Northern Queensland - Hiking the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island
Hinchinbrook Island National Park truly is a jewel of Northern Queensland, with the 32 kilometre Thorsborne Trail one of the most sought-after overnight hikes in Australia. The island is totally uninhabited by humans, and the only manmade structures we saw were docks, signs, and pit toilets.
This hike was logistically the most challenging (and most expensive) trek I've done in quite a while. To get to Hinchinbrook Island, we flew into Townsville (2 hours), took a shuttle to Lucinda (2 hours), stayed overnight, then took a ferry around to the hike's starting point. If you're interested in completing the trek, you can find more information at the bottom of the post.
Day 1 - 6.5km to Little Ramsay Bay
We spent the night before the hike at the Lucinda Wanderers Holiday Park, a newly-renovated park with great facilities. We made sure to pack our backpacks the night before, discarding extra items to try cut down on weight, but those starting packs are always heavy!
We boarded a small boat with one other person, a solo hiker who left us in the dust as soon as we landed.
Our first view of the island was stunning. For the entire ferry ride, we felt a bit like we were headed to Jurassic Park!
The ocean wasn't too rough, but it was a long ride.
We eventually turned off into a mangrove swamp (we sadly did not spot any dugongs). It was surprising to see a manmade dock after so long looking at pure wilderness. We were immediately attacked by sandflies and it started raining... Not an auspicious start.
The hike begins! Thankfully the skies cleared shortly afterward and we left the sandflies behind as we started hiking.
Our first beach walk beckoned, and the skies cleared.
We got to the turnoff for Nina Peak. I really didn't want to hike up to this lookout because it was HOT and I was already tired. I'm glad I did, but I forgot my wide angle lens!
Then back down it was, to collect our big packs and continue along to the next beach!
The theme of this trail was UP and then DOWN and then UP... you get the idea.
We took a lunch break at a lovely beachside spot in Nina Bay. Here we found our first pit toilet, and a campground for people with a bit more time on the trail. It was an idyllic spot, but no swimming in the ocean here due to the risk of crocodiles. The waves taunted the hot and sweaty hikers.
Then it was back to following the blazes.
Here's where the true work began, as we had to climb over many rocks. It was beautiful, but exhausting. Luckily we didn't have to worry about the tide times for our hike, as the low tide was in the middle of the day.
After a hot afternoon of rock hopping, we arrived at Little Ramsay Bay.
Just before the campground was a small inlet with picturesque reflections of the mountains. The water source was up to the right, from a rocky but clear-flowing stream. Again, we were tortured by the ocean and inlet, which were off-limits due to crocs.
We rested up a bit and then got into camp mode, putting up our tents and getting water to filter.
Trail tip: Keep in mind that there are rodents on the island, so keep any food or trash in your pack and hang it up when you are away from camp and at night. The pack rack is also a handy hook for your water filter bag.
We chatted with some of the other hiking groups, made dinner, and hit the hay early because we were all wiped.
Day 2 - 10.5 km to Zoe Bay
We were all a bit stiff and sore after our first full day of hiking, but we were also excited to see what Day 2 would bring!
The views back towards camp were pretty spectacular.
Right after this was a bit of vertical rock scrambling. Not easy with a big pack on!
After the rock scrambling, our first swim of the hike was in a teeny tiny waterfall. It was refreshing, but we were excited for the bigger ones!
We stopped for lunch, staying well away from the water as "Beware of Crocodile" signs were present.
The stream crossings continued, with us carefully stepping in some areas and removing boots for wading through others.
A hiker who'd done the trail previously tipped us off to the Blue Pools, which we would never have noticed on our own. It was the perfect spot for another swim!
After a very long day due to our many swim detours, we finally made it to Zoe Bay.
The ferry guy warned us about the sandflies here, and he was right. I covered up head to toe and still got eaten alive. The only solution was DEET. We were told about a campsite that's closer to Zoe Falls and less insect-infested, but it was already taken.
We strung up hammocks, explored the nearby waterfall (worth it if you want a post-hike swim), and had dinner on the beach.
We saw the same knowledgeable hiker again, who came over after dark with her crew and we went croc-spotting in the lagoon near the campground. Yep, we saw some big eyes shining... Surprisingly, no one had nightmares. In the morning we saw drag marks and prints in the same area, and oh boy, the croc threat is real!
Day 3 - 7.5km to Mulligan Falls
The next morning we packed up as quickly as we could to avoid the bugs and headed to Zoe Falls. We couldn't resist a swim in the lower pool, which was a good cool-off before the super steep ascent to the upper pools (there's one part where you use a chain to get up).
Well worth the trip, just for this view!
You can swim in the top of the falls, or in a pool below the first rim.
We had a very scenic breakfast.
We spent a few hours swimming, but knew we had to get moving or we wouldn't make camp before dark.
The day following was the hardest of the lot. It was mostly open trail, with the hot sun beating down. We wet our shirts and Buffs as often as possible, but there wasn't much shade.
It was long, it was hot, but when we got to the top of the ridgeline, we got 180 degree ocean views the whole way.
After a lot of down, we made it to a flat, tree-covered trail. Our final campground was nestled in a thick grove.
We hopped into the last waterfall of the trip before dinner. Ahh, refreshing.
We read our books for a bit and feasted on our favourite backpacking meal, Backpacker's Pantry pad thai, courtesty of Andrea's last trip to the U.S. and of course, REI.
Day 4 - 7.5km to George Point (2.5 hours)
A final trail breakfast was eaten at the top of the waterfall, and a final dip before the hot hike out.
After how long it took us to get to the campgrounds on the previous days, I was confused about the time estimate for Day 4 (2.5 hours). It also was still rated as "difficult". I think this has to do with the tides. The tidal river crossings here can be quite dangerous (read: crocs), but for our hike it was low tide and we cruised our way to the pickup point.
The last 5 kilometres were an easy walk along the beach. Someone's phone made a notification sound and we all groaned a bit... It was so nice to be disconnected for a few days.
Delirium or joy?
We made it to George Point, the end of the trail!
There was a campground and pit toilet here, but as there's nowhere safe to swim and you can actually see Lucinda, most people choose to do the final day in one push.
Our ferry was waiting to take us back to the mainland. I think we were all happy to put down the packs and take a shower!
We made it back to the caravan park, got our luggage, and took a long shower in the big shower block. A change of clothes, off to the pub for a feed, and then our transfer back to Townsville. The crew enjoyed sitting down and watching the world go by, and they dropped me off at the airport for my earlier flight back to Brisbane.
Extra kudos to our friend's mom who was a legend for hiking this trail with us! You can adventure with us anytime, Gaye. To Andrea for doing the bulk of travel planning. To Talia for endless stoke and carrying capacity. To Bek for being great company. And a shoutout to Janine who had a concussion and couldn't come along... Let's plan the next one soon, huh?
Trail length: 32 kilometres (~20 miles)
Minimum time: 4 days, 3 nights
Suggested season: April-September
Max group size: 6 people
The trail can be walked north from George Point or south from Ramsay Bay. We liked the southbound option as we would get the long ferry over with first.
I was surprised to see so much of the hike rated as difficult. The mileage each day seemed easy enough, even with a big pack. But once on the trail, I understood why. The trail is marked well most of the way, but the entire hike wanders along rocky outcroppings, sandy beaches, wet marshy areas, and countless stream crossings. Our group is very fit (2 ultra-runners) and I found it to be do-able but I was glad we didn't go any later in the year (we went in mid-October). It was really stinkin' hot, which makes the croc-infested waters even more of a tease on the days without safe swimming holes.
The most frustrating part of this trip logistically was getting gas for our stove. You aren't allowed to fly with gas, and we were pretty crunched for time on the way up. I made a very expensive Uber detour to Anaconda to pick up fuel. I suggested to the holiday park that they sell stove gas to hikers, but not sure if they were keen on the idea.
Must-haves for the hike:
Assorted hiking gear
Water filter and treatment tablets as a backup
First aid kit
Bug spray (I hate using DEET but would recommend on this trail)
Dehydrated meals or food that won't spoil in multiple days of heat
To keep Hinchinbrook wild, only 40 people are allowed to hike the trail at one time. You must have a permit to hike the trail. Kayakers who stay overnight have different permit booking options. Some people also come explore by boat, usually as day trips from the mainland.
Permits are released on a rolling 6 month basis, so each day you can book permits for any day up to six months in advance. However, between around April and October, they book up right away.
You can book more than 6 permits, but you are only supposed to hike in groups of 6 to limit environmental impact.
If you're not going to use a permit, please return it. We returned the permit for our friend who got a concussion before the trip, and we're pretty sure the solo hiker we met on the ferry took it.
It took us a long time and a lot of effort to get permits; kudos to Andrea for staying up at odd hours to book them!
Getting to the Thorsborne Trail
Getting to Townsville
We chose to meet up in Townsville, as we all had varying days we could get off work. I flew Virgin and the others flew Jetstar. Keep in mind that you'll need to check a bag, and you cannot fly with stove gas so you'll have to find some before you start the trail.
Alternatively, you can fly/drive to Cairns, then Cardwell, and take a different ferry from Cardwell.
Shuttle to Lucinda
We looked into renting a car that could fit all of us (originally 6), but it worked out to be about the same cost to get a shuttle. We preferred that as none of us would need to drive, and we wouldn't leave a rental car sitting in unfamiliar territory for 4 days.
A shuttle with Helloworld Travel Ingham was arranged and was exactly as advertised.
Accommodation in Lucinda
We stayed at the Lucinda Wanderers Holiday Park, in 2 cottages on the property. The staff will store excess luggage for hikers and give you a towel and a shower upon return. I would highly recommend them as they were super responsive to my many questions, and were flexible with bookings after one of our friends couldn't make the trip.
We ate at the Lucinda Hotel, which is a block away from the holiday park and is also quite nice. The portions were huge, the drinks were cold, and the staff were very entertaining.
Ferry to Hinchinbrook
You can do the trail in 2 directions, but we thought it made more sense to do it north to south. This means we had a long ferry ride on the way over, but the return ferry was only about 10 minutes.
We booked with Absolute North Charters. They got us where we needed to go, but the guy that runs it is pretty crabby and technology-averse. However, he does know the trail backwards and forwards, and the app he helped develop is well worth purchasing for the trek. He did also give us some mosquito coils for the really bad areas, which was nice.
Would you like to know anything about the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island that I haven't mentioned above? Comment below and I'll try give you an answer!