Hinchinbrook Island, tropical northern Queensland

A tropical island in Northern Queensland, Hinchinbrook Island is between the mainland and the UNESCO World Heritage sited Great Barrier Reef.

Most of the island (along with the Hinchinbrook Channel and neighbouring Goold Island) is part of the Hinchinbrook Island National Park.

The island is 399 square kilometers, making it the country’s largest island national park.

The island has no road network – the only way to get around is via ferry or by walking. This is not a destination for those seeking the trappings of a luxurious all-inclusive resort. But if you’re looking for peace and quiet and enjoying the environment – not jet skis, nightclubs, and hustle and bustle – this is the place for you.

History

Hinchinbrook Island was originally inhabited by the aboriginal Bandjin people. Remnants of their way of life exist today – including shell middens, 10,000 year old fish traps were which man-made rock formations that took advantage of tide movements to naturally capture and keep alive fish for days.

A small number of European settlers moved to the island in the 1800s to fish, farm, and mine – but never in such great numbers as to negatively impact the beautiful environment of Hinchinbrook Island.

The island was declared a national park in 1932.

Natural environment

The island was created when the sea level rose after the last ice age, flooding the Hinchinbrook Channel – which prior to that point was a mountain valley.

The mountainous island is mostly bushland, tropical rainforest, and heath, with eleven sandy beaches.  The island is known for its waterfalls and caves.  The highest point is Mount Bowen, at 1,121m above sea level, an extinct volcano. The southern part of the island comprises mainly large granite crags, whereas the north-west comprises older volcanic rocks with a more hilly terraine.

The island has diverse marine habitats, ranging from mangroves forests, sea grass beds, rocky and sandy shores, and estuaries.

The island’s beaches are stunning:

  • Orchid Beach, next to the resort
  • North Shepherd Beach, a two-kilometer walk a half-hour walk from the resort
  • South Shepherd Beach, a two hour hike south of North Shepherd Beach. This remote beach is almost certainly going to be deserted.
  • Ramsay Beach, black sand beach at the northern tip of the Thorsborne Trail.

Animals such as the dugong (a type of the threatened species of seacows), and the endangered Giant Tree Frog live on or around the island, as do sea turtles  and dolphins. Tree species (including Milky Pine and Palm Figs), 22 species of butterfly, 29 types of mangrove, and 66 bird species will keep visitors busy.  In particular, the island is well-known for its bird populations, which include: Herons, Scrub Hens, Pheasants,  Cockatoos,  Torres Strait and Wompoo Pigeon, and Sunbirds.

Activities (Nature and Wildlife Interest)

Hinchinbrook Island is a desirable ecotourism destination, with high season running from May to October (services are limited during the low season, and ferry services stop running during the cyclone season -  February to March).

The major activity on the island is hiking – most popularly the 32km Thorsborne Trail along the eastern coast. The hike was named after Arthur and Margaret Thorsborne, who were scientists and environmentalists. Only experienced hikers should attempt the trail, which takes about four days (three nights) to complete, and runs north-to-south from Ramsay Bay to George Point. There are no facilities along this route – meaning that hikers must be self-reliant (food, camping equipment, fuel stoves).

Alternatively, visitors can hike to:

  • The various beaches
  • Cape Richards, the island’s northernmost tip which has a great viewpoint to neighbouring Goold Island, Orchid Beach, and the sea
  • Missionary Bay (northwest island), with a 60m boardwalk over the mangroves which connects to a 200m path to Ramsay Beach
  • Turtle Bay, a short walk from the resort, near Cape Richards

Other activities include: fishing, day cruises through the mangrove everglades or to the Great Barrier Reef for snorkeling and scuba diving (though the visibility is often poor).

Accommodation

Hinchinbrook Island Wilderness Lodge and Resort is an ecotourism destination – and the only accommodation on the island. The resort is located along an eight kilometer strip of sand between capes Sandwich and Richards, with the almost sheer cliff drop of the 1121m Mt. Bowen behind the lodge.

The lodge offers two types of accommodation: treehouses in the rainforest (connected by a boardwalk), and beach cabins (sparsely equipped, with basic kitchen facilities). The resort has a total of 18 rooms, with three cabins and 15 tree houses.

Facilities include: restaurant, bar,  individual treetop bungalows, swimming pool, wireless broadband internet, canoes and kayaks, fishing charters ($), snorkeling gear, snorkeling and dive charters ($), day cruises ($), shop, library, reading room

Camping

Camping is possible on the island – by permit only, and only in limited numbers so as to protect the natural environment.  Camp fires are expressly prohibited at all times.  Campers must be aware that there are many crocodiles living along the island’s waterways. There are basic campsites along the trail, and three additional campsites outside the trail:

  • Macushla, south of the resort and close to the Shepherd Beaches (with the following facilities – gas barbecue, toilets, picnic tables)
  • Goold Island, small island north of Hinchinbrook Island, with a fully equipped campsite on a sheltered beach (no water supply)
  • Garden Island

Getting There

Hinchinbrook Island is 180km south of Cairns, 120km north of Townsville, and 1240km northwest of Brisbane.  The island is located just north of Ingham.

By air…

Reef Watch operates a light aircraft charter service from Cairns to Caldwell (mainland).

By land…

Travelers can drive from Cairns to Cardwell (2.5 hours) or Townsville to Cardwell (2 hours). Greyhound bus also offers services to and from Cairns and Townsville. Buses connect Cardwell to Port Hinchinbrook, and between Lucinda and Ingham.

By sea…

There are two ferries and one charter service that travel to and from Hinchinbrook Island, which take about 45 minutes.

  • Hinchinbrook Wilderness Safaris connects Lucinda (mainland) with George Point (south-east edge of the island).
  • Hinchinbrook Island Ferries connects Cardwell (mainland, two hours south of Cairns) and Ramsay Bay, Macushla, and Cape Richards (north-eastern shore of the island).
  • A chartered boat service, Absolute North Charters, can arrange transfers to Zoe Bay as well.

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