Historic attractions are probably not what you’d expect to find in the middle of North Queensland’s sugar and banana farm country. Yet, Paronella Park’s decaying castle, set amongst beautiful tropical gardens with a waterfall and lake, is a delightful hidden treasure that is well worth a visit.
I’ve lived in North Queensland for eight years and lots of people have told me how much they enjoyed Paronella Park.
But as a European who was born and raised close to castles that are many centuries old, I had expectations about castles that I wasn’t sure Paronella Park would live up to.
However, having recently visited, I’ve realised that the real star of the show is not the castle itself but the story of the man who built it, Jose Paronella.
[headline size=”small” align=”left”]The story of jose paronella[/headline]
Jose was a Spanish pastry chef who migrated to Australia in 1913 hoping to make his fortune. He left behind his fiancée Matilda and promised to return for her when he had accumulated enough wealth to provide a good life for them both.
He proved to be very entrepreneurial and after 11 years of buying, improving and selling cane farms, Jose returned to Spain to collect Matilda, only to discover that she had married someone else.
But that didn’t stop Jose from pursuing his goals and he proposed to Matilda’s younger and prettier sister instead!
By 1929 the newlyweds had bought the 13 acres of virgin rainforest beside Mena Creek Falls that is now known as Paronella Park. And, inspired by memories of Catalonian castles in his homeland, Jose began designing and building his very own castle and ‘pleasure park’.
As our tour guide escorted us around the park and described Jose and his life story, I couldn’t help but think that this man was way ahead of his time.
Not only did he build his own castle by hand with a huge ballroom and movie theatre, but he also created picnic areas by the lake, tennis courts, bridges, tunnels and an amazing garden that now boats 7,000 tropical plants and trees.
In 1933, despite having no engineering qualifications, he also went on to harness the power of the waterfall by creating North Queensland’s first hydro-electric plant to power the property. Not bad for a pastry chef!
In 1935 Jose and Margarita opened Paronella Park to the public and it became a social centre for the local community as well as for Australian and American personnel during the war.
Unfortunately its heyday didn’t last.
Jose died in 1948, leaving his wife and two children to manage the property. Over the next few decades Paronella Park suffered damage caused by cyclones as well as a fire that swept through the castle in 1979. By the 1980’s the park had fallen into disrepair.
[headline size=”small” align=”left”]paronella rediscovered[/headline]
The current owners of Paronella Park, Mark and Judy Evans, were seachangers looking for a new opportunity when they happened upon the old park and decided to restore it to its former glory.
Since owning it they have even received a visit from Jose’s daughter who helped them uncover old pathways that had become overgrown.
They are even planning to rebuild the ballroom.
[headline size=”small” align=”left”]Touring the property[/headline]
The best way to enjoy Paronella Park is to join one of the tours, which run throughout the day from 9.30am until 4.30pm. They give you a really good understanding of the man that Jose was, as well as an historical background on this wonderful property.
Once the tour finishes you can walk around and explore the gardens, feed the fish, look for turtles and check out the darkened Tunnel of Love where there are bats sleeping. The gardens are a maze of tropical foliage with lots of areas to explore. There is also a suspended bridge across the top of the waterfall that gives amazing views of the property.
Night tours of Paronella Park are also available giving a completely different experience of the park by torchlight, with a highlight being the magical lighting up of the castle.
Paronella Park is an enchanting place to visit and quite unexpected, given it’s location. I really enjoyed it, but what surprised me the most was just how much my 8-year-old daughter enjoyed it too. She was completely fascinated by Jose’s story and couldn’t wait to tell her classmates at school about it.
[headline size=”small” align=”left”]travel nq fast facts[/headline]
- Paronella Park is 120 kms south of Cairns, near Innisfail
- Entry fees include unlimited visits for up to two years and one free nights camping in the adjoining campground – Adults $42, Children $21
- There is a good café on-site or you can eat at the nearby Mena Creek Hotel
- Paronella Park is along the Great Green Way
Photos thanks to Tourism & Events Queensland