Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hinchinbrook Island - North Queensland

Northern Ferry preparing to leave Port Hinchinbrook for the 2 hour trip to the island.

Caleb and Jim on the top deck of the ferry with aluminium dinghy following.

Nina Peak on the left (312m) with minor peaks below Mt Bowen (1121m) with looms further to the west.

Transferring hikers to the dinghy to enable entry to the drop off point.

A raised boardwalk through mangroves provides access to Ramsay Bay on the eastern side of the island.
All beaches on the eastern side of the island are broad with very flat waves.

Looking north to Blacksand Beach on Ramsay Bay from Nina Peak.

Caleb on Nina Peak with Pineapple Ridge on the right of frame.

Sunrise over Little Ramsay Bay.

The 'hook' of Hinchinbrook Island for us is the majestic Mt Bowen which rises to 1121m. The Thorsborne Trail which runs for 32km down the eastern side of the island is a very well defined track with few noticeable divergences. The trail is commonly walked from North to South and popular with backpackers and those seeking a multi-day hiking 'entry level' experience along a defined track with tent sites and composting toilets.

We booked this trip 12 months in advance and arrived during unseasonal dry conditions (October 2009). Our plan was to ascend via Pineapple Ridge, overnight in the saddle before summiting the next morning before descending via Warrawilla Creek to Little Ramsay Bay campsite. We had paid for return tickets on the Northern Ferry as we did not originally plan to walk the Thorsborne Trail. Upon arrival it became evident the island (like the Australian mainland) was in the midst of drought. This was despite a National Parks ranger assuring us their was 'plenty of water' on the island the day prior to travel. With no first hand local knowledge of water sources on Mt Bowen we decided to abandon our attempt on Mt Bowen and walk down the Thorsborne Trail. Although bushwalking along a 32km track which gains little more altitude than 300m is not something that usually rings our collective bell, we felt this was the most responsible course of action given the circumstances. This was proven to be justified when we heard from another hiker that a 12 year old (same age as Caleb) had been evacuated from the island recently due to dehydration.

Camping permits must be obtained in advance, which can be booked directly through the Environmental Protection Agency office in Cardwell (ph: 07 4066 8601, web: or Great Green Way Tourism which is located beside the EPA office in the same building. Cost is $5.00 per person per night. Our advice is to speak with Amelia Slade from Great Green Way Tourism (ph: 07 4066 8601 or email: She is the manager of Great Green Way Tourism and is a credible source of information about local conditions on the island and is able to arrange camping permits, ferry and bus bookings and much more. I found Amelia infinitely more knowledgeable than the so called 'ranger' from the EPA office who said the island had plenty of water when it was actually in drought conditions - Wombat! (For those unfamiliar with the Australian wombat please gain enlightenment from the following image:

Most hikers negotiate the Thorsborne Trail quite comfortably in either 3 or 4 nights. The 3 night option requires the following distances to be completed daily:

Day 1:
Arrive on drop off point on the northern end of the island. Walk 4km to Nina Bay and a further 2.5 km to Little Ramsay Bay. Nina Peak may be included as a deviation adding a further 1km and approximately 1 hour. Total distance 6.5km in 4.5 hours (not including Nina Peak). Night 1

Day 2:
Little Ramsay Bay to Zoe Bay. Total distance 10.5km in 6 hours. Night 2

Day 3:
Zoe Bay to Mulligan Falls. Total distance 7.5km in 4.5 hours. Night 3

Day 4:
Mulligan Falls to George Point. Total distance 7.5km in 2.5 hours. Pick up by Southern Ferry to mainland (Dungeness/Lucinda).

Due to high rain fall in the tropics during the wet season during November to March, the most popular time to walk Hinchinbrook Island is during April to September. In heavy rain this walk would become extremely challenging due to the depth and speed of water over multiple creek crossings. Extreme caution would be required following high rainfall, especially if walking with children.


Hinchinbrook Island is a World Heritage listed National Park located just off the Australian coastline between Cardwell (north) and Dungeness / Lucinda (south). We flew from Brisbane to Townsville (2 hours; $90 per adult) and took the Airport Shuttle Bus ph: (07) 4775 5544 (20 minutes, $10 per adult) to the Sunferries Terminal, Sir Leslie Thiess Drive to the Greyhound Bus Terminal. Greyhound Australia services to Cardwell (2 hours, $42 per adult) make be booked online or by telephone for and additional charge. We arrived in Cardwell at 2pm and were picked up by a free shuttle bus and transported to our accommodation at the Kookaburra Holiday Park ph: (07) 4066 8648, The Kookaburra have a range of accommodation options and a small kiosk from where we acquired 2 gas canisters for cooking on the island and these are not able to be carried on public transport. Denese (the on site manager) proved to be another valuable source of local knowledge.

