Hinchinbrook Island’s Thorsborne Trail – A Practical In-Depth Guide

Callum Matthews - Hinchinbrook Island-2

In June 2017 I solo hiked the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island as part of a school project. It was an incredible experience that I would love to return to and share with others. Upon completion of the trek I’ve decided to write up a blog to document my experience and outline everything involved on partaking on this adventure. I’ve done my best to highlight everything you need to know about the trail in order to have a great time. Enjoy!

Hinchinbrook Island

Hinchinbrook Island is located between Townsville and Cairns in Tropical North Queensland, Australia. It’s the world’s largest island National Park at 37.4km long and holds a large variety of biodiversity including 50km2 of some of the most diverse mangrove forests in the country. The island also features a jagged range of granite mountains, pristine beaches, waterfalls, coral reefs, dense rainforests and woodlands. It is also home to many animal species in particular an abundant bird life, turtles, dolphins and crocodiles and dugongs. The Island also has a rich aboriginal history. The Bandjin people are the traditional owners of the island and sustain solid cultural and spiritual relations with the land and rivers.

Thorsborne Trail

Hinchinbrook Island is best experienced by undertaking the thorsborne trail, which covers the eastern side of the island. The trail was named after Arthur Thorsborne who was a local conservationist. It’s recognized world wide for its unbelievable picturesque views and incredible variety of flora and fauna. The 32km trail can be done in as little as 3 or 4 days however it is much more enjoyable within a 5 or 6 day period. There’s no need to rush. You’re on a beautiful Island with cheap accommodation, relax and take your time!

Over the course of the trail you will walk along incredible beaches, venture into the rainforests and around the mountains for spectacular views. There are also opportunities to have a dip in the numerous swimming holes under the large waterfalls such as Zoe falls and Mulligan Falls. 80% of hikers do the trail from north to south starting at Ramsay Bay and finishing at Gorge Point at the southern end of the Island. The trail is marked by orange arrows going south and yellow arrows going in north.

However the best part of all, it’s remote, unspoiled and nearly deserted by tourists. This is because the trail is limited to 40 people on it at any one time.

 

How to get there

If you are flying in, the closest cities are Townsville and Cairns. Access to the Thorsborne Trail onHinchinbrook Island can be reached by private vessel or by commercial ferries from either seaside towns, Cardwell or Lucinda. There are two main companies that offer frequent trips to the island and back for hikers and day-trippers. I went with Hinchinbrook Island Cruises. They provide transfers to both ends of the trail being Ramsay Bay in the North and George Point in the south to and from Cardwell or Lucinda. They were exceedingly friendly and very experienced in the area having completed the trail numerous times themselves.

Ask them any questions you have on the way over and ask for current updates on the availability of water. They will be happy to help. Find out more information on their website: Hinchinbrook Island Cruises

 

 

Trail Difficulty

Queensland Parks & Wildlife rated the Thorsborne trail as difficult. The difficulty for yourself will be based on the Temperature, humidity and rainfall of the time you are there. The trail is not graded meaning that there are many rough areas that can be tough to traverse including rocky outcrops, slippery creeks etc. There are also some parts of the trail that may require navigational skills to proceed in the right direction. This is where a good topographic map and compass will come in handy.

The Mountains

The spectacular mountains on Hinchinbrook are the backbone of the island rising 1121m tall. They are covered in fragile heath vegetation, as a result all access to the mountains are restricted to a very limited number of special permits that must be obtained before departure. You must apply in writing to Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS).

Mount Bowen is the tallest mountain on the island at 1121m and is often covered in cloud. There is a possible side trip to climb up the mountain which will add at least 2 days as you will need to camp at the top. The best way up I’ve heard is via Warrawilla Creek, which feeds into the lagoon at Little Ramsay Bay. Remember, this is not a hike; it is a climb that should not be attempted by the unprepared or unfit. This is also why a special permit is necessary. Do not attempt in the heat of summer.

 

Permits

Permits must be acquired to camp on Hinchinbrook Island at any of the campsites. They are very cheap coming in at just over $6 per night, so why not stay a week if you have the time! There are only 40 permits available so make sure you book in advance especially over the holiday or busy periods as it can easily book out. They can be acquired from here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water

Drinking water on the island can be sourced from the fresh mountain streams that are frequent at most campsites along the trail. They are pure and usually readily available to drink straight from the stream. However it is recommended to treat before drinking especially during times of drought just to be safe. For myself I used Katadyn Micropur tablets that can be purchased from BCF.

During the dry season I’ve heard that water can be scarce, so make sure to follow the creeks a couple hundred metres up stream to find adequate flowing water to drink.

Watch Out For

Crocodiles – Crocodiles are found in both the ocean and the major creeks and estuaries on the island. Although the beaches may look appetizing for a swim you may also look appetizing to one of the native crocs. It’s unlikely that you will even see one but remember you are on their home ‘croc country’ so you can swim but it’s at your own risk.

Jellyfish – Crocs aren’t the only thing to watch out for in the ocean. Stingers are also found in these areas so take care. They are predominantly there in the warmer months.

Giant White-Tailed Rat – Present on Hinchinbrook is the tropical rat species 

called the Giant White-tailed Rat. Although you may not see one in your time on the island, believe me they are there and they will chew through anything to get your food! At every campsite along the trail there are large metal boxes provided for you to store your food in overnight.

Sand Flies/Midges – Probably the worst part of the island haha. These are seasonal but make sure to bring some repellent or you’ll come up in little red welts everywhere!

Heat – A decent amount of the trail is under the sun. In the summer months walking along the beach can feel like a desert so make sure to stay well hydrated. Plus it’s very humid up there.

Torrential Rain – Try to avoid the wet season as it makes for very swollen creeks making some of the numerous creek crossings very hard to pass. However heavy down pours are common year round.

Callum Matthews - Hinchinbrook Island
Suggested Itinerary

Here is a suggested plan for your trip. There are also side trips to other beaches such as Sunken Reef Bay that can be added to the trip and can add additional days. Here I’ve listed to stay an extra day at Zoe Bay, as it’s a perfect spot for relaxing, fishing or spending the day swimming up at Zoe falls. In my experience these times given to hike each day can be generous. For more information about the campsites and detailed trail notes see here.

Day 1

  • Depart Cardwell by boat at 8:30am to Ramsay Bay

Ramsay Bay, up Nina Peak then to Little Ramsay Bay

Distance: 6.5km

Time: 4.5 hours

Water: Little Ramsay Bay—creek upstream from the lagoon area

Day 2

Little Ramsay Bay to Zoe Bay

Distance: 10.5km

Time: 6 hours

Water: Little Ramsay Bay—creek upstream from the lagoon area

+ Banksia Creek—100 m upstream from the beach, and Zoe Creek—600 m upstream from the camp sites

Day 3

Zoe Bay

Distance: 0km

Time: 0 hours

Water: Little Ramsay Bay—creek upstream from the lagoon area

+ Banksia Creek—100 m upstream from the beach, and Zoe Creek—600 m upstream from the camp sites

Day 4

Zoe Bay to Mulligan Falls

Distance: 7.5km

Time: 4.5 hours

Water: Banksia Creek—100 m upstream from the beach, and Zoe Creek—600 m upstream from the camp sites + Mulligan Falls

Day 5

Mulligan Falls to George Point

Distance: 7.5km

Time: 2.5 hours

Water: Mulligan Falls

* No water at George Point

– Depart George Point by boat to Lucinda or back to Cardwell

 

 

 

 

 

Essential Gear

Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)/Satellite Phone – Being a remote and isolated island, a form of communication for safety reasons is a must. Bringing along a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or a satellite phone is necessary for the case of an emergency. The only areas with little phone reception on the trail is Nina Peak and Mulligan Bay, however do not rely on this. For this trek I hired out a sat phone from here. It may be overkill if you are travelling in a group but being solo it was definitely necessary. It’s recommended that someone in your group should carry a PLB if anything. They are available for hire at the Rainforest and Reef Information Centre in Cardwell.

 

 

 

 

 

Topographic Map + Compass – It’s a good idea to purchase a decent topographic map that covers the trail in detail. I purchased mine from World Wide Maps, it’s a little pricy but well worth it. There are numerous maps available for the area however most don’t show the trail. Be careful! The Queensland Government has a very basic map available to plan your trip, but it should not be used for navigational purposes. The compass I used is the Suunto M-3 G. Great quality.

For more information about all the gear I brought to Hinchinbrook Island and carried on the trail as well as my food plan visit HERE.

Things You Should Know

– During the wet season some creeks can be exceptionally full and flowing. So take caution for the many creek crossings.

– After Mulligans Falls when the trail comes down onto the beach, half way along the beach there is a creek crossing that I’ve heard is hard to cross at high tide so make sure its at least half tide or lower. It’s a good idea to carry a tide chart with you.

– On the first day after walking along Ramsay Bay the trail makes its way uphill into the forest. At the top of a ridge keep your eye out for a side trail coming from the right hand side. Follow the rugged and very steep trail up to reach Nina Peak for incredible views of the island. Definitely worth it!!

– Whilst walking along Ramsay Bay look out for fossilized crabs and pippies along the beach. The former is one of three places in the world where they are found.

– There are many camping and caravan parks to stay at off Cardwell before or after the trail.

– Look out for Aboriginal shell middens just before entering Ramsay Bay. They are just after the board walk ends. Also, ask your boat driver to point out the Bandjin fish trap rock formations in the Hinchinbrook Channel.

– Learn more about the Aboriginal history on the island here.

Thanks so much for checking out my blog post! I’d like to say a huge thank you to all the people that made this project possible and who supported my fundraising campaign.

Shaun, Simone & Indigo Matthews, Barbara Matthews, Terry & Dorothy Arnold, OJA, Floyde & Xac, Suzannah, Gilles & Indiabeau, Kyrona Unity Hope, Averyll Fitzgerald, Anne Harris, Tanya Winter, Jazzy & Family, Mauro Family, Sarah Ellis, Monika Egli, Claire Matthews, Sally Martin, Essene Conroy-Doust, Brett Durston, Sammy Nuttal, Christina Papageorgiou, Angela Sevior, Ananda and Meng Ung.

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