Hinchinbrook Island, QLD 2013

Summary: Stunning. An iconic must do bushwalk. Remote beaches, majestic rainforests, wild rivers, water falls with crystal clear swimming holes below. Crocs possible in some waterways and beaches.

Location: 6km off the coast between Cardwell and Lucinda, Queensland.

Duration: 3-4 days

Difficulty: Moderate

Timing: August 2013

High Definition version here on YouTube.

The Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island is a must do for all bush walkers. Words will not be able to describe this walk sufficiently so it’s best to just get out there and experience it for yourself.  Typically, most people will take 3-4 days to complete this short 32km hike, but it can’t be rushed. Take your time and explore. I certainly did.

A great starting point for finding info on the Thorsborne Trail is the check out the  Thorsborne Trail webpage maintained by the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service.

There is a tightly controlled quota of 40 walkers on the island at any one time and you will need to check camping availability and book a camping permit.  Some people have to wait months to secure a booking, large groups in particular. Solo walkers will fare better as single spots become available more readily. Once you have secured a permit, track notes and maps will be posted or emailed along with your permit. If your plans change be sure to inform Parks and cancel your permit to allow others the opportunity to do this walk.

Next you’ll want to decide which way you will be walking north to south (south bound – SOBO) from Ramsay Bay or south to north from (north bound – NOBO) from George Point. My recommendation would be to walk south bound to save the awesome swimming holes for the final days.

To get across to Hinchinbrook SOBO walkers catch a water taxi from Cardwell into Ramsay Bay and NOBO walkers from Lucinda to George Point. Water transport from both ends can booked via Great Green Way Tourism or direct with the water taxi operators.  Tide times and water heights change daily and affect pick-up/drop off times. Public transport is available to Cardwell and Ingham with a shuttle service running between Ingham and Lucinda.

For detailed track notes refer to those written by the parks service. One things I will say that I would never normally say is leave the map, compass and GPS at home – you won’t be needing these on the trail; it is well marked along the entire length.

The trail notes grade the walk as Difficult and overestimate the walking times but I think for the majority of visitors it is probably about right.  The are large number of overseas visitors who have come to walk the iconic track with some strange gear probably aren’t 100% prepared. For experienced bushwalkers I would say the trail is a moderate grade – it is well marked, you can’t get lost, plenty of beach walking but there are some sections of more difficult, rocky terrain. Add in some river and swamp crossings.

Below I’ve highlighted a few memorable things from my walk.

Day 1: Ramsay Bay – Little Ramsay Bay (7km, 4 hours)

Water Taxi: Walking southbound I caught the water taxi across from Cardwell. It took about 45mins and conditions were glassy the whole way. The taxi was fully booked with 11 on board and backpacks tightly packed up the front. The crew from Hinchinbrook Island Cruises were fantastic.

The boat ride took us across Hinchinbrook Channel and it didn’t take long for Mount Bowen to appear across the island’s horizon and dominate the scene as we rounded into Missionary Bay. Mt Bowen is rugged and looks incredible challenging to walk up from our vantage point, let along when you get a true understanding of how thick the rainforest fringing the peak actually is. Perhaps another time but for now I was content with the comfort on board Ocean Adventure 1.

We motored down ever narrowing channels cutting through the mangroves and were essentially boated right through the island, arriving at the small mooring to the west side of Ramsay Bay.

Tropical heat: Wow! Coming from wearing thermals in the deep winter of Victoria two days ago to shorts and t-shirt in tropical north Queensland was awesome. I came to chase the sun and relished it. But wasn’t quite prepared for the humidity. It was hot and the sweat poured out. Nothing that a swim can’t fix.

Nina Bay:  First mangroves to walk through as you descend off the ridge line and approach the beach. The crystal clear river inlet at the north end of Nina Bay looked very inviting for a swim but based on the croc warning signs as we got onto the island I thought I would skip it. Coconut trees lining the beach and husks scattered along the sand gave this place a real tropical paradise feel. It didn’t take long to get into Nina Bay but way too early to call it a day. Onward to Little Ramsay Bay.

Little Ramsay Bay: great little camp sided by the beach on the eastern side and an small inlet to the north. Plenty of goanna tracks and sign around. The food boxes were definitely going to be put to good use. A wild river running into the inlet to the campsite offered a great place to fill up with water and cool off. To gather clean water it was best to go up stream from a pool that everyone seemed to using as a cold water bath.  Very clear water with fish a plenty swimming around.

