Sun, stars and swims on the Thornborne Trail
This is a very popular track and it is usually fully booked for the best season to walk it, from April to October. Only 40 people are allowed to be on the hike per day, so we were lucky to have found 3 nights in a row available in April. But then the corona restrictions made a mess of our plans and we had to cancel our trip. As soon as restrictions were lifted though, we made use of the spots made available by the many people who had to cancel their trip too and we found 3 nights in July. And instead of flying up, we decided to make it a road trip.
After driving around 1500km north, stopping at various places along the way, including a catch-up with Olga in Townsville who prepared us a delicious dinner, we arrived in Cardwell late in the evening. We found a convenient spot to spend the night and half prepared our packs before hitting our pillows early. We were up before 6 to finish packing, have breakfast, drop off the car, and walk over to the boat that would take us to the northern part of the island. In perfect conditions we crossed over, spotting a dugong before heading up one of the mangrove channels.
The channel came to an end at a small pontoon with a short boardwalk across the mangroves. We hit the sand and stopped to sort out a few final things before starting the hike. After many months of waiting, we were finally on our way!
After a few kilometers of enjoying the trail, we dropped our packs at the junction for Nina Peak. It was a short, but steep scramble to the top from where we had spectacular views over the island. Back down we met 4 others who were just about to go up, and after a short chat we carried on to Little Ramsay Bay. It was a short hike and we had plenty of daylight left so we went for a bath in the creek next to the campsite. As there are crocs (salties) around, we couldn’t swim in the ocean or in the lagoon, but there were plenty of rock pools a little further up the creek.
That night we shared our campsite with a few bandicoots and a cheeky fawn-footed melomy. They are the reason you have to hang up your foodbag in camp as they will chew holes to anything to get to your food….
The night sky was amazing, millions of stars, the stunning milky way and no moon, so Jon took his camera to the beach and we entertained ourselves a while with taking pictures of the night sky and ‘painting’ the trees with a headtorch.
After a very cold night (we later found out the temperature dropped to 8 degrees that night) we woke up to more sunshine and a clear sky. Breakfast on the beach before we hiked to our next camp, the most popular spot on the island – Zoe’s Falls. As people also camp here overnight with boats, it was quite busy and we joined 2 other hikers on their site. But before we joined them at the picnic table to prepare our meals, we hiked up to Zoe’s Falls for a swim.
We didn’t realise the actual trail goes right to the top, so we scrambled up the side of the cliffs to access the little pool at the top of the falls. Jude managed to walk through a lemon (green) ants nest and ended up with many ants in her pants….
The view from the top was sensational and we enjoyed the swim / wash, but as soon as the sun dipped behind the hill next to the falls it became quite cool and we walked down, this time comfortably on the easy trail besides the cliffs.
We had a great chat with Bryan and Danni and exchanged some interesting life stories. They went to bed early to get to the top of the falls for sunrise, and we spent some more time on the beach taking piccies of the night sky again.
After another relaxed start of the day we set off to our next campsite – Mulligan’s Falls. But as we reached the top of Zoe’s Falls, we couldn’t resist another swim. The water is quite cold, but so inviting. We had another swim in Diamantina Creek before lunch. Had our lunch, walked 50m further upstream and decided it was so inviting that we had another swim…
At Mulligan’s Falls we went for another swim, of course, before pitching our tent and getting some pre-dinner snacks out. Bryan and Danni joined us again for dinner, and we shared another great night with them and some tiny mice plus some more very cheeky fawn-footed melomys. Several climbed up onto the benches, onto our jackets, shoes and one even walked onto Jude’s lap before being chased away from the food. We discovered they easily climb trees, but also tents, between the inner tent and the fly sheet.
This time we wanted to get up early as we wanted to see if we could find the noisy pitta at the next campground if we had breakfast there. But of course we had to take some more night photos of the sky and the waterfall before hopping into our tent for our last night on the island.
We had no luck finding a pitta, but we did find some beach stone-curlews on our way to the ferry. From George Point we cruised back with the boat to Cardwell where we picked up our car. After getting our lunch stuff ready we hopped in and drove to Josephine Falls so we could start our hike up Bartle Frere early the next morning. But that’s another story which we will write about another day.
For now our Hinchinbrook Island adventure and the Thorborne Trail had come to an end. We loved the hike, the amazing swimming holes, the night sky, the nocturnal animals trying to steal our food and the company. Make sure you book your trip early as it books out pretty quickly for the best season.
More detailed info
For the ferry we booked Hinchinbrook Island Cruises, and Brad (0499 335 383) dropped us off and picked us up.
We decided to spend 3 nights, 4 days on the island. Any more and you really aren’t doing much hiking each day (even with 3 nights the hiking days are very short), any less and you wouldn’t be able to enjoy all the swimming holes or the view from Nina Peak.
We only did 2 of the 3 possible side trips – Nina Peak for some spectacular views of the island, and Banksia Bay to see if we could spot the golden orchids (not)
The total length of the trail is only 32km, we split it up in the following sections:
- Day 1 – 6.5km (4.5hrs) – Ramsay Bay to Little Ramsay Bay (side trip Nina Peak)
- Day 2 – 10.5km (6hrs) – Little Ramsay Bay to Zoe Bay (side trip Banksia Bay)
- Day 3 – 7.5km (4.5hrs) – Zoe Bay to Mulligan’s Falls
- Day 4 – 7.5km (2.5hrs) – Mulligan’s Falls to George Point
Day 1 – From the boardwalk, walk south to the headland at the southern end of Ramsay Bay. The trail head is marked with an orange marker, located to the right of a large granite rock. The trail follows a ridge before descending to the middle of Blacksand Beach. The trail continues along the beach beneath three broad-leaved tea-trees. It then passes through tall open forest of mainly Gympie messmate and on to the saddle below Nina Peak.
This is where we left our packs and went up to Nina Peak.
Descending along a seasonal watercourse, the trail then enters a mangrove forest where stands of red-flowered black mangrove and spotted mangrove occur. It is best to cross the creek at low or half tide. The trail then follows the edge of the mangroves before emerging near the northern end of Nina Bay.
At the southern end of Nina Bay, the trail crosses a rocky section and heads towards the base of a small cliff. The trail climbs the cliff and follows the headland to Boulder Bay. At very high tides a detour through dense vegetation around the top of Nina headland may be necessary. Green turtles are often seen in the sea along this section. The trail then rock hops around Boulder Bay to the base of the headland at the southern end. At the southern end of Boulder Bay, orange markers indicate the trail, which travels south-east over the low ridge to the northern end of Little Ramsay Bay.
Day 2 – From Little Ramsay Bay the trail proceeds south, crossing a tidal creek and continuing to rocks at the end of the beach. The next beach is then accessed by rock hopping around the small headland. At the end of this beach, the trail leads to the upper edge of rocks above a larger sandy beach.
From the southern end of this beach the trail heads south-easterly through a small gully to the top of a ridge. At this point, a side path leads to Banksia Bay (600m return). This bay has spectacular fringing reefs and golden orchids can be seen growing on the beachside rocks (probably, if you know what you are looking for…).
The main trail continues south, descending to the Banksia Creek crossing and onwards south-east to the saddle between Banksia and Zoe bays. At the top of the saddle the trail then descends a rocky creek into the Zoe Bay catchment. Turning south-south-west, the trail travels to North Zoe Creek. The trail then passes through several palm swamps in tall rainforest between North Zoe Creek and Fan Palm Creek. The trail may be less visible in these areas. Look carefully for the trail markers. Be prepared to get your feet wet as there are several creek crossings and swampy sections. The trail enters the beach at Zoe Bay with the mouth of South Zoe Creek about 400m to the south. The spectacular Zoe Falls are a few minutes along the track from the camping area.
Day 3 – From the Zoe Bay camping area, the trail runs parallel with South Zoe Creek, crossing it about 100m downstream from Zoe Falls. It then continues up a steep slope onto the granite slabs above the falls where there are spectacular views of Zoe Bay. Continuing along South Zoe Creek, the trail occasionally crosses narrow rocky tributaries. It then follows a distinct spur to the granite rock pavement of a saddle. At 260m above the sea, this is the highest point on the trail.
After crossing the saddle, the trail traverses steep forested slopes of the Sweetwater Creek catchment before climbing into coast she-oak and grasstree shrubland. The trail then descends into the Diamantina Creek catchment, before reaching the Diamantina Creek crossing. Use caution when crossing Diamantina Creek, particularly if the creek is swollen after heavy rain. Follow the markers diagonally across the creek before the trail continues up a short slope and descends a steep hillside to reach the base of Mulligan Falls.
Day 4 – From Mulligan Falls the trail follows the coast, travelling through rainforest and crossing five creeks. About 300m south of the Diamantina Creek inlet, a sign indicates the northern entrance to Mulligan Bay. George Point, the southern exit of the trail, is a further 5km walk along the beach. About 2km along, Mulligan Creek flows into the bay and it is advisable to cross this creek at low to half tide.