As Hinchinbrook Island virgins, the caravan park day cruise deal – $50 per person instead of the usual $99 – was mighty attractive! Especially when it transpired that accomodation pick up and lunch was the only difference between the two tours … hell, even I can make a sandwich to save $49! The package was really just a teaser for the delights of Australia’s largest island national park – also WAAAAY cheaper and more low-commitment than a more full on experience such as hiking the Thorsborne trail and/or actually staying on/exploring the island! We didn’t even know if we’d want to do these things!!
As it turned out, the cheapskate deal was a bonus as the day started out grey, drizzling and misty with the famous Hinchinbrook peaks barely visible.
There may be another reason for the great distance from the marina car park to the cruise check in centre, but my money is on staff economy. The lone receptionist dealing with day trippers, resort check in/out and travel bookings may have been even more harrassed if travellers hadn’t been arriving in dribs and drabs, gasping for coffee after our long hike from the car park – but even so, a pretty long queue had developed by the time we arrived.
Happily, this coincided with the arrival of the cruise coordinator who told day cruise travellers to move to the next counter. Sadly, this immediately triggered an unexpected Grey Nomad ‘Shame File’ incident when an ageing queue jumper immediately mateialised at the counter. As she wasn’t in the queue in front of, or behind us, I can only assume she dropped down from the ceiling as bats are wont to do …
The overcast day gave us a rare piece of luck, with the opportunity to see the Island, channel and seascape in shades of grey rather than the ubiquitous tropical wonderland colour palette of travel brochure photos. My luck held as the swimsuit I wore under my shorts and shirt gave a valuable insulating layer against the cold winds in the channel! There was little chance I’d be using my swimsuit for anything else after keywords such as ‘wilderness area’, ‘crocodiles’, ‘marine stingers’ and ‘own risk’ kept popping up in the cruise directors ‘safety’ chat.
The transport punt was tied to the cruise boat by a rope 20 or so metres long. Depending on the current, swell and wave action the punt either skimmed over the waves like a hyperactive dolphin, or lumbered along making heavy weather of it like a recalcitrant cow on the end of a tether. I guess the inadvertent entertainment this provided replaced the dugong search promised by the cruise advertising blurb, although the captain explained that most dugongs weren’t in the channel anyway, as they tended to hang around the jetty!! I guess we could always go look for them ourselves on the jetty when we returned if we really wanted to see them – nothing like a bit of responsibility transference, huh?!
BUT … even the gloom and cold couldn’t mask the magnificence that is Hinchinbrook Island. Massive volcanic peaks tower above the mangrove swamps, emerging from the mist to reveal impenetrable forest and rocky slopes. The endless sweeping curve of beach, butterflies and birds, and deep rainforest down to the sand make an unforgettable vista. A boat could easily get lost in the maze of channels and creeks through the mangroves, and the evidence of wild storms and torrential rain just highlights the harsh beauty of the island.
It’s no surprise that Captain Cook, first European to explore the area, thought it was part of the mainland.
After a short punt ride, we finally set foot on Hinchinbrook Island. A party of hikers committed to several days of strenuous hiking on the Thorsborne trail passed us, togged out like cross country skiers with masks, poles and protective clothing. Inspired by their efforts, and sighting the start of the trail close by at the end of the beach, we plunged into the rainforest and walked the trail for 30 minutes or so before returning to the boat and home. So you see, we DID walk the Thorsborne trail – but like the rest of our Hinchinbrook experience, we did it the LITE way!
Incidentally, there’s a killer public toilet view from the mainland across the Hinchinbrook Channel to the island – but heavy cloud cover meant the photo didn’t meet my stringent Australia’s Scenic Public Toilets standards. But don’t despair! If the weather’s any better when we head south, I’ll try to capture it for you then …