As our road trip continued, leaving Cairns, we had no plans in place so we consulted our inspiration list from Chelsea and saw the next place on the list was Paronella Park. A brief internet search found out ticket prices and address and we zoomed off leaving beautiful Cairns in our dust.
The drive South was a far cry from the sandy beaches the weaving roads kissed as we headed north but the spectacular view of the hills inland, awash with a multitude of greens, was more than ample to tickle my scenery taste buds. As we blindly followed the sat nav along the 60mph Bruce Highway through the sugar cane fields, train tracks crisscrossed the road frequently, no lights or barriers for warning of oncoming trains, just a sign post stating “Look out for trains”. You know that nervous feeling, in your car, heading down a back lane over crossroads, not knowing if another car will be heading along at the same time? This was like that, only with the impending danger being quite a size bigger. The resulting heart palpitations and sweaty palms as we hurtled over crossings faded the more lines we crossed, solace founded in the lack of any trains on the lines parallel to the road.
We eventually turned off and headed inland where we started to feel a bit more off the beaten track.
Arrival at the park was welcomed with a beaming smile, directing us the where to park before buying tickets. As we climbed the timber steps into the reception a guy (who we later discovered was the owner) gave us an enthusiastic run down of the park and what our tickets would include, most thankfully, a free nights camp. The kind lady on the desk gave us student discount with only Holly’s 7 year old student card and saved us $8. Every little helps! As we milled about the reception, looking at the souvenirs available, I noticed I was wearing my leaving gift from Hillsy. A T-shirt with a picture of us two on the front, and him half naked, asleep and holding a bottle of Carona on the back. Hardly attire for a family park, kids probably pointing and sneering behind my back. Maybe I should change…
We found our allotted site and getting ever used to the camping lifestyle, we were set up in minutes and headed off to explore the park.
Our backpackers loins were stroked again with free water offered on the fan cooled deck behind the reception.
Blown away by the exceptional service thus far, we headed out with the first tour that left since out arrival and booked ourselves on the night tour.
As we were guided through the park we saw the life that the Spaniard, Jose Paronella, had built here. Constructing castles inspired by Catalan and forging paths and tunnels throughout the jungle, he created a park for others enjoyment. With a ballroom and one of the largest disco balls in the southern hemisphere, the rooms are getting re-built and will play host to future weddings. Even after building all these antique structures Jose didn’t live in the castles, and opted for a small bungalow with arguably the best views of the park and castles. They say this was so he could enjoy the view of what he built. I think this view was also shared by Karl Pilkington when that idiot went abroad to Egypt. Our tour guide had an eagerness and devotion to the job that lifted the tour. A tremendous waterfall sits at the head of the park overlooked by the main castle with a (thankfully) sturdy bridge crossing it.
Again we gawked at the plethora of plants in the jungle and the attention to detail in Jose’s design. Pathways through the jungle set by trees and plants, including a “Lovers Lane” where sailors would woo the local ladies, leading to a smaller waterfall named after his daughter.
We were both blown away by not only the thoughts of Jose and his reasons behind the construction of this park, but also by the new owner and his restoration. Privately owned and funded, the owners are keen to restore the park to as near as possible to its original glory days, with help from Jose’s daughter. Their devotion to this is a symbol of how we feel a lot of the Australians have been so far – passionate.
The evening tour was even better. With each large spectacle of the tour lit up, only enhancing the true beauty of these relics. The Milky Way as prominent as we’ve ever seen lit up our night sky as we wandered wide-eyed.
“Take a look down there and everyone turn your torches off” asked the guide as we approached a small opening in a large bush. He beamed his seemingly everlasting light down the void and explained “Now turn around and luck up”. He extinguished his torch, plunging us into darkness and there, glittered amongst the row of trees behind us was hundreds of fire flies, their lights pulsing to their own rhythm. Truly enchanted by the wholly natural show being performed for us, the ooo’s and ahhhh’s ensued. An indescribable feeling was present that night, reaching far past wonder and amazement, enraptured by the beauty. Photographs were impossible in the dark night, but were unnecessary. This moment was etched into everyone’s memory, forever.
That perennial thought crossed my mind that night. How can this be experience be beaten? Did we peak too early? Every day brings new adventure and an unbelievable feeling of wonder of this magical land I am falling truly in love with. You fall asleep and wake up everyday, filled with excitement. We don’t need a plan to know that we are going to be lavished with wonder each day. I used to scoff at the idea of people coming out here for a year and not getting bored travelling through. I now only wonder how the fuck I can manage it in only 4 weeks.
An immeasurable amount of gratitude goes out to Chelsea from Dougies. Without your kind wisdom, we would never have seen this gem, and we are both truly and forever grateful.
The next morning we were joined for breakfast by a cassowary, who we left with a taste for scrambled eggs and toast. Hitting the road again felt good, each day bringing new exploits. This time it was another short drive to Mission Beach, again suggested by Chelsea and again, did not disappoint.
We immediately found a bargain campsite, nestled right on the beach front. Despite the terrible jokes offered by the receptionist, we decided to stay the night.
Mission Beach is a very small town, the kind with one supermarket, where everyone knows each other’s name and where doors are left unlocked. We arrived to a power cut, which no one seemed particularly fussed about and we were allowed on the campsite, even though we had no money to pay until an atm was working. Would that happen back home, maybe not?
It was just what I needed, no plan, no ties, no worries. Even days that aren’t filled with trips to attractions, still seem to just be astounding. The day fills up and you get busy doing nothing. It truly is “The Life”.
A local bar, one of two, provided a night cap. We over heard that the bar closes around 9.30, seemingly the whole town closing down for bed then too. We could hear a boisterous cockney behind us. As she regained stories to the locals about how awesome she was at travelling and how long she’d been away for, we thought it best to slink out of there before her pompous nose was thrust into our business and life. After being ripped off for two packets of crisps, we wandered home with some chips to call it a night, exhausted from all the sitting around…
We woke up to a beautiful mission beach, but our joy was short lived. Discovering a multitude of mosquito bites, soon turned us to cursing the little fuckers. What is the point in them? What is their purpose? Is it just to aggravate us blood filled sacks of flesh? If it is, they do a fucking good job!
Our spirits weren’t dampened for too long realising another day of adventure was afoot as we headed off on the road again.
We decided to stop at Townsville, after no research as it seemed like a good distance to travel to break up my driving.