Day 2: Little Ramsay Bay – Zoe Bay (10.5km, 5 hours)

The biggest day of this walk. 1/3 of the whole Thorsborne Trail.

Start the day barefooted: as you leave Little Ramsay Bay there is a shallow stream that has to be cross about 10 minutes down the beach and potential to get your feet wet if you head around the rocks at the southern end of the bay into a smaller bay beyond (the marked trail takes you over the rocks to the smaller bay).

The saddle at grid ref 274692: climbing to the saddle was quite difficult mainly due to the heat. It was up, up, up through thick forest with little breeze to cool you down. Fantastic views across Zoe Bay and the remainder of the days route in front. Large expanses of mangroves by the look of it.

Contrast of vegetation: the variety of vegetation walked through was huge. From beach, dry sclerophyll ecualypt forest, rainforest, grasslands and mangroves. The spikey Calamus australis (Hairy Mary) looked evil.

Creek crossings near croc warning signs: getting into the mangrove areas near North Zoe Creek and Fan Palm Creek croc warning signs abound. The water looked so inviting for a swim and  you definitely look at logs twice for the creek crossings in this area.

Swamps: there is no avoiding it, your shoes will get wet. Plough on through and stick to the track. Going around and avoiding the mud will only widen and damage the track for others. Walking poles are handy and make sure your shoe laces are tightened or you may be fishing your boot out of the mud.

Zoe Falls: amazing!!!! I initially walked to the falls to collect water for dinner. It was late in the day with an a few hours of sunlight left. On getting to falls I was blown away. A huge pool at the bottom of the falls and crystal clear water. I bolted to the top of the falls to collect water and had no choice but to run back to camp – the view from the top of the falls was amazing and I resolved to cook dinner up. But not before a refreshing swim. Back in camp I through together a small bag with my cook kit, food bag, mask and snorkel and raced back to the falls. The pool below the falls was around 5 or 6m deep and testament to the volume of the water that the falls must have during the wet season – enough to through large boulders around and carve out the pool. The water was refreshing but welcome and amazingly clear. Small schools of perch circled below. Sitting beneath the falls and receiving relaxing massage from the cascading water over head and shoulders is a great way to end the day. But that wasn’t the end of my day. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to cook and eat dinner at the top of the falls watching the sunset across Zoe Bay.

Day 3: Zoe Bay – Mulligan Falls (7.5km, 5 hours)

Short but hard day: Despite the short distance this was a tough day for me. From leaving the top of the Zoe Falls the track is fairly rocky. For the first few km’s of track is thick and overgrown in spots, out in the open and ascending. There was little relief from the sun and it was hot. The odd creek crossing offered short refuges of shade and cool water to soak the bandana in. There was one creek crossing that was straight down and straight back up the other side, not far from the turn off to Sunken Bay.

Dimantina River: lunch stop for the day. A wild, wild river. Awesome. This would be tricky after heavy rain.

Mulligan Falls: again wow! I can see why Parks only allow one night at the Mulligan Falls camp, the setting is spectacular. Camped amongst rainforest and a 1 minute walk to Mulligan Falls. Another amazing water fall and swimming hole. Similar to Zoe Falls but so close to the camp. What better way to spend a hot day than snorkeling, lounging on the rocks and generally relaxing beneath the water fall. I could have easily spent another day or two here.

Native Rats: they are friendly buggers at Mulligan Falls. Right on dusk they start to appear. The little critters jump over your legs and your gear as sit on the ground cooking dinner.  There have been food boxes at all campsite because of these guys but this is the first time I’ve spotted them.

Day 4:  Mulligan Falls – George Point (7.5km, 2.5 hours)

A fairly uneventful day this one. Ensure you leave plenty of time to reach George Point to meet your ride to Lucinda. If you miss it, then you have a lonely night ahead at George Point with no water source and a view of the Lucinda jetty to keep you company.

Wet feet again: curse it. With a full half away of drying in the sun the day before my shoes were perfectly dry and fresh socks felt so good. Not for long. There are a couple of creek crossings to do before hitting the beach and another crossing mid way along Mulligan Bay.

Mud crabs: these guys are cool.

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