Friday, February 20, 2009
Paronella Park near the Atherton Tablelands and Cairns
One of the most unique tourist attractions that we stopped at on our recent trip from Brisbane to Cooktown and back again was Paronella Park which is near the Atherton Tablelands and Cairns in northern Queensland. This is a tourist attraction of a tourist attraction that is only old by Queensland standards though it is certainly in ruins.
I would highly recommend this attraction except that it is a bit out of the way for most visitors of the area and I found the price to be a bit high though the money is obviously going towards preserving and restoring some of the property. I did not feel that we had been ripped off, but I would have felt more comfortable about freely recommending the experience if the admission had been a bit lower. In December 2008, it was $30 AUD per person which allows 12 months re-entry though that is not particularly useful unless you live locally.
As it is, I will describe a bit of history and my experience in the park and let readers decide for themselves if it sounds interesting. In the early 1900's Jose Paronella came to Australia to seek his fortune which he did buying and refurbishing sugar cane processing plants since his specialty was construction. During this time he came across the Paronella Park 13 acre property with a beautiful tropical waterfall and fell in love with it. He bought the property with the intention of creating a unique tourist attraction in the guise of a Spanish Castle in the Australian rainforest.
He built a small English cottage for his new Spanish wife and children, and then began working on the "castle" which was actually a series of function rooms to host parties, dances, and watch movies. Plus there were cafe facilities, tennis courts, gardens, picnic facilities and swimming change areas. Apparently there was a reasonable fee structure depending on which activities you were attending, and the whole business was quite profitable.
However, some building flaws, natural disasters, and possibly arson have left most of the main buildings in ruins and the gardens completely overgrown though the current owners are trying to halt and reverse some of the damage. Currently the property is a beautiful gothic ruin that would be the perfect set for a Vampyre Movie or two. We were there on a dreary rainy afternoon with the river swollen to the point of overlapping the railings just a bit.
There were no crocodiles at the bottom of the waterfall, but the waters were squirming with large eels that generally only come out at night or when the waters are darkened by silt in the rainy season. They seemed fond of fish food instead of human flesh, but I was no hurry to jump into the murky waters. I suspect this was a seasonal condition though as splashing under the falls is still listed as an optional activity.
The Tunnel of Love which was at one time going to be an aquarium exhibit is now the favorite daytime hideaway for the local microbat population. I found the microbats very interesting, but I have always been a bit of a bat person. The gardens are overgrown, but contain some absolutely stunning tropical flowers.
We took the regular day tour of the property, and our French guide was very entertaining and informative. There is also a night walk of the property where they light up the ruins that I suspect would be very creepy and enjoyable. The property is supposed to have some beautiful bird life, but as it was raining, all we saw was a common brush turkey.
Flooding is still a annual problem for the property and floods are measured by how high they reach on the grand staircase. Although flooding this year was extensive, there was no major damage to the property.