In the afternoon we confirmed our booking for the next day with Hinchinbrook Island Ferries, who provide a free shuttle service pick up in Cardwell to Port Hinchinbrook. The northern ferry leaves everyday of the year at 9am from Port Hinchinbrook to take hikers, day trippers and resort clients and staff to the island. After stopping very briefly at Cape Richards on the northern tip of the island near the resort, the ferry drops proceeds south into Estuary 7 and transfers walkers to a smaller vessel for a short ride to the drop off point. In total the trip takes about 2 hours and the drop off time is usually 11am. This ferry is not reliant upon variant tide times as is the southern ferry. Cost for the northern ferry is $85 per adult and $45 per child one way or $125 per adult return arriving back at Port Hinchinbrook at 5pm. Booking can be made directly with Hinchinbrook Island Ferries: or through Amelia at Great Green Way Tourism.

The Southern Ferry is operated by Hinchinbrook Wilderness Safaris and is much smaller than the Northern Ferry. This is because the distance from the southen end of the island (George Point) to the mainland is only 15 - 20 minutes. The Southern Ferry is similar in size to the aluminium dinghy used by the northern ferry operators to transport hikers for the last few 100 metres to the drop off point. As hikers must cross the tidal estuary of Mulligan Creek on the last day of the hike, the Southern Ferry varies its pick up time at George Point to accommodate hikers crossing this inlet at low to half tide and then walking the further 3km to the George Point pick up. When booking the Southern Ferry either direct ph: 07 4777 8307 or with Amelia Slade (Great Green Way Tourism) a pick up time will be issued relevant to that particular day of departure. Unlike the Northern Ferry the Southern Ferry only run if they have a booking so do not expect it to arrive at George Point everyday. Cost for the Southern Ferry is $50 per adult and $30 per child.


The best advice we can offer on Track notes is to request a copy of the 'Thorsborne Trail Guide, Hinchinbrook Island National Park,' produced by the Environmental Protection Agency Queensland, ph (07) 4066 8601 or email

Amelia Slade from Great Green Way Tourism will also be able to post this guide. Email

This is the most compact and comprehensive source of information you require if you stick on the Thorsborne Trail. Any exploration away from the main trail should only be attempted with the use of a topographical map (Hillock Point 1:50,000 is the best available), compass and much more research from sources including:

- Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, 'Hinchinbrook Island National Parks - mountain Walk Information' ph (07) 4066 8779

- Robert Rankin's trail notes found in Clasic Wild Walks of Australia: Hinchinbrook Island National Park ($49.95) Rankin is a guru of Australian bushwalking and his books are available at many Brisbane City Council and public libraries.

- Amelia Slade, Great Green Way Tourism, Cardwell for local island alerts and rainfall. Email:

- Cardwell Rangers if you get desperate.

To Wear:

* Hat & Sunnies (optional)
* Polyester clothing (cotton stays wet in humid climates)
* Good quality hiking shoes and socks in good condition
Hiking Pack: Adult 70 - 90 litres is an ideal sized pack for Hinchinbrook Island. This may sound like overkill to the intrepid but I like my inflatable sleeping mat and bag. Avoid carrying more than 25kg (including water) unless you are used to it.

To Carry in Pack:
* Thorsborne Trail Guide
* Hillock Point 1:50,000 Topographic map & Compass (if you are planning detours)
* 4L Water (minimum) - check local conditions for water collection points especially at
Blacksand Beach and Little Ramsay Bay (Warrawilla Creek)
* Headlamp
* Mobile Phone (fully charged)
* Personal Location Beacon (may be ordered through Amelia Slade)
* Food:
* Gas cooker and bottles
* Dehydrated food is easily transportable but you might as well eat the packaging of some of it.
Select with care.
* Hydrated food is often eaten first and dehydrated food last. Many good light weight products
are in the marketplace these days. Avoid 'Back Country: Honey Soy Chicken'
* Bulk meals up with pasta, rice and cous cous
* Cereal, powdered milk and dried fruits, nuts
* Muesli bars, fruit (fresh or dried), chocolate, salt (tasty with lunch and for leech removal)
* Tea, coffee, sugar, biscuits
* Mess kit, saucepan, scourer, cloth, bio-degradable detergent
* Powdered electrolyte to stave off cramp
* Tent, poles, pegs, ground sheet, sleeping mat, light sleeping bag, inflatable pillow
Basic First Aid Kit including:
* Sunscreen
* Insect repellent (Bushman's is recommended as the bugs are sometimes unrelenting)
* Bandaids
* Pressure bandage
* Elastic ankle support
* Paracetamol
* Toothbrush and paste
* Personal medications
* Basic first aid book
Wet weather gear:
* Spray jacket with hood
* Change of socks
Cold weather gear:
* Space blanket
* Light Jacket
* Long trousers
* Beanie (head warmer)
Flint or Matches (waterproof) in case of emergency
Shovel, toilet paper, anti-bacterial hand cleaner
Optional Equipment:
* Walking pole/s
* Camera & Batteries
* Change of shirt/clothes
* Thongs (flip flops)
* Gaiters
* Portable bucket
* Swimming costume
* Book, playing cards

The story of the ill-fated journey of the USA Liberator B24 and the 'Red Stiletto' in 1942 and Warren MacDonald gutsy survival story in 1997 are just fascinating and tragic events in the islands history.
These should serve as good reminders to us to not take this place lightly. Although it is a tropical island paradice, it is not a tame environment. Do not be deceived by the idealic post card photographs. Adequate preperation is entirely necessary for a few nights spent out on hinchinbrook Island.

No comments: