Paronella Park is a beautiful place in tropical Queensland, about 120 km south of Cairns. We had no idea about this place, but it was highly recommended to us by the nice woman at Apollo and was voted in 2009 as the Number One Must-Do in Queensland. The entrance fee was $47 per person, but the powered site for our campervan for one night was included.
History of the Park
Despite the rain, we took the next tour through the park and were asked not to take pictures during the guided tour. This would have distracted from the story and would have taken too much time, if everyone is occupied with taking pictures before moving on. I thought this was a great approach and that way you really focus on the guide and what she was saying. We had plenty of time to stroll around after the tour and take pictures.
The story of Paronella Park and its builder José Paronella would make a good novel. Originally from Spain, he arrived in Australia in 1913 and worked quite hard on cane sugar farms and then buying, improving and selling cane farms where he made quite a lot of money. To get away from the mafia that wanted to get hold of his money, he travelled back to Spain to marry Matilda who he hadn’t contacted in twelve years. Wait, what? Yes, apparently this was an arranged marriage, but because 12 years is a long time and nobody knew whether José was still alive, she had married someone else in the meantime. Her family was quite embarrassed when he suddenly showed up – but they had a younger daughter, so why not marry Margarita instead? They got to know each other, married in 1925 and then came back to Australia.
Inspired by the bedtime stories he heard at a a child, José always wanted to build a castle with all the bells and whistles. Considering the time, it was quite remarkable what he build. He had his own hydro electric generating plant – the earliest in North Queensland. So since 1933, he had power to lighten up the park and the waterfall, to run a theatre where he could show movies, and to operate a fridge so even ice cream was available.
As we learned from the guide, José opened up the park to the public early on. He created the “Lovers Lane” which is a pathway that leads to “Teresa Falls” and the “Tunnel of Love” which was adults-only. The pathway was built wide enough for couples to stroll easily through hand in hand.
Unfortunately, floods, cyclones, fire, and the chosen material (the river sand was less than optimal to create concrete) damaged or wore down many buildings.
The Night Tour
Bookings are essential for the night tour (also included in the entry fee though) and we met with the guide at 6 pm. Due to the big crowd, we were divided into three rather big groups, everyone got a torch and then we walked again through the park, getting an idea what it looked like in the 30s with the lights José used to “show off” a bit. We had the same guide as in the afternoon and she continued to tell us about the history of the park; in particular about what the current owners Mark and Judy Evans had learned about the story from José’s daughter Teresa, when she visited the park soon after it was reopened.
The visit was quite emotional for Teresa, seeing the sky high Kauri Pines she helped planting when she was little. But also seeing that the waterfall her dad had named after her “Teresa Falls” did not look like it was supposed to. Mark and Judy learned that José wanted this spring-fed waterfall to look like the Mena Creek Falls. So he put concrete there to have three separate streams of water falling down. After Teresa told this to the new owners, they made sure that the waterfall looked the same again.
The String Family in Concert
For the last part of the night tour, all three groups met in front of the old “Refreshment Rooms” to watch the performance of “The String Family”. This family of four plays violin and cello and is in Paronella Park from May to October this year. This was really fantastic and when they played my favorite part of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, I got goosebumps.
Unfortunately, the father could not play with them, as he is still recovering from a serious head injury when he slipped earlier this year while walking along Josephine Falls near Cairns. But he made a short appearance and joined his family later during the encore.
Before the encore, the owner of the park, Mark Evans, came also and talked a bit about the park and also the String Family. After the tour, we were asked to meet the staff to give back the torches and to receive a little gift (which, as Mark let on, is a way to get all the torches back 😉). Everyone got a little bag and Mark told us, that this is actually a piece of the castle. And it says so on a little paper:
This is a piece of José Paronella’s Castle. It was hand mixed by José in 1930, and came down in Cyclone Larry in 2006. We hope that this piece of castle reminds you to follow your dreams just like José did.