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Growing up in southeast Queensland, 1,500 kilometers south of Townsville, I had never heard of Hinchinbrook Island. And, I had never heard of the Thorsborne Trail that runs along its eastern coastline. But as we made our way steadily north on our road trip from Brisbane to the Cape, it became clear that this hike, rated amongst the best walks on the planet, was an experience not to be missed. So, we set out to conquer the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island and discovered one of the best experiences wild Australia has to offer.
Hinchinbrook Island is located about 100 kilometers north of Townsville, just off the coast of Cardwell. Hinchinbrook Island is the largest island on the Great Barrier Reef. Despite this, it is uninhabited and strictly administered by Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service which allows only 40 people on the island at any given time. This careful management has preserved the many unique and spectacular environments here and the native fauna that calls this island paradise home.
Along the exposed eastern coastline of the island, the 32-kilometer Thorsborne trail runs north to south. Along the trail, you will discover stunning bays, craggy peaks, and magnificent waterfalls, as you hike through swamp, and jungle, mangroves, and scrub. All the time surrounded by the sights and sounds of a real-life Jurassic Park, forgotten and untouched by the modern world for a million years.
One of Australia’s and indeed the world’s premier hikes, walking the Thorsborne Trail, Hinchinbrook Island, is a right of passage for any north Queensland bushwalker, adventurer, or naturalist. But this adventure should also be mandatory on any itinerary that passes through beautiful North Queensland. But! The accessibility, weather, and the local fauna provide several challenges that should be considered before hiking Thorsborne Trail Hinchinbrook Island. We have put together a list of the most important things to know before hiking Thorsborne Trail Hinchinbrook Island.
Do I Need to Book the Thorsborne Trail Hinchinbrook Island?
Before you even arrive to hike the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island, the first challenge is booking your spot!
Only forty people are allowed to stay on the island at any given time which means availability is extremely limited. Add to that the fickle weather of North Queensland and it can be difficult to find a suitable time to undertake this adventure. With time to spare, we booked and canceled the trail several times waiting for decent weather. Not everyone will have the luxury of picking and choosing a time like this, but, where possible, build as much flexibility into your travel plan as you can.
Finally, after monitoring and trying to sync trail availability, our own work calendars, and the weather for a couple of months, we struck gold. A weekend in October just before the wet season was due to begin, we found a string of sunny days that coincided with our days off and a couple of available spots on the trail. A week before our booking the weather still looked promising, so we booked our charter tickets. Our patience was rewarded with perfect warm weather and blue skies for hiking Thorsborne trail Hinchinbrook Island.
Hiking and camping permits are administered by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. During dry season permits are often booked out six months to one year in advance, particularly on weekends. Obviously, with this sort of long-range planning, combined with the relaxed cancellation policies and low booking fees of QPWS ($6.75 per person per night), cancellations are frequent. We found that by regularly monitoring the campsite booking system spots we wanted would regularly become available. This may be true for a party of two like us, for larger groups I imagine the exercise in coordination will grow exponentially more complex.
Once you have reserved your spot (or a couple of tentative spots), you might want to start monitoring the weather.
Finally, as your weekend approaches and the weather looks good you will need to book your passage to the island. Read on to discover how to get to Hinchinbrook Island.
How to Get to Hinchinbrook Island?
Hinchinbrook Island is located 8 km off the coast of Cardwell in North Queensland. The island itself is accessible from the two nearby port towns of Cardwell and Lucinda. Cardwell is approximately 165 km north of Townsville and 190 km south of Cairns. Lucinda is 140 km north of Townsville and 250 km south of Cairns.
Charter service from Townsville can be arranged from Absolute North Charters, one of the two boat charters who operate transfers to Hinchinbrook Island.
Once in Cardwell or Lucinda, you will need a ferry transportation service to the island. Absolute North Charters operates one ferry service out of Lucinda for $155 per person and Hinchinbrook Island Cruises operates out of Cardwell for $165 per person.
The hour-long trip from Lucinda to the Northern end of the trail was an adventure in itself. As you travel up beside the massive island, you begin to get a sense of the adventure that awaits. We used Absolute North Charters and our skipper John was a wealth of information on hiking the Thorsborne Trail and Hinchinbrook Island in general.
How Long Does It Take to Walk the Thorsborne Trail Hinchinbrook Island?
A common question for first-time walkers, and one we struggled with when planning the Thorsborne Trail, is how many days will you need?
Lots of people recommend the longer the better. Some say that to really experience the island anything less than three nights would be rushed and you would miss out.
From our personal experience, two nights with three days of walking was plenty of time for us to see and experience the trail. We spent our first night camping at Banksia Bay and our second night at Mulligan Falls. This meant we walked approximately 8 kms on Day 1, 16.5 kms on Day 2, and 7.5 km on Day 3. Even on Day 2, our longest walking day, we were in camp at Mulligan Falls before 3:00 pm.
Is There Accommodation on Hinchinbrook Island?
Hinchinbrook Island is completely uninhabited and practically undeveloped save for a couple of drop toilets and tables built by the QWPS for campers. There is no accommodation beyond the campsites administered by the national parks.
The campsites in Hinchinbrook Island National Park are remote wilderness sites. Operated by the Queensland National Park Service, they have no facilities and campers need to be 100% self-sufficient.
The majority of campsites here are accessed via the Thorsborne Trail, however, there are a few beachfront campsites accessible by private boat.
Nightly camping is included with your Thorsborne Trail permit or can be booked separately if you are accessing the campsites by boat. The trail permit (including camping) or individual camping permit each costs $6.75 per person per night.
Where Should I Plan to Camp on My Thorsborne Trail Itinerary?
When it comes to route planning, all you need to decide for your Thorsborne trail route is whether to walk North to South or South to North. Most people walk the trail from North to South, presumably to save some of the more spectacular attractions and swimming opportunities for the end of the journey. From a difficulty perspective, it doesn’t really matter.
When it comes to itinerary planning deciding where to stay each night along the trail will require more consideration. How much time you have, how far you want to walk each day, and when tides will cut off access to certain creek crossings are all factors in deciding your campsites for each night.
For us, we enjoy walking and get bored easily sitting around camp for too long. We decided to walk the trail over three days two nights, stopping in Banksia Bay and Mulligan Falls.
Definitely plan to stay one night in Mulligan Falls which is one of the nicest campsites and provides access to the beautiful Mulligan Falls pictured above. Apart from that, we found all the campsites fairly comparable, although many walkers choose to stay one night at Zoe Falls as it offers swimming.
What Should I Plan to Do on My Thorsborne Trail, Hinchinbrook Island Itinerary?
While the route will be the same for most walkers and walking the primary activity there are a few attractions you should plan to see and a number of activities that attract people to the island.
Attractions on Hinchinbrook Island
- Nina’s Peak – Drop your pack and take a short detour up to Nina’s Peak for epic views of the Island
- Zoe Falls – Swim in a crystal clear fresh water swimming hole fed by the spectacular Zoe Falls. Hike to thte top of the falls for fantastic views back over Zoe Bay.
- Mulligan Falls – Relax by these picturesque falls plunge into deep green pools … with huge granite boulders.
Things to Do along the Thorseborne Trail
- Fishing – Bring a collapsable rod and fish from the beaches, just make sure you are being croc wise
- Side Trails – A number of short trails are available off the main trail
- Wilderness Hiking – Experience Hikers may be interested in summiting some of the craggy peaks of the national park. Contact QWPS for permission.
- Photographing the Spectacular scenery and shy native fauna of the park is a popular activity here
Are There Other Walking Trails on Hinchinbroook Island?
