Hinchinbrook Island is Australia’s largest island national park (protected since 1932) and part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The island features tropical rainforests and extensive eucalypt forests unique to Australia. Additionally, the island showcases one of the most diverse mangrove forests along the western coast. The Thorsborne Trail is located on the eastern coast which is punctuated by sandy beaches, rocky outcrops, mangroves and estuaries. Vegetation along the trail is diversified and ranges from tropical rainforest to swamps and mountain shrubs. The islands wildlife is numerous and features icons such as the dugong, crocodile, sea turtle, shark and dolphin. It is also refuge to several endangered species. The trail itself can be quite strenuous, especially during the hotter months of the year. Since it isn’t graded or hardened, hiking often involves climbing, crawling or wading through knee-deep mud. Yet, it is worth the trouble because you will be awarded with one of eastern Australia’s most beautiful and remote wilderness adventure.
Hinchinbrook Island – General Information
Days/Nights: 4/3 or 5/4
Total length: 32km
Start – Finish: Take a ferry from Cardwell to Ramsay Bay the starting point on Hinchinbrook Island – Ferry pick up in George Point to Lucinda. From there you can get a transport by car back to Cardwell.
Sleeping Facilities: Bring your own tent (Rat-proof boxes are provided at the campsites to store food and cooking utensils).
Best time to go: April to September. The trail is closed during most of the monsoon season and passing some rivers becomes impossible after heavy rain.
Registration: In order to hike on Hinchinbrook Island you need to register at the Cardwell Rainforest and Reef Visitor Information Centre
Difficulty: Difficult, especially during the hotter months. Close to all kinds of Australian wildlife.
FYI: Hiking permits are issued for a maximum of 40 people at one time. Group size is limited to six. It is advised to book well in advance. A minimum of three nights and four days is required to walk the trail.
Staying Safe – When we did the trail it was possible rent a radio at the ranger station for emergencies. I would generally advice to bring a emergency personal locator beacon or satellite phone. To the very minimum bring a fully charged cellphone and pack it in a waterproof bag (cellphone reception is very limited). Crocodiles, dangerous stinging jellyfish and other wildlife may be present in the waters surrounding Hinchinbrook Island. Make sure to bring enough insect repellant since mosquitoes and sandflies can become quite a nuisance. The hike includes several river crossings (~ hip-deep). Check the tide tables (supplied by the information centre), pack your stuff in dry bags and be prepared to have wet feet for a few days. Mulligan Falls river crossing can become dangerous if you deviate from the designated path. Access to the island may be restricted after extensive rainfalls, as the Mulligan Falls river crossing can become too dangerous. Fresh water is available along the trail, upstream of most rivers.
RAMSAY BAY TO LITTLE RAMSAY BAY The first day covers around 6.5km which can be hiked within four and a half hours. If you really want to immerse yourself in the beauty Hinchinbrook Island has to offer, estimate a good 5-6 hours. The start of the trail is a boardwalk south of Ramsay bay where the ferry will drop you off. It then follows a mountain ridge down to Blacksand Beach. This beach offers a nice spot for a small lunch until you head off to a saddle beneath Nina Peak. From there on you will head downhill followed by a short hike through mangrove forest. At the northern edge of Nina Bay you will need to climb over the cliffs to Boulder Bay followed by an additional one kilometer of rock-hopping to the campsite at Little Ramsay Bay. This campsite offers a nice and protected swimming spot, freshwater a little bit upstream and a nice view of Hinchinbrook Island’s highest peak of Mt Bowen (1121m) right behind you. During our stay there in December, this place was among the least frequented by the myriads of mosquitoes which occupy the island. We finished our day with a big meal and had an early rest as the next day was supposed to be a tough hike.
LITTLE RAMSAY BAY TO ZOE BAY – This day was certainly the toughest among the three hiking days. It covers around 10km which took us eight and half hours including several breaks and “photo shootings” of fabulous insect models, looking for yabbies in the various river crossings and enjoying the beauty of the island. Right after you leave the sandy shore of Little Ramsay Bay a steep climb up the rocky headland awaits you with a stunning view of Banksia Bay which is accessible by a sidetrack (if you have the energy and time for that). The main trail then heads downhill towards Zoe Bay through dense forest, swamp and numerous river and creek crossings (don’t even think about taking your shoes off). The forest campsite is located at the southern end of the beach. We pitched our tent, stored our food and backpack in a safe place and headed a little further down the trail to Zoe Falls for a well-deserved shower and fresh water.
ZOE BAY TO GEORGE POINT – If you plan on finishing the hike within three nights, this will be the last day of your adventure. The route takes you from Zoe Bay to George Point, which is approximately 15km and 8-10 hours. The day starts again with a rough climb up to the highest point of the hike with a beautiful view of the surrounding islands. A short 30 minute detour takes you to Sunken Reef Bay, where another campsite is available. If you decide to go further, the Diamantina Creek crossing is your next destination before reaching Mulligan Falls, which also offers a nice campsite. Mulligan Falls is an excellent spot for an extensive break (we enjoyed a couple of hours of sunbathing, jumping and swimming in the water) or pitch your tent here and then cover the last few kilometers along the beach the next day. If you decide to keep going, fill your bottles with water as this will be last spot to get fresh water. The next 2.5km will take you through lush rainforest and mangrove swamps. As soon as you reach Mulligan Bay, keep going for another 5km along the beach until you reach George Point, your final destination. Watch out for the large amounts of soldier crabs burying in the sand. The campsite is located right at the edge of the beach within some shrubs. We would recommend to prepare dinner early as the sheer amount of mosquitoes we encountered at dawn made staying outside the tent impossible (a few of our fellow campsite neighbors would certainly agree on that ;).
The ferry picked us up from the beach right in front of the campsite. From Lucinda we arranged for a car transport to the restaurant in Cardwell for a well deserved burger. The restaurant is right next to the Greyhound bus stop and within walking distance of a paid campground. Needless to stay we went to the campground for a cold shower and a swim in the pool ;).