I have to admit that I have fantasised about visiting Paronella Park since listening to a podcast by ABC Conversations host Richard Fidler with the current owner of Paronella Park Mark Evans.
Paronella Park was the brainchild of crazy Spaniard José Paronella. José arrived in Australia in 1913 from Catalonia Spain and first spied the land that became Paronella Park at Mena Creek in 1914.
In 1929 he purchased the 13 acres of virgin scrub and set about building his dream. First came the Giant Staircase which became the main access point for the remaining construction works.
The Giant Staircase
Most of the works were completed without heavy machinery and the concrete was poured by hand, there are hundreds of tonnes of it. I cannot imagine the tireless energy and determination José put into building his dream.
But in 1935 just six years later José opened Paronella Park to the public, complete with a castle with ballroom, refreshment rooms and more, one of the first ever hydroelectric power plants in North Queensland, the lower refreshment rooms, picnic areas, the tunnel of love and so much more.
The Paronella Park that remains today is but a shell of its former glory but in many ways that makes it even more lovely to visit. Personally I love the green, where the rainforest has tried to take back the land it once dominated for millennia.
This fountain lies in front of the Lower Refreshments Rooms
My visit to Paronella Park
I arrived to Paronella Park in the late afternoon after exploring the local area for creeks and waterfalls. I was a solo traveller, just me in a camper van and without a booking. You don't need a booking to visit the park but it helps if you want to camp at Paronella Park.
Firstly the basics, entry (as at Jan 2017) is $44 per adult, $23 for kids, $38 concession or $124 for a family of 4. Which on face value sounds a bit expensive but there is more than meets the eye.
Let me start by saying that I was enthralled with Paronella and would happy have paid more to visit. Your entry ticket includes several bonuses:
- Free day and night tours, no cost just book in, I would highly recommend you do both, its worth it for the stories of the park.
- Unlimited free return entry for 2 whole years
- One free night in the on-site campground, this is excellent I will explain more below.
- After hours access into the park after dark
So the ticket price becomes much better value when you look at all the bonuses.
On arrival I was greeted by a staff member in the carpark, she was interested in my visit and pointed me in the right direction for my needs including knowledge that there was still a few camping spots left in the campground.
After buying my entry ticket I also arranged to use my free night camping. The campground is adjacent to the park and allows you direct access into the park both at night and day.
The campground includes sites for vans, campers, large RVs and tents of course. There is power and water to most sites as well as a very cleaning and tidy set of facilities with free hot showers.
The owners of Paronella Park Mark & Judy Evans also own the Mena Creek Hotel which is just across the suspension bridge from the park with meals and free camping also available there.
Mark and Judy are part of the experience and I really enjoyed meeting Mark after our night tour where he happily told us the story, answered questions and chatted with the visitors.
Mena Falls under lights during the after dark tour
Campground guests are able to access the park outside of normal visitor hours. In fact apart from an exclusion period in the early evening during the night tour (which you really should be on) you can access the park whenever you wish.
I got up early in the morning and explored the park in the dawn, I essentially had the entire park to myself.
Exploring Paronella Park in the morning light. The Bamboo Garden one of the many secluded garden spaces in the park.
As I explored the gardens alone in the morning i was delighted to find new spaces, little gardens, alcoves, seats and even wildlife. Down by Mena Creek, which incidentally isn't safe to swim in thanks to a couple of local crocs, I found a proliferation of turtles and fish.
Visiting Paronella Park is very much a trip back in time, exploring a land where a man with a dream created his own wonderland to share with the love of his life and the public.
Only 120km south west of Cairns I would absolutely rank this as one of the top 5 things to do while in Cairns. Make a overnight stay of it, do the day and evening tours as well as a final explore of the park in the early morning.
To find out more about Paronella Park or to book your stay head to their website paronellapark.com.au, Mark & Judy also own the nearby Mamu Tropical Skywalk and offer a joint entry ticket if you are looking for something else to visit in the area.
Read about the things in the Daintree that want to kill you here.
Have an awesome day and enjoy your travels.