While the Thornsborne Trail is the most popular walking trail and the major attraction on the island, it connects to a number of side trails along the way. As these side trails are accessible via the Thornsborne Trail, you will need a permit for the Thorsborne trail to reach them. Side trails include easy offshoots such as the trail to Nina’s Peak, Banksia Bay, and Sunken Reef Bay to the more involved adventures up to Mt Bowen and other peaks in the park. To attempt any of the peaks (except Nina’s Peak) or other off-trail adventures, you will need to write to QPWS to obtain permission.
There are three additional walking trails on Hinchinbrook Island accessible to those camping on the island with private boats and are not connected to the Thornsborne Trail. For those camping in the North Macushla camping area, the North Shepherd Bay track (or Macushla to Cape Richards track) is a moderate 5 km return track and the South Shepherd Bay track is a 7.6 km return track. For those camping at Haven campground (Scraggy Point), there is an easy 1 km circuit trek passing through vine forests along the nearby creek.
What’s the Weather Like on Hinchinbrook Island?
Located in North Queensland, Hinchinbrook is subject to two distinct seasons, wet and dry. It is wise to plan your trip during the dry season. The dry season runs from May to October and the wet season from November to April. The wet season is hot muggy and carries a high risk of rain, thunderstorms, or worse. The dry season is cooler, dryer, and your chance of your walk getting rained out is lower. Although in the tropical north, a weather event is never off the cards.
Within those seasons, expect the unexpected. Weather can change rapidly and it’s good to be aware and mindful of current weather predictions and warnings.
Do I Have to Walk the Thorsborne Trail?
The Thorsborne Trail is accessible only on foot. Along the trail, we saw groups of people ranging from young children (7 – 12) to older adults (60+) completing the hike.
As there are no facilities or accommodations on the island, hikers are required to carry in (and out) all of their camping gear and supplies.
It is possible to access the island and some of the beachfront campsites by boat or kayak. These are booked separately through the QPWS campsite booking application.
Are there Crocodiles on Hinchinbrook Island?
On the North Queensland coast, saltwater crocodiles are everywhere. This is especially true for Hinchinbrook Island. Here, where there are few people to disturb them, crocodiles are prevalent along the beaches and tidal creeks and rivers on the island.
We didn’t see a crocodile hiking Thorsborne Trail Hinchinbrook Island, but we did see the evidence. A large croc-shaped indent in the sand at Mulligan Bay where we were picked up from.
Be aware that these apex predators move up the tidal rivers and creeks of the island to hunt. Don’t wade through deep water. Avoid the water’s edge of beaches, creeks, and rivers. Wait until low tide to cross tidal creeks and rivers.
Is There Fresh Water on Hinchinbrook Island?
When hiking Thorsborne Trail Hinchinbrook Island, freshwater can be collected from a number of the island’s creeks.
Water flows year-round on Hinchinbrook Island however in the dry season the flow can be more of a trickle allowing algae, larvae, and bacteria to contaminate water sources. Take water purification, either chemical, filter, or UV.
Collect water whenever possible along the trail and have enough water storage for 2 liters per person at an absolute minimum. If you come to a creek crossing where water should be and it is dry, head upstream to see if you can find flowing water.
We were able to fill up at the following locations, but there were a few creeks we skipped such as the one at Nina Bay:
- South end of Little Ramsey Bay
- 100m upstream from Banksia Bay campground
- Zoe Falls near Zoe camping area
- Mulligan Falls
What’s the Terrain Like on the Thorsborne Trail, Hinchinbrook Island?
An incredible number of different environments and terrains are present over the relatively short 32-kilometer Thorsborne Trail. Expect to wander through eucalyptus and mangrove forests. To walk along sandy beaches and scramble over rocky headlands. To wade through swamps and creeks. And to trek through jungles of tropical rainforest.
The trail is ungraded. There is rock hopping and some steep climbs. Critically, it must be done with a heavy pack. The remoteness and lack of accessibility make this one place where you do not want to get an injury. Be realistic about your fitness and experience levels and take the proper precautions including walking with an EPB and making sure you let someone know where you’ll be and they should expect to hear from you again.
Are There Insects on Hinchinbrook Island?
