Walk on the Wild Side – Traversing the Thorsborne Trail.
The small tin boat turns a bend in the river; there is a unified gasp from all on board. Shrouded in cloud, Mount Bowen standing 1121meters looms out between curtains of emerald green mangroves like a scene from Jurassic Park. Eyes are peeled on the lookout for crocodiles. The odd slide mark is seen on the side of the bank but the large reptiles remain elusive. My husband and I are on day one, of the world-renowned Thorsbone Trail. We are sharing the boat with a handful of hikers and are about to be delivered to the northern end of the island. Named after the late Authur Thorsborne, the six-day hike crosses Hinchinbrook Island, Australia’s largest island National Park of around 39,900ha of fragile vegetation. Renowned for its rainforest, swamps, crystal clear waters, beautiful beaches and mangroves, it’s a rugged gem featuring on the coast of North Queensland between Townsville and Cairns. Separated from the mainland by the Hinchinbrook channel, it is a trip that despite living in Townsville for a number of years, I never managed to go, until now.
At the boardwalk everyone carefully jumps across avoiding the thick mud covering the bank. The 32 kilometer hike is managed under the ‘minimal impact bush walking and ‘no trace’ camping ethics. Only 40 hikers are permitted on the island at one time and must be completely self-sufficient. Full of wanderlust and adventure, with the chance to explore our own deserted island, we eagerly tramp across the white sandy expanse to Ramsay Bay. Following the trail through open forest and across the saddle below Nina Peak we burst out to a clearing at Nina Bay. Sand flies, mozzies and march flies hum around our ears looking for an opportunity to bombard any exposed flesh not covered by repellent, as we set up camp for the night. A feast on dehydrated veg and pasta is cooked under a velvet sky. I soon fall asleep to the symphony of insects in tune with the waves lapping onto the beach.
Today the trail is a little more challenging. We have to ‘rock hop’ along the path to Little Ramsay Bay. This is more like rock climbing. Ungracefully I clamber across huge boulders with my cumbrous pack. It is only a matter of time before I loose my footing, and in front of an audience slip over, landing myself upside down and wedged between the boulders. Legs flaying in the air I could do nothing but wait to be rescued. Blood trickling from my elbow, I am uprighted, we continue our way hauling our packs up the headland. Sweat pours off my face obscuring vision. The trail traces along the cliff and follows the headland to Boulder Bay. Our efforts are rewarded. From the top of the headland you can catch a glimpse of green turtles swimming below in the crystalline ocean. We continue our way through dense vegetation.
Eventually it we enter a clearing, nestled in the forest next to a lagoon we have reached our next campsite at Zoe Bay.
Exhausted I roll into bed before long I am awoken with start to a loud crunching and gnawing sound like a crocodile chewing on backpacker. Cautiously I grab my headlamp curiosity getting the better of me. Two eyes glint back at me, and I am face to face with a native rat busily chewing straight through the hard piece of a coconut, creating holes the size of fifty-cent pieces in the tough shell. These nocturnal animals are famous for their huge appetites have been known to gnaw though unsuspecting hikers tents, packs and supplies, and anything that remotely resembles food nothing is sacred. Luckily I had stowed our supplies away in the metal rat proof boxes at the campsite amongst the stench of forgotten food.
“Where’s the trail gone?” I gaze out across the beach in the direction of where we are supposed to go. Squinting into the sun, I look for a tell tale sign of an orange marker. We have just started our longest and hardest day 10.5 kilometers to Zoe Bay. Ahead blocking us from our destination, a wide river complete with sets of waves gush into the ocean. Only thing left to do is strip off and attempt the crossing. The water swirls around my waist, as I wade cautiously balancing my weighty pack overhead. It won’t be the last time today that we will have to take our shoes off or get wet. Across the other side there is more ‘rock hopping’. The boulders are huge, we get into the habit of taking our packs off and throwing them up onto the higher ledges before hoisting ourselves up. Careful not to topple back wards onto the smooth slabs piled below. Finally the trail veers from the headland and winds through forest along a riverbed like path, dappled sunlight piercing through the overhead foliage.
There are more creek crossings, then a walk through dense swampland. Unnerved by crocodile warning signs we wade knee deep in thick black mud that oozes between toes down into our boots. We navigate past the wait-a-whiles (yellow lawyer cane) through the paper bark forest. I had been caught a few times by the tendrils of the spiky palm that snatches at your cloths and hats even drawing blood if you are unlucky enough for it to catch your bare skin. Muddied and exhausted we arrive at a large expanse of beach. Nestled amongst the mangroves there are sparatic clearings to set up camp. It is a relief to dump our pack and head a further 400meters upstream to the beautiful Zoe Falls for a well deserved swim in the cool clear waters and soak our aching feet.
We are on the point of no return, as I dangle from the rope to try and get my footing on the rock face. My pack weighs me down as I pull myself up the cliff to the top of Zoe Falls. I’m wondering if this is a good idea but a breathtaking series of pools and sweeping views across the ocean, framed by a canopy of forest provide a perfect backdrop for lunch. Most Hikers walk the track in four days traversing the eastern length from north to south. We have taken a little extra time to explore the island. There is no use in hurrying. The path to Sunken Reef is slippery and steep, especially as today the rain pours down relentlessly. Packs dig mercilessly into our shoulders; I try to balance on the moss covered boulders across one of the many creek crossing. A little back heavy I wobble like a toddler taking their first few steps as I try to not to look down and jump from rock to rock across the rivers. We have the campsite at Sunken Reef to ourselves tucked away in the bay it is a mecca for sandflies as they buzz ruthlessly around your head, bombarding the fly mesh of the tent to get inside. By evening the rain clears and a scarlet sun dips into the horizon as the last rays of light dance across the waves.
Nearly at the end of the trail, the path up to Mulligan Falls is steep through scrub forests and grass trees that eventually opens up to spectacular views of Palm Island along the ridge. Crossing the Diamantina River is a bit tricky with huge moss cover boulders. I resort to sliding down the granite on my bottom with my backpack in tow, ploughing through creek beds boots in all till we arrive at Mulligan Falls campsite. Situated next to the waterfall we have the campsite to ourselves for our final night on the Island. We plunge into the deep waters below the cascades while curious fish dart around our feet and for the second time on the trip feel clean. The drumming from the falls resonate through the forest while full moon creeps over the canopy of trees illuminating our private campsite.
We are on the home stretch and easy downhill climb through the rainforest and out to the beach to meet Phil from Wilderness Safari to sail us to Lucinda. From there, we catch a bus back to Cardwell. Mulligan Creek is our last creek crossing. It is only knee deep we have timed it perfectly with the tide this time, so we’re not too wet by the time Phil and his dog Max greet us to charter us back to the main land. As the boat motors across the channel, the island shrinks into the distance I know we will be back to do it all again.
The Thorsborne trail will be fully open this weekend for the first time since the devastation caused by cyclone Yasi. Unfortunately Port Hinchinbrook is still undergoing reconstruction.
Camping on Hinchinbrook is $5.15 per person per night and can be booked online at https://www.epa.qld.gov.au/parks/iaparks/gds/IAGDS050.jsp or Book by phone on 13 7468 (13 QGOV).
Booking is highly recommended, as there are a limited number of people allowed on the Island at one time.
Cardwell Rainforest & Reef Information Centre Address: 142 Victoria Street Cardwell
The centre is now taking bookings for transfers to the Northern end of the Island as well as range accommodation bookings within Cardwell. Phone: (07) 4066 8601
Hinchinbrook Island Ferry (depart from Cardwell) is $90 for an adult and $50 for child. They offer free pick up from your accomodation in Carwell to the boat ramp.
Ingham Bus Service offer transfers from Townsville to Carwell or from the Townsville Airport price upon request. The bus runs inconjunction with wilderness safaries and will be at the boat ramp at Lucinda to take you back to Cardwell. Cost is $30 per person. Phone: (07) 4776 5666 Address: 28 Lannercost Street Ingham QLD 4850.
Hinchinbrook Wilderness Safaries Contact Phil or Kylie Menzies. Address: 4 Warning Street Lucinda QLD Phone: (07) 4777 8307 or http://www.hinchinbrookwildernesssafaris.com.au/
What to pack:
Adequate water carrying utensils as each person will use around four litres of water per day. Clear Mt franklin bottles are light weight and can double up as rubbish containers.
Warm water proof clothing.
Sturdy reliable footwear, sorry no heels.
Hat sunscreen and sunglasses you don’t want to get sunburnt on the first day. Basic first aid kit.
Compass and map the trail isn’t always easy to see.
Lucinda tide timetable for those avoidable creek crossings.
Gas or liquid fuel stove with spare fuel.
Cooking utensils and equipment. Torch or headlamp.
Mobile phone there is reception near Mulligan Falls.
Quality lightweight waterproof tent.
Insect repellent, and clothing to avoid insect bites. Long pants tucked into socks work well.
Biodegrable touilet paper and hand towel there is nothing worse than standing in someones business.
Waterproof clothes bag it is the tropics things will get wet.
Strong rubbish bag don’t leave unwanted items for someone else to pick up
Lightweight sleeping bag. If your pack is too heavy it will ruin your walk.
Nourshing food that is light and compact.
For safety, allow 1-2 days extra food.