The last thing you’d expect to top the list of must-sees near Cairns is an old castle with amazing gardens set amidst lush rainforest.
This is a large part of Paronella Park’s magic: the beauty, history and architecture of this ‘secret in the jungle’ are all delightful surprises.
The Paronella Park Story
120 kilometres South of Cairns, Paronella Park at Mena Creek is one of Queensland’s most beloved treasures and a fascinating place to spend a day.
Visitors report being spellbound by Paronella Park, and greatly moved by the inspiring story of its creation.
The park was the life project of ‘The Spanish Dreamer’ – José Paronella. This gifted, artistic engineer and visionary came to Australia from Catalonia in 1913. He purchased the Park’s five hectares in 1929 and set about designing and building pleasure gardens, the castle, swimming pool, waterfalls, and a stone house for himself and his wife.
José even installed a hydro electric generating plant – the first in North Queensland – so the property could be self-sufficient for power. This fabulous relic is once again up and running after 40 years of neglect unemployment.
Paronella Park was opened to the public in 1935. Over the years, it became a premier attraction. However, a series of disasters, including cyclones and a catastrophic fire, caused extensive damage and Paronella Park fell on hard times.
The current owners purchased Paronella Park in 1993 and have worked long and hard to return it to its former magnificence.
Paronella Park is listed by in the National Trust. It holds numerous Regional and State Tourism Awards, and a GECKO Award for Ecotourism. It is frequently named in lists of top things to see and do in Queensland.
Because it is privately owned, the park relies on entry fees and donations to stay open and continue conservation work.
Things to see and do at Paronella Park
Paronella Park has a number of heritage structures, and there’s a wonderful array of fauna and flora, with new species being discovered and added all the time. Fish, turtles and eels hang out in the Park’s creek and are a big hit with children.
You can take a self-guided botanical walk, armed with a booklet packed with information about the Park’s flora, including the many different types of trees.
However, many visitors recommend taking a guided tour. The day walk is 45 minutes and there’s one departing every half hour. There’s also a guided night walk – the Darkness Falls Tour – which offers great opportunities for creative photography thanks to the Park’s atmospheric lighting.