Bring strong insect repellant with deet and avoid wearing dark-colored clothing which can attract biting insects like march flies. Keep insect screens done up when camping in tents and consider packing mosquito coils. Insects are most active around dusk and dawn and congregate near stagnant fresh water. Insects are most numerous during the wet season which runs from November to April.
What to Pack for the Thorsborne Trail Hinchinbrooke Island?
A multi-day hike means that packing lightly and with the specific challenges of the island in mind is essential. Here is what we packed for two people for two nights and three days.
Camping Gear for Hiking Thorsborne Trail Hinchinbrook Island
Cooking Gear for Hiking Thorsborne Trail Hinchinbrook Island
- Trangia Stove with gas burner attachment and 275g butane canister
- Coffee pot (sorry not sorry)
- Camping mugs
- Serated knife
- Travel size spice container
Other Gear for Hiking Thorsborne Trail Hinchinbrook Island
- Power bank
- Biodegradable toilet paper
- EPIRB / PLB
- Pain killer
- Insect repellant with deet
- Spare Batteries
- Water Purification Tablets or Water Filter
- Matches / Lighter
Clothes to Pack for Hiking Thorsborne Trail Hinchinbrook Island
- Light-weight uv long-sleeve hiking shirt
- Hiking pants or hiking shorts (depending on preference) or general athletic gear will do perfectly
- Spare clothing for campsites
- Thongs (flip flops)
- Jumper (for the evenings when it cools down)
- Light-weight hiking socks (at least two pair)
- Hiking shoes
Things we didn’t take but wish we did.
- We didn’t take sleeping bags after looking at the average temperatures but regretted our decision. We were cold at the more exposed beach campsites (though perfectly comfortable in the jungle campsite at Mulligan Falls).
- We didn’t take a microfibre towel but it would have been nice at the swimming holes.
What Facilities on Hinchinbrook Island Are Available?
Facilities are limited while hiking Thorsborne Trail Hinchinbrook Island with only a handful of composting toilets and picnic tables available at certain campsites along the Thornsborne Trail.
- Nina Bay – toilets
- Little Ramsey Bay – toilets
- South Zoe Bay – picnic tables and toilets
- Mulligan Falls – toilets
- George Point – picnic tables and toilets
Are Fires Allowed on Hinchinbrook Island?
Fires are strictly prohibited in the Hinchinbrook Island National Park.
Fuel stoves are permitted on the island.
Should I Be Concerned with the Tides on Hinchinbrook Island?
Many of the creek crossings along the Thornsborne Trail are tidal and may be impassable at high tide. Keep in mind that even if you don’t think it’s too deep to wade across tidal creeks or rivers at high tide crocodiles are present in these waters and they do attack humans. Plan to cross creeks between low and half tide.
Make sure you are aware of the tide times for Hinchinbrook Island. Plan accordingly!
Do I Need to Carry a Thorsborne Trail Map?
What is the Thorsborne Trail App?
The Thornsborne Trail App is a mobile application developed to assist walkers to navigate the Thorsborne Trail. It offers a basic map along with the trail notes provided by the QPWS website. It also shows you your GPS location on this map.
We were encouraged to purchase and download the app during our transfer to the island. In the end, the screenshots that we had already taken from the Queensland National Park website with trail notes and the map available at the QPWS website probably would have sufficed but the app did come in handy when locating freshwater sources.
Does the Thorsborne Trail offer Opportunities for Fishing Hinchinbrook Island?
Between Zoe Bay and Georges point at the southern end of the Thorsborne Trail offer beach fishing opportunities. North of Zoe Bay is a maritime national park and should not be fished.
Take a collapsable rod and some lures to try your luck, just remember to be croc wise near the water’s edge.
Hopefully, we have been able to answer some of your questions and give you some idea of what to expect hiking Thorsborne Trail Hinchinbrook Island. If you have a question we didn’t answer, or if you have your own tips for hiking Thorsborne Trail Hinchinbrook Island let us know in the comments below!
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