November 21, 2017
“Lets go on a road trip,” I said as I sat down to dinner with my friends. “I have it all planned out. Three days, two nights. Day one: Paronella Park, the number one “Must-See” in Queensland. Day Two: Ma:Mu Skywalk. Day Three: Mission Beach to find a Cassowary.” I looked at my friends who were a bit surprised by the spontaneous trip I was proposing. But, what they did not know is that I had actually been wanting to go to Paronella Park since I first arrived in Australia. “But when should be go?” one of them asked. “There is a three day weekend coming up that would be perfect.”
And that is pretty much how the plans for this Mini Road Trip came to be. However, in the end, we postponed the trip for after the semester and shrunk it down to two days, one night. Our itinerary still included driving north three and a half hours to Paronella Park, spending the night here, and then driving a half hour further the next morning to the Ma:Mu Skywalk before returning to Townsville. We had it all planned out from the rental car to discounted double-park passes, to food and camping gear, and navigation and driving. But, the one thing we had not planed for was wet weather.
Being the oldest of our group, Uli was our chofer for the trip. As we left the rental car parking lot, we navigated through town together and were soon out on the open road headed north. Annabell and Julie were quickly asleep in the back seat. As we drove, the clouds became increasingly gray and eventually opened wide and poured down buckets of rain. Remembering that the windscreen wiper button is on the opposite side of “normal,” Uli flicked them on high. Driving through the rain like a pro, about two hours into the trip, Annabell and Julie began to stir in the back seat, both asking for a bathroom stop. We happened to be only about 15 minutes from the Hinchinbrook Look Out, and I told them there would probably be bathrooms there, but in the end they both had to find a nice tree to water because I was wrong and they really had to go. At least their impromptu bathrooms had a great view! After another stretch of driving, we left the freeway and were driving along single-lane, paved roads through the rolling hills of cattle country. Tucked back in the hills, around noon we arrived at Paronella Park and were excited to step back in time and see how one man had built his dream.
After buying our two-park passes for $54 which included one night of camping at Paronella, we drove our car around to the camping area and pitched our tents in a patch of grass off to the side of our camp site. This was only the second of third time that my friends had set-up and slept in a tent. After camp was sorted, we all had lunch and then made our way down to the park for a guided tour through the 13 acres of rainforest gardens. As our tour guide led us around the park, we first passed the yellow house (shown above) which is the house José built for his family to live in. It now is used as a museum room that tells of the history of Paronella Park and the Paronella Family.
Originally from Catalonia, Spain, José Paronella (top right image blow), who was a pastry chef by trade, came to Australia to work on sugar cane farms in 1913. Eleven years later, he returned to Spain to marry his wife, Margarita (top right image below). Then, they both returned to Queensland in 1925. José purchased the land that is now Paronella Park four years later. They had two children, a daughter and a son. By using materials from the property and utilizing the natural waterfall, José created his dream using methods that were ahead of their time, while unfortunately using materials that have not endured the test of time. We learned that José mixed his own concrete from materials found on site and used old railroad tracks for reinforcement. However, the use of sandy materials to build structures in the wet tropics was not a good pairing.
The building of castles, tennis courts, wishing wells, refreshment rooms, theaters, and ornate bathrooms all continued until 1935 when the park officially opened to the public. José put great care into the layout of the park. During the time of development, the large waterfall was used as the anchoring point for the orientation of the surrounding structures. While walking the paths, it was pointed out how the waterfall could be seen from balconies and between walkways throughout the park. The buildings were originally painted bright white. The theater room was decorated with elaborate curtains, a disco ball that cost nearly as much as the property itself, and colorful spotlights.
The entire park was, and still is, self sufficient. After our general tour, we went on a special-access tour of the hydro-room where we learned about how ahead of his time Mr. Paronella truly was. In 1933, José had a fully operating hydro-electric pump, bringing electricity to Northern Queensland thirty years before it became common among households in the area. However, as alluded to, formidable events were on the horizon.
In 1946, the river raged strong during the wet season, due to the impacts of logging along the banks. Eventually, a jam of logs was forcefully chased down the river with relentless force that destroyed a few of the park buildings and damaged the hydro-generator. Additionally, the buildings were beginning to crumble away from natural rainfall. As it turned out, the materials that José had mixed to build his castles were not waterproof.
Since the 1940s, the park has been hit by multiple cyclones, floods (shown above), and general wet-tropics weather that has brought the park to its current state. The hydro-generator was restored in 2009 and supplies the entire park with electricity. However, it seems as though there is not much that can be done to stop the deterioration of the rest of the park.
As we walked around and heard the stories, I realized that the beauty that the park has now is the kind of beauty that comes when the days of something are numbered. As I imagined what the park looked like in its hay-day, I also imagined what it may look like in the future. I know that it would not take much, just another cyclone or flood, and the rest of the structures could be washed away forever.
The left photo above is of the public bathroom, believe it or not. The bathroom was below with a balcony view of the water fall up above. The second photo is of the bridge that leads to Teresa Falls, named after José’s daughter. The three separate waterfalls were specially formed to mimic the large waterfall. And the path on the right is a bamboo trail that connects the many garden areas. The Grand Stair Case, in the top left photo, was the first structure built at the park. It was originally used to transport building materials. Currently, it is used as a marker measuring the heights of major flooding events. On the top right, Julie is feeding baby barramundi from the picnic area that over looks the swimming hole and waterfall.
Even while the park was opened, José was continuously dreaming bigger. There is an unfinished project of his that is quite unique. He built a tunnel that cuts through the hill over the Teresa Falls. His plan was to insert aquariums into the sides of the tunnel. While the tunnel still stands, it is no longer stable enough to walk through, but there is a colony of bats that enjoys calling it home.
After we passed the unfinished tunnel, we came to the crowing jewel of Paronella Park, the main castle. This is the classic image of Paronella that I had been waiting to see. Currently, its state blends in well with its surroundings. There is some remaining green paint on the boards above the windows, but for the most part, there is no white paint remaining and the castle is covered in moss and ferns, making it blend into the rainforest vegetation even more. Its current state fits in so well, it is hard to imagine it being bright white and extravagant. Between the center of the main castle, of course the large waterfall is framed perfectly and there is an ever-flowing fountain out front the castle. As we finished walking around the gardens for the first time, we headed back to our campsite to have dinner as it started to sprinkle a bit. We were glad to find a covered picnic area where we were able to sit and eat, but we did not care for the company that we had…. These huge beetle-bugs were everywhere! They covered the ceiling and randomly fell from above without warning, plopping down all around us. When they flew, they defied gravity as their large bodies blundered through the air, never flying in a straight line. If you found one under foot, with a slow smush it would crush. At one point, I brushed a hair off my neck only to find out that it was one of these beetles that had landed there. Lets just say that with a quick ninja move the bug was no longer a problem. After a dinner dodging giant bugs falling from the sky, we made our way back down to the park for the night tour. We were handed flashlights and umbrellas and immediately needed both once we started walking. There were dozens of people in this tour, which was a bit unfortunate because it was hard to get a photo without a line of umbrellas in the way. I didn’t take many photos though, because we had been caught in a tropical down pour that lasted the entire 45-minute tour. Viewing the large castle at night was nice though, it was lit up bright and music was playing that reminded me of the musical jewelry box that I had as a child. Once the tour was over, we were all very ready to climb into our tents for the night, while hoping that the rain would stop soon. As my friends climbed into their tent, they were greeted with a mini lake inside, which was obvisouly not a good sign. As it continued to pour, we discussed whether we should move their tent to the covered picnic area. “But the bugs,” someone said. Yes, the bugs…no sleep would happen with them flying into the tent all night long. In the end, Julie and Annabell climbed into the tiny car to hide from the rain and Uli went down to the main deck to try to find a dry place to lay. I climbed into my tent hesitantly. Presently, it was still dry; but, I felt as though it was only a matter of time before mine began to leak as well. I dozed for 45 minutes before laying awake for half an hour waiting for the rain to soak through. At the first sign of a drip, I quickly grabbed everything out of my tent and high-tailed it down to where Uli was.
She was awake when I arrived, so we put all of our semi-dry bedding together and said goodnight hoping we could sleep and praying that the rain would stop. I woke up a couple of times, but did manage to get a few hours of consecutive sleep. When we both woke at 6am, we were more than ready to get up.
We hiked back up to the campsite to find Annabell and Julie still asleep in the car, so we packed up the flooded tents before waking them. After we all had breakfast, we ventured down to the park to see how things looked. Below, you can see on the top left a photo of the first day we were there. On the top right, is a photo from the same area, but farther back because the water level had rose considerably, at least three feet, after the rains.
As we walked around the rest of the park, there was still one classic Paronella Park photo that I really wanted. This path is known as Lovers Lane, and is lined with Queensland Kauris trees, which were given to José to plant for preservation purposes. This species used to be abundant in Queensland, but was over harvested. So, now this lane of trees is protected within the gardens along with 7,000 other trees planted by José.I must say thank you to my friends for their patients with all of the photo taking that I do any where we go. For stepping back when I don’t want anyone in the shot, or freezing for a photo when they are standing perfectly. But, also for taking photos of me from funny angles lined up “just so” to create an image I have in my head. Thank you to Annabell for capturing the memory in the photo above. It is one of my favorites of my time in Australia, and my favorite of our trip to Paronella.
José Paronella built this entire park because he had a dream of building a castle and creating a place for people to come and enjoy. For generations, his dream has been continued. Paronella is now said to be the place where “dreams continue” and that is certainty true for me. This trip is happening on my final days in Townsville before I truly branch out on my own to travel along the east coast of AU solo. While I am a bit nervous about going it alone, this has always been my dream. And I think being a bit nervous about it shows me how big this dream truly is and how amazing it will be to accomplish it. But, it wasn’t quite time for me to strike out on my own.
After we had finished wandering the gardens the morning after the wettest night of our lives, we climbed back into our tiny car and headed towards the second destination of our Mini Road Trip: the Ma:Mu Skywalk.