Thrills, spills and won­der

From tak­ing on the Tully’s rapids to ex­plor­ing a jaw-drop­ping park, there’s a long ‘to do’ list

Life & Style Weekend - - ESCAPE - BY Kathy Sund­strom

THINK Far North Queens­land and images of sun-soaked beaches, coral reefs and trop­i­cal rain­forests will spring to mind. And that’s all good, ex­cept when you ar­rive in the mid­dle of win­ter, the dry sea­son, and it’s rain­ing.

But there is lots to do in and around the area that has very lit­tle to do with the beach or the weather and makes it a trip that is so worth­while.

White wa­ter raft­ing

The Tully River has long been known as the best wild wa­ter raft­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

With a se­ries of rapids rated as three or four (the best is five out of five) you can un­der­stand why.

But you don’t have to go down the Tully in a raft with a large group of other peo­ple (most of whom you won’t know) and put your life in the hands of a guide.

You can pad­dle the lower stretches of the Tully and have just as much fun. In my opin­ion, even more fun.

Wild­side Ad­ven­tures of­fers sports raft­ing tours where you can pad­dle your own raft down the river while be­ing led by an ex­pe­ri­enced guide the whole way.

A big ad­van­tage of do­ing this tour was that my nine-year-old daugh­ter could come along whereas you have to be 13 to join in the raft­ing tours on the up­per stretches of the river.

I’ve been white wa­ter raft­ing on what’s rated as the best thrill ride in the world, the Zam­bezi, where the rapids are graded 5 and the crocs lit­er­ally line the banks of the river at the foot of Vic­to­ria Falls in Zim­babwe.

I gen­uinely en­joyed raft­ing the Tully more as I was in con­trol (mostly) of my own craft and I had a far greater adren­a­line rush.

There is lit­tle more thrilling than steer­ing your­self to­wards a rapid and hav­ing ab­so­lutely no idea what is to follow.

My teenage sons, who shared a craft, had an ab­so­lute ball, in hind­sight. Dur­ing the tour there were mo­ments when they were pinned on a rock and their bulging eyes ex­plained why they were say­ing things like “we think we are go­ing to die”.

But they were in ex­pert hands and our bril­liant guide, Mac, was never far away to yell at them and make sure they popped out safely on the other side of the rapid.

The $99 half day tour will pick you up and take you back to Mis­sion Beach, with trips also avail­able to and from Cairns.

Paronella Park

If you have never been to Paronella Park, near In­n­is­fail, then you ab­so­lutely have to in­clude it on your next trip.

We’ve been twice and have never been dis­ap­pointed, even though no one in my fam­ily has much sen­ti­ment for his­tory. It’s no won­der it con­stantly wins tourism awards.

The 5ha park was hand-built by Spa­niard Jose Paronella on the banks of the Mena Falls and then opened to the pub­lic in 1935.

That a mere man could build all of the build­ings, foun­tains, parks, a love tun­nel and even a hy­dro plant is a phenom­e­nal story.

It is noth­ing short of amaz­ing to walk through the grounds and con­sider what one man with a dream could achieve.

But if you ask me, the in­cred­i­ble story is that of its cur­rent own­ers, Mark and Judy Evans, who bought a ne­glected, run-down, old tourist at­trac­tion in 1993 and trans­formed it into what it is to­day.

The Evans have done more than keep Jose’s dream alive.

They have cre­ated a his­tor­i­cal tourist at­trac­tion that eas­ily bored teens (like mine) are mes­merised by.

And they don’t use trendy new elec­tron­ics to cap­ture their in­ter­est. It is the won­der­ful staff who share the park’s his­tory on the guided tours who make it so worth­while.

An­other ad­van­tage for the bud­get con­scious fam­ily is that this is such good value.

The $138 price of ad­mis­sion (for two adults and three kids) gave us un­lim­ited ac­cess to the park and its tours as well as an overnight pow­ered camp­site with mod­ern fa­cil­i­ties and the op­por­tu­nity to visit and ex­pe­ri­ence it all again for free within two years.

The night tour is an ab­so­lute must and even in­cluded a free sou­venir.

Mis­sion Beach

If you re­ally want to en­joy a trop­i­cal beach ex­pe­ri­ence that’s away from the crowds, head down to Mis­sion Beach.

It’s only 139km from Cairns and is well worth the trip with its co­conut palm-lined beaches and stun­ning views of Dunk Is­land in the dis­tance.

We first dis­cov­ered Mis­sion Beach in 2010, a year be­fore Cy­clone Yasi devastated the area.

It was so good to go back and see Yasi had no last­ing im­pact. The town is full of lit­tle tourism shops, but it is the coun­cil-owned camp­site right on the beach we will keep go­ing back for.

We have never, in our many tours around Aus­tralia, found an­other camp site quite like it.

Not only do many of the sites front the beach, we have yet to find bet­ter value. With sites for $20 a night for a fam­ily of four (an ex­tra $4 for our fifth child), you have to be sure you get in early as it can be fully booked.

No ad­vanced book­ings are al­lowed, so you have to turn up and hope for the best.

From Mis­sion Beach, you can visit Dunk Is­land. While the re­sort is no longer open, there is still so much to see and en­joy.

I’ve been to Port Dou­glas, and sure, it’s nice. But if you ask me, Mis­sion Beach is the pick of beaches in North Queens­land. You can walk for hours, search for sand dol­lars and bask in the sun for free.


Paronella Park, near In­n­is­fail, was built by Spa­niard Jose Paronella and, bot­tom left, Mis­sion Beach.

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