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Attraction : Paronella Park

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We will never forget our experience at Paronella Park.  As soon as we parked the Troopy, we were warmly greeted by Mark the owner, and right from the beginning we knew we were somewhere special.


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Paronella Park is an attraction like no other.  It’s an experience, a journey through someone’s realised dream.  As you walk through the heritage listed grounds, you can see the hard work and persistence that went into constructing this beautiful fantasy – a Spanish castle surrounded by waterfalls, lush rainforest and an enchanted garden.


The day tour through the Park introduced us to the story of the place – a Spanish baker called José who came to Australia in 1913 and worked hard in the sugar industry to earn a large fortune.  He used his wealth to build a beautiful castle surrounded by lush gardens in the Queensland tropics.


Our tour guide revelled in telling us the story, and we were fascinated by it – José’s determination and passion to see his vision become a reality, despite being told that it could not be done, was truly inspiring.  The castle and grounds included a gravity-fed water fountain, tennis courts, a picnic area next to Mena Creek Falls, a movie theatre, and a lavish ballroom that entertained many guests.  Now, after 80 years, several devastating cyclones and a fire, Paronella Park still stands, covered in vivid green moss and has become a part of the surrounding rainforest.


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After the sun went down, we returned to do the night tour.  Everybody was given a torch to light the way and the owner lead us down the paths and through the gardens, telling another story through the eyes of José’s daughter, Teresa. He also provided insight on his own vision of the park, and his plans for its future so that generations to come can enjoy it.


We believe that Mark channels the passion and determination of José to nurture Paronella Park.  After over 20 years, his love of this place and the story hasn’t waned because every person who visits invigorates his enthusiasm with their positive feedback and the impact that the park has made on their lives.  At the end of his tour, everybody was treated with a gift that was truly touching –a piece of the castle, a symbol of turning dreams into reality.


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Our entry to Paronella Park included a night in the adjacent camping park, so we took them up on their offer and moved the Troopy to our designated site, close to the clean amenities and a short walk to the office and café.  In the morning, we explored the grounds once more before eagerly waiting for the café to open so we could have a coffee on the deck.  We thanked Mark and his partner in passion, Judy, for hosting us and made our way to the Palmerston Highway, where our bright orange Paronella Park wrist bands entitled discounted entry to the Ma:mu Tropical Skywalk.


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Ma:mu Tropical Skywalk

About 20 minutes from Paronella Park, the Ma:mu Tropical Skywalk is a great way to learn about Queensland’s rainforests and the surrounding region.  This attraction takes you on a relaxing, self-paced stroll through the forest, up into the canopy and up 100 steps to the top of the observation tower, with beautiful views of the North Johnstone River Gorge below.


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Ma:mu Tropical Skywalk is fairly young, as construction began after Cyclone Larry swept through the area in March 2006 and cleared parts of the forest.  The path and canopy walk were built through and around these clearings and no manual deforestation was required.  It was important for the skywalk to be built in an environmentally sustainable way to minimise its impact on the environment during construction and thereafter.


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As you wander down the path, a complimentary audio device and headset feeds you information about the rainforest, the traditional owners, and the local history.  There is plenty to see on the way, like colourful Ulysses butterflies, huge golden orb spiders sitting in their enormous golden webs and if you’re lucky, a timid cassowary creeping through the bushes.


Ma:mu Tropical Skywalk is located only 15 minutes from Innisfail, is wheelchair accessible and accommodates for the visually impaired.  It’s a good idea to bring along a bottle of water, a hat and some sunscreen, as well as some binoculars if you’re a keen bird watcher.


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Old Ghan Trail

Outback Tracks : Old Ghan Railway Heritage Trail

Old Ghan Trail


Our plan was to follow the Old Ghan Railway Heritage Trail from Alice Springs to Oodnadatta, but it didn’t really turn out that way.  As the track followed the old Ghan Railway, we saw ruins of sidings, each being identical to the last.  The track was also really corrugated and we were concerned about our shocker rubbers, which didn’t last long.


Chambers Pillar

One location we had wanted to visit months ago was the Chambers Pillar Historical Reserve.  Unfortunately, the road leading in was pretty shitty so we had to ask ourselves whether the excursion was worth it.


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Chambers Pillar was named by John MacDouall Stuart after one of his sponsors, James Chambers.  It is a 50m tall sandstone pillar that was used as a landmark during the exploration days.  The base of the pillar is riddled with names carved into the soft sandstone, including initials by Alfred Giles from 1870 and scribbles by recent tourists.  From the base, you can see the nearby Castle Rock.


Camping at Chambers Pillar is available at a small fee, and toilets and BBQs are provided.


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Once we left Chambers Pillar, the road did not improve.  We found that the track follows alongside the Finke Desert Race track so we switched lanes to see if the conditions were better.  While the race track was smoother, it was also consistently undulating, and after 20 minutes, we had to get off because we made ourselves seasick!


We camped at Engoordina Ruins, a crumbled siding for the old railway.


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We got into Finke 8am, just as some local men started work to the sounds of sappy love songs.  Is this a common thing in the Centralian desert – to listen to 90s love ballads about lost love and broken hearts?


While Dave fitted some makeshift shocker rubbers fashioned from scrap tyre, Juz wandered around and noticed she was being followed by stray dogs.  We considered continuing along the Old Ghan Heritage Trail but figured that this would be a better time than any to head back to the highway.  We were tired of seeing the same ruins over and over, and the corrugations were going to shake the doors off the Troopy, so we turned towards Kulgera.


Lambert Centre

On the way back to the highway, we stopped in to check out the geographical and gravitational centre of Australia.  Established in 1988, the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia determined the Lambert Centre to be the geographical centre of Australia.  Lambert was a former director of the Division of National Mapping.


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There is a monument that resembles the flagpole atop the Parliament House in Canberra and a visitor’s book, as well as a large camping area, smelly toilets and millions of flies.


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