying parts of camping for me, especially as I can be an insomniac at home. It’s amazing how comfortable a thin piece of foam feels after the toil of a day’s walk.
Day Three took in more beautiful scenery and rough tracks. We crossed a palm swamp without taking our boots off and congratulated ourselves no end for staying dry (if you’ve ever stood on palm fronds you know they leave really annoying splinters that are impossible to dig out, so there was no way we were bare-footing it through that swamp). The swamp crossing led to quite a few funny moments as we teetered and scampered our way across sometimes meagre and often floating footholds. We were victorious in the end and our dry boots gave us a smug spring in our step. More stunning empty beaches and some cliff-edge beauty followed, along with some interesting ups and downs.
Our final campsite at Nina Bay was glorious. We settled under a sprawling Calophyllum tree and soaked up the beachside sunset as we made our dinner and tea.
The next morning was a shortish walk to the ferry, mostly along the beach, and taking in one saltwater crossing. I’ve heard a lot of people say how they’ve gone across this creek in waist-deep water and it horrifies me. Don’t be fooled, this is crocodile country and it’s no secret that there are some monsters living in Hinchinbrook Channel. I can’t emphasise it strongly enough – wait for low tide. Seriously. Crocodiles DO eat people. That aside, this is a nice walk, ok?
The thing that struck me most about Hinchinbrook was the way the environment changed so rapidly: one moment we were in a palm swamp, the next, an estuarine system bordered with crinum lilies, then the beach, then a tea tree forest. It’s an amazing contrast. It’s also a trail that clings onto its wildness, despite being an international favourite. It’s a Jurassic Park kind of place, and yes, it even has some dinosaurs living there still.