The entirety of Hinchinbrook Island in Tropical North Queensland is a national park, and four days on the Thorsborne Trail is the perfect way to experience its breathtaking beauty.
- Nina Peak lookout
- Zoe Falls
- Endless untouched beaches
- Camping under the stars
Australia’s largest island national park is situated a stone’s throw from Cardwell and Ingham in Tropical North Queensland and is within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Despite the island’s proximity to the mainland, its untouched beauty is out of this world.
A bushwalker’s, photographer’s and nature enthusiast’s dream; the Thorsborne Trail meanders its way along the east coast of Hinchinbrook Island, passing through a wide diversity of ecosystems including beaches, rainforest, woodlands, waterfalls and mountain peaks.
The Thorsborne Trail can be walked in either a north or south direction. Our preference is to walk from north to south so you walk into the south-easterly sea breeze to cool you off along the trail. The most popular option for hiking the Thorsborne Trail is over four days / three nights, however there are many options with six designated campsites along the trail.
As Hinchinbrook Island is a national park, a camping permit is required. This can be accessed through the QLD Parks website. The Thorsborne Trail is very popular during the cooler months in North Queensland, and with a limit of 40 hikers on the island at any one-time, bookings in advance are strongly recommended.
Day 1 – Ramsay Bay to Little Ramsay Bay
Distance: 6.5km (+ approx. 600m for Nina Peak)
Duration: 4 hours
Access to the start of the Thorsborne Trail is via a small creek in Missionary Bay where there’s a pontoon and boardwalk taking you onto the eastern side of the island. From here you head south along the pristine sand of Ramsay Bay. We’ve been told that if you explore north along the beach you can find fossils of crabs and smaller crayfish scattered along the untouched beach.
Hint: Leave your pack at the start of the trail and collect it on return.
From the south end of the beach you enter the woodland area and make your way up and over a small ridgeline towards Nina Bay. About halfway along, there’s a side track to the right which takes you to the top of Nina Peak, an absolute must. From Nina Peak you have an unrestricted view of the northern section of the island, Missionary Bay and the Coral Sea. This is the perfect place to enjoy morning tea.
Descending from Nina Peak, continue on until you arrive at Nina Bay, a potential overnight option, however we decided to push on a little further.
The track between Nina Bay and a little Ramsay Bay is one of the most enjoyable on the trail. A highlight of the hike is the ever-changing terrain from beach to rocky headlands to woodlands.
At the northern end of Little Ramsay Bay lies a permanent freshwater stream coming down from Mt Bowen, which provides a great place for a cool-off swim and a water bottle refill. At each of the designated campsites there are steel hooks to hang your bags up and keep the rats and other critters away from your food.
Day 2: Little Ramsay Bay to Zoe Bay
Duration: 5-6 hours
This is the longest and most diverse day on the track. Heading south along the beach in Little Ramsay Beach, you need to cross a small tidal creek. At low tide, it’s not a problem and you’d be lucky to just get your socks wet, but it’s a different story at high tide. While I haven’t heard stories of crocodile sightings, it’s an estuary with the potential for crocodiles, so be aware and take care.
After skirting a rocky headland, the trail begins to go inland between a ridgeline where the flora changes to lush rainforest, with numerous small creeks trickling down beside the track. As you begin to descend, the flora changes from rainforest to towering, paperbark woodlands in a matter of steps. This is a favourite spot of ours to stop for morning tea.
As you continue south, you leave the peaceful paperbarks and enter a wet, swampy, muddy section of the track lined with mangrove palms and wait-a-while vines. There are a number of small freshwater creeks to cross and it’s impossible to keep your boots dry or clean, so save yourself the worry and embrace the experience.
If you’re a plant enthusiast, this section of the track is also home to a large number of dove orchids (Dendrobium crumenatum) and staghorn ferns (Platycerium) nestled amongst the trees.
As you emerge onto the beach at Zoe Bay continue south towards the end of the beach where you’ll find the campground. After selecting your site for the night, drop your pack, grab your swimmers, camera and water bottle and continue on for approximately another 10 minutes to Zoe Falls and one of the most spectacular swimming holes we’ve ever seen.
Note: The swimming holes are full of native fish (Jungle Perch or Kuhlia rupestris) and if you dangle your feet in the water, they might almost give you a fish pedicure.
Day 3: Zoe Bay to Mulligan Falls
Duration: 4 hours
This is the most challenging day on the track. From Zoe Falls the track climbs steeply to the top of the falls – so steep in fact, that there’s a rope to help in one section. The view looking out over Zoe Falls towards Zoe Bay and the Coral Sea is simply magical and is the perfect place to drop you pack for a few minutes and admire the stunning landscape.
The trail then follows South Zoe creek, crossing sides a couple of times as you begin a gradual climb to the highest point along the Thorsborne Trail at 240m.
As you climb in altitude the landscape changes once again, taking on a drier harsher appearance covered with a variety of native Xanthorrhoea plants. It’s at this point that you get a glimpse of the Palm Island group and the end of the Lucinda Sugar Jetty.
Continuing south, you eventually reach Diamantina Creek. This is a relatively large creek crossing, the largest on this hike, and following rain these river rocks can become quite slippery. The trail crosses diagonally to the right and although there’s usually a lot of water around, we’ve managed to rock hop across each time without getting wet.
Once you cross Diamantina Creek the trail begins to descend relatively quickly through a dense rainforest section with large granite boulders scattered along the trail. This section has a very Jurassic Park feel to it. At the bottom of the descent is Mulligan Falls campground.
Day 4: Mulligan Falls to George Point
Duration: 2.5 hours
The final day on the trail! Before you set off, be sure to fill up your water bottles – from here on, there are limited opportunities to refill them and the quality of water is dependent on the time of year.
After leaving Mulligan Falls campground there’s about a 1km trek through a swampy section of trail lined with paperbarks and palm trees, with numerous small freshwater creek crossings before you exit onto the beach. Once you reach the beach, it’s an enjoyable and leisurely stroll south along the white sand until you arrive at George Point and the official end of the Thorsborne Trail.
- Hiking backpack
- Tent and sleeping gear
- Cooking equipment
- Food (advised to carry an extra day’s food) – we love the Backcountry Cuisine dehydrated meal options
- Water treatment tablets
- First aid kit
- Personal Locator Beacon
- Long sleeved clothing for protection from sun, mosquitos and wait-a-while vines.
- Sturdy hiking boots (expect numerous creek crossings)
- Sunscreen/ aeroguard
- Rubbish bag (you must bring all your rubbish home with you)
How To Get There
There are two charter companies (Absolute North Charters and Hinchinbrook Island Cruises) that offer transport to and from Hinchinbrook Island, with options to depart from either Ingham or Cardwell. If you’re travelling from out of state, the closest major city is either Townsville or Cairns.
The ferry ride from Lucinda (Ingham) to Ramsay Bay at the north of Hinchinbrook Island is approximately 35km and takes roughly 90 minutes. The return ferry to Lucinda from George Point at the southern end of the island is approximately 4km and takes 15 minutes.
Access to and from the Island is tidal dependent, so it’s important to take this into account when making your arrangements.
Intermediate to advanced
This is based on the 32km distance, carrying a heavy hiking pack for three or more days and the lack of phone coverage on the island.
Distance Covered / Elevation Gain / Duration
The Thorsborne Trail is 32km in length excluding sidetracks such as Nina Peak.
Total elevation gain is 869m, with the trail peaking between Zoe Bay and Mulligan Falls at an altitude of 240m.
Recommended hike duration is 4 days/ 3 nights and recommended time of year is May to September