Imagine walking through the lush, tropical rainforests of Far North Queensland, surrounded by towering palm trees and ferns. Butterflies and starlings are fluttering by as a waterfall thunders in the distance. You round the corner and there before you are the crumbling ruins of a Spanish-inspired castle, with cement staircases and ornate fountains. Welcome to Paronella Park, one of Queensland’s best kept secrets and a fascinating slice of this state’s unique history.
The man behind this extraordinary sanctuary was José Paronella. Originally from Catalonia, he bought this 13-acre plot of land in 1914 for just £120, but it wasn’t until 1935 when the park finally opened to the public in all its glory. The park’s theatre screened films on Saturday nights and on special occasions the hall would come to life with parties and dances. Revellers would be bathed in sparkling light thrown by the giant, hanging mirror ball, which was made up of 1,270 tiny mirrors glued together. During his time here, José planted more than 7,000 trees, including his towering avenue of kauri trees, which today tower over visitors with dramatic effect.
Sadly, the glory days of Paronella Park have long since faded, and the attraction has seen its fair share of fires, flash floods and cyclones over the years; all of which have taken their toll. However today, visitors can still stroll among the gardens, wander over the rope bridge which overlooks the Mena Falls, and can enjoy the well-preserved architecture, as well as the tranquility of the surrounding flora and fauna. History and engineering buffs will love exploring the park’s fully restored 1930s hydro-electric generator, which keeps the park well lit at night. Children will love feeding the resident fish and turtles, and watching the microbats wake up as night falls.
The Café on the Deck is open during the day, serving fruit smoothies and fresh sandwiches and cakes in the sunshine. Visitors are also welcome to bring a picnic lunch with them. There are modern cabins where visitors can stay overnight, or there is a camping ground and caravan park available too. The price of entry to the park allows visitors to come back as often as they want for 24 months, giving them the opportunity to take their time exploring and see the changes throughout the different seasons. Also included with your ticket are guided tours, both during the day and at night, along with a souvenir guide book.
José died from cancer in 1948, but his legacy very much lives on through his descendants, who continue to take excellent care of the park, working hard to ensure it remains its magic for generations to come.