Reviewed: November 2008
Author: Daniel Tillack
The jewel of North Queensland’s wet tropics World Heritage Area still shines with options for boating holiday makers. Using a houseboat as a base and taking your own trailerboat to explore the wider area is the best way to experience Hinchinbrook Island. Travel & Holidays – Hinchinbrook Island fast facts
• Hinchinbrook is part of a World Heritage Area and Australia’s largest island national park, covering 39,300ha.
• The Island is 37.4km long and 10km wide.
• The majority of the inside coast of the Island is mangroves and mudflats; the Island also has 11 beautiful sandy beaches.
• The highest point, Mt Bowen at 1121m, is Queensland’s third biggest mountain and was named after Governor Sir George Bowen.
• The island was home to the Bandyin Aboriginal people for thousands of years.
• Captain Cook sighted Hinchinbrook Island in 1770 and named it Hillock Point—not realising that is was separated from the coast. Captain Phillip Parker King of the HMS Mermaid named it ‘Hinchinbrook Island’—after the Earl of Sandwich’s estate in England—in May 1819.
There are still a few special places left in the world that appear unchanged since the end of the last ice age. areas that have the same silence, raw beauty and wildlife which amazed the early explorers; that catch you wondering if Cook or Flinders looked at the same rock, tree or beach. The north of Australia is well endowed with such areas, but many are inaccessible or impractical for a quick break from city life. North Queensland’s Hinchinbrook Island, however, is geographically and economically accessible and has all the wondrous qualities that clear the mind and almost convince you to sell up and sail. One day…
My attachment to Hinchinbrook Island is environmental, piscatorial, sentimental and transcendental: the scenery and wildlife present new thrills each visit, the variety of fishing options has no twin, it’s been the backdrop to treasured holidays and every experience has left a mark in my mind that can’t be washed away.
From the air, Hinchinbrook Island’s shape looks like a Fender Stratocaster that’s had the neck snapped off and edges beaten in a rock star’s hotel room tantrum—the once-shapely body and horns are all that remain.
At water level, there is muse for a postcard everywhere you look. The imposing mount Bowen dominates the sky, watching your every move. a maze of mangrove creeks fringe Hinchinbrook channel on both the coast and island sides, looking like tentacles reaching in vain to pull the island back to the mainland but for the strength of the current between them. The water looks deep to the edges until a draining tide reveals vast flats that flicker with the movement of mudskippers and fiddler crabs going about their daily chores.
If the channel side of the island is the plain sister—complex, fascinating and mysterious, once you get to know her—the ocean side is the stunning beauty queen. it’s a contrast of rocks and tantalising beaches that look brand new despite being thousands of years old. It’s got it and it flaunts it.
The many faces of Hinchinbrook’s environment reflect the variety of experiences available. Boaters can cruise from beach to beach and creek to creek exploring what catches their attention and being thrilled by the chance encounters with amazing marine life such as turtles, dolphins, dugongs and crocodiles.
Anglers can hike the rainforest streams in the mainland mountains for jungle perch and sooty grunter, cast for barramundi in the estuaries, troll for mackerel in the channel, head to the reef for coral trout or wider for billfish.
Hikers can earn a sweat on the 32km Thorsborne Trail that runs along the eastern side of the island. it’s a four-day hike, longer if you enjoy getting sidetracked. The air amidst the dense tropical vegetation of the mountain tops and water falling from distant cliffs offer nature lovers glimpses of the Jurassic era. Those so inclined will delight at rare encounters with blue banksia flowers, king parrots and tree frogs. A refreshing dip in a freshwater stream is a deserved reward for effort.
Back on the water, swimming options are restricted. Never swim anywhere in the channel or in missionary Bay. There are no records of anyone being killed by a croc at Hinchinbrook, but that’s probably because few people would be silly enough to swim anywhere but on the beaches on the eastern side. And these can be dangerous during the November to May stinger season. Commonsense is your best friend when jumping in the water.
Hinchinbrook Island is accessed via Lucinda at the southern end of Hinchinbrook channel, or Cardwell at the northern end. For those unacquainted with these smaller dots on the map, it’s about halfