Paronella Park

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Paronella Park is a unique Cairns tourist attraction.  While on a road trip to Cairns and Green Island on the Great Barrier Reef between Mission Beach and Innisfail, a sign for Paronella Park passes us by.

A quick search on Trip Advisor raises our curiosity so we decide on a side trip to check it out.

We pull in to Paronella Park in the early afternoon.

The car park is full.

We are greeted at the entrance by a staff member dressed in khaki.

After 10 minutes of enthused passion and excitement for why we should visit Paronella Park, he persuades us to delay our trip, so we stop to take a look.

Paronella’s Reception and Souvenir Shop are buzzing with visitors.

It turns out that our enthusiastic ‘meet and greet guy’ was, in fact, Mark the owner!

His hands-on approach to welcoming guests and effusive passion and love for the property certainly shows, as does his overwhelming wish to provide visitors with the best experience he can.

Related reading: Things to do in Cairns and Driving from Cairns to Cooktown.

Paronella Park History 

Paronella Park History
Clockwise from top left: 1- Welcome to Paronella Park, 2- A garden pathway alongside the Ballroom ruins of Paronella Castle, 3- Family Gravestones with the ruins of the Paronella Castle Ballroom in the background, 4-Paronella Castle ruins in all its glory, 5- The beautiful ruins of Paronella Castle tower

Spaniards have love and romance in their genes, and Jose Paronella was no different.

In the early 1910s as a young Catalonian migrant, he purchased land in tropical North Queensland with dreams of building a Spanish castle for Matilda, his one true love back home.

South Of Cairns – A Touch Of Catalonia In Australia

And so began Paronella Park.

With five hectares of virgin rainforest beside Mena Creek Falls, using local sand and stone he created his dream.

Paronella Park
View from the picnic grounds to the suspension bridge crossing Mena Creek Falls
Paronella Park Entry Fee
Queensland’s first Hydro-Electric Plant built in 1933 at Paronella Park

He constructed Paronella castle with its own ballroom and water features.

A grand staircase goes down to a lake and stone tabled picnic area adjacent to the Falls.

He built a pavilion with turreted balconies, changing rooms, a cinema and tennis courts for entertainment.

Streams run through the forest crossed by small bridges to romantic secret nooks.

There is even a Tunnel of Love dug through the hillside for his one true love.

Paronella Park Wedding
from left: The Grand Ballroom staircase at Paronella Park with the various flood levels in the 1900’s, Picnic grounds next to Mena Creek Falls

First Of A Kind – Historic Power Plant

Jose needed power to operate his castle so he developed a hydro-electric power plant.

The first of its kind in North Queensland in 1933, it still exists today next to the Mena Creek Falls.

But true love does not always end well.

Matilda could not wait for him to complete his dream.

She meanwhile had married another and broke his heart.

However, an apple never falls too far from the tree.

Falling in love again he later married her sister, Margarita. And so were born many generations of Paronella’s who enjoyed the fruits of his labour.

Related posts: When visiting Tropical North Queensland, swim with turtles around the Low Isles and see wildlife in the Daintree.

Public Opening of Paronella Park In 1935 

Not only did his family enjoy his creation but he wanted others too as well. So in 1935, it was opened to the public and a new Cairns attraction was born.

Paronella castle
from left: Old stone paths leading to the changing rooms at Paronella Park, Classy visitors setting the scene

But unbeknownst to Jose, the natural materials he used had contained too much mica.

Over time, tropical rain swelled the mica content in his concrete leading to accelerated concrete cancer and decay.

Add damage from repeated cyclones, floods and fire, and Jose’s dream was reduced to a shell of its previous glory.

The Legacy of Paronella Park Lives On

Since 1993 Paronella Park has been owned by Mark and Judy Evans who have enthusiastically maintained the moss-draped, crumbling buildings.

Whilst privately owned, operated and fully Eco-Accredited,

Paronella is a National Trust listed property, as well as being State and National Heritage Listed.

Paronella Park 2
Clockwise from left: 1- Stunning avenue of tall kauri pines at Paronella Park, 2- A family of Saw-shelled snapping turtles at Paronella Park, 3- FIsh and turtles share the Waterfall Lake at Paronella Castle

Lush Tropical Flora and Fauna

Stunning lush gardens include over 7500 tropical plants attract a diversity of fauna.

Guided or self-guided tours are a wonderful way to experience this special piece of heritage.

Its numerous palm groves and spectacular avenues of kauri trees are awesome. And night tours add extra romance and intrigue to its beautifully lit gardens and waterfalls.

From electric blue Ulysses butterflies to Olive-backed sunbirds and long-legged Golden orb spiders, there is much to see.

Bent-wing microbats make the Tunnel of Love their home, along with a forest roost of spectacled megabats (flying foxes).

Paronella Park Queensland
Clockwise from left: 1- Fern – pattern symmetry and texture in nature, 2- Ginger plants in the gardens at Paronella Park, 3- Stunning red blossom of a Ginger plant

Hundreds of Jungle perch, Black bream and Saw-shelled snapping turtles inhabit the hydro lake and streams.

I have never seen so many before, their numbers swelled by the regular tourist feeding, no doubt!

En-route to the well-hidden Teresa Falls we even find a fresh-water Long-finned eel and turtle symbiotically hiding together under a small bridge. 

What Makes Paronella Park So Special?

Paronella Park exudes customer service. For example, the admission fee not only gives you entrance to Paronella.

It includes a Souvenir Guide Book, an excellent informative The Dream Continues guided Paronella Park tour, as well as complimentary fish food to use around the Park.

Paronella Park Australia
Clockwise from left: 1- A changing cubicle 1930’s style, 2- The changing rooms in Paronella Park Castle, 3 – Beautiful fountains and lily pads outside the changing rooms at Paronella Park

A Hydro-Electric Plant and The Darkness Falls night tour are also FREE (I secretly wish we weren’t so time poor…sigh…).

Not only that but selfie sticks, binoculars and umbrellas (this is the tropics after all) are FREE to hire, with FREE WiFi to immediately share your experiences on social media whilst enjoying tasty local produce and ice cream in the Paronella Park Cafe.

Paronella gardens
from left: Teresa Falls at Paronella Park, Romantic pathway to Teresa Falls

But wait there’s more. You can also have a free professional Souvenir Photo and every guest is given a souvenir Book by Mark as they leave.

Oh, did I forget to mention the free overnight Paronella Park accommodation in their caravan park?

Stay and enjoy a night tour or perhaps visit the Mena Creek Hotel or close by Mamu Skywalk as well?

The admission fee is actually a free two-year return pass (well who really needs a set of steak knives…??!!).

Now THAT is truly GOLD customer service.

Paronella Park Queensland Australia
Souvenir from Paronella Park

Mark Evan’s has certainly created an iconic Cairns tourist attraction, well worthy of the many awards it has won.

At the 2017 Queensland Tourism Awards Paronella Park won the RACQ People’s Choice award for Experience and Service, and the Gold Award for Tourist Attractions.

So, thinking of things to do around Cairns? Well, Cairns to Paronella Park is just 90 minutes drive (108km) away or coming from the south, Mission Beach to Paronella Park is 42 minutes (47km).

You just have to visit Paronella Park to believe it. It is so worth it. Don’t miss out.

While visiting Tropical North Queensland, drop into the Cairns Aquarium to learn about the Great Barrier Reef. Also worth visiting are the Wildlife Habitat near Port Douglas. Check out Kuranda Scenic Railway and Kuranda Village for more ideas.

Book your Cairns accommodation here.

Paronella Park

Paronella Park