Day 7: Paronella Park and arrival at our Cairns Ho(s)tel

Where Else But Queensland?

Day 7: Paronella Park

Words: Andy. Pictures: Chris (creolumen.photography)

Another overcast morning as we packed our bags, having worn out our welcome.. well… completed our stay at Wonga Beach. What a beautiful part of the world, can highly recommend this patch of paradise, God’s country, or whatever cliche you’d like to attribute. They’re all true. We were about to expose ourselves to Katter country, but more on that later.

The drive south was peppered with tears from heaven, as light rain followed us, Wonga Beach tearful of our departure. Or maybe that’s the ambient cannabis talking, since I accidentally booked us into a hostel instead of a hotel for our last two nights. Either way, the rain stayed with us down the coast and we hit Cairns a little bit before 11:30 am. It was nowhere near time to check in to our “hotel” at that stage (yes, I still thought we were up for a couple of nights of pampered bliss) so we decided to drive out to today’s activity: Paronella Park.

 

Paronella Park is about an hour and a half south of Cairns, so my travel companion was getting a little bit tetchy at the thought of it, especially when the GPS told us the road was closed ahead and re-routed our trip to a three-hour trek. I pulled over at White Rock and called the lovely people at the park to see if we could get a refund. Three hours each way just wasn’t going to cut it. The lass on the other end of the phone assured me the roads were open because her computer said so, and pretty much told us to keep driving, so I did. Siri wasn’t having a bar of it and kept wanting us to turn back and go take the three hour trip, but we said no, so she took us out of our way anyway into a little loop of the back streets of Gordon Vale then funnelled us out back out the street she led us there with. We still weren’t playing her game and continued on the Bruce Highway. The road wasn’t closed… just a bunch of road works…

The rain continued as we drove, and remembering our plight for ponchos and the expensive umbrellas at Mossman Gorge, we decided to pop into Innisfail in search of some ponchos. The first intersection had a car parking space, a pharmacy and was just across the road from Bob Katter’s office. We had entered the Twilight Zone, but knew if we hurried, the space time continuum wouldn’t shut us in. How many pharmacy staff members does it take to find the ponchos? Three. And they’re not near the brollies! Nor do they scan through the register, but word in the Pharmacy Guild is if you punch in the barcode number, it brings up the price for you. Chris made me go through the McDonalds’ Drive Thru and buy thickshakes before we made a hasty exit from iFail and dared out to Paronalla Park. The countryside between Cairns and Innisfail isn’t as picturesque as the northern patch above Cairns, but as you approach Paranella Park, there are some cute little areas where cane fields butt up against banana crops and even a small crop of pawpaw. A hundred metres before you hit Mena Falls is the entrance to Paronella Park, which contains the ruins of a once grand playground.

Jose Paronella was born in 1897 and started work as a pastry cook when he was ten (yes, ten). Tired of his career path before he reached his twenties, he decided to take advantage of the promise Australia offered to make a life here. He’d had a marriage arranged for him, but put that on ice, not knowing what he’d be bringing his bride to, but said “don’t fear, I’ll be back” or whatever form that took for a young Spaniard in the early 20th century. He kind of forgot to return in the eight years he promised and also kind of forgot to write or send anything back home, so when he eventually did 12 years later, hos betrothed, Matilda, had married someone else and started a family. As luck should have, the family had a spare daughter, Margarita, so he married her instead and brought her to Australia. By this time, Jose had accumulated some wealth and bought the land on which Paronella Park now stands.

 

Jose was a bit of an inventive thinker. He’d seen some things he liked throughout Europe while honeymooning with Margarita, including castles and hydro-electricity, so of course that’s what he was going to build by the creek on his Queensland property! His vision, in the the 1930’s, was to build a public space for people to enjoy, and to power it with hydro electricity. Considering the town didn’t get electricity until the 1950’s, Jose was labelled as eccentric, but he got to work anyway.

The first structure he build was the 47-step grand staircase to make the task of bringing the water and river sand to the top of the property easier. Next was Paronella Cottage, where he and Margarita raised their two children. In addition, he built balustrades along the edge of the creek, picnic tables at different levels for everyone o enjoy the view of the water fall and, oh yeah, a castle. The castle structures through the park once housed a small museum and ice cream parlour, theatre/ball room, as well as a tennis courts, a tunnel and gardens across the 5-hectare property.

 

We hopped onto the tour, which oriented us to the park and gave us the history of the place and the people behind it. The ruins are pretty much secured now, having suffered many blows from nature, starting with a flood in 1946 and several cyclones which have swept away parts of the building over the years. In the ruins that was once the theatre/ballroom hangs a large mirror ball. It’s not the original, as you might guess, but a reminder of the one Jose paid 600 pounds for  back in the day ($50000 in today’s money). Concrete urns are doted around the rails and balustrades from which ferns and bromeliads grow. Looking out over the concrete balustrade where the waterfall pools, you could easily imagine being at the back of the Von Trapp’s house in Austria.

Paths through the garden lead in one direction to the turtle viewing area where you can see snap turtles peering up out of the water, like they’re gazing right up at you for attention. Large fish and eels also swim through the water and a bush turkey patrols the edge of the creek to keep everyone in line.

Further in is an avenue of Kauri Pines Jose planted in patnership with Queensland forestry. This was at a time when kauri pines had almost been completely eradicated by logging. On the other side of the pines is Theresa Falls, which is a small waterfall dropping over a weir Jose made to mimic the main waterfall. Clearly Jose had a big vision and he laboured for years to bring his dream alive, including the hydro-electric plant on site, the first of its kind in Queensland and restored earlier this century and powers the entire site today.

Other features on the property include a water feature in front of the pavilion near the old tennis courts built by Jose’s son, Joe,  in memory of his father. The large oval pond is surrounded by gravity-fed water pipes that shoot water into the air, rather than rely on electricity. There’s also a swinging bridge across the creek which is fun to walk (bounce) along.

 

After a couple of hours having a good wander, including through the museum inside the restored cottage, it was time to turn back towards Cairns. The rain had held off while we walked around the park, negating the need for the ponchos we bought and the free umbrellas they have available for use at the park, but accompanied us for the full drive back. The Love Boat was in town when we arrived – the Coral Princess was moored at the Cairns terminal, so after we found ho(s)tel and carried our bags up two flights of stairs because hotels have lifts, but hostels have stairs, we set out for a wander around town to take a few photos of the boat (cruise ship) and found a nice sushi bar (Orient Express Sushi Train) and filled up on sushi before heading around to Ben and Jerry’s for some ice cream. Can’t wait for the sugar withdrawals next week!

Tomorrow we’re rafting down the Barron River in the afternoon, so it’s been lovely knowing you all!

X O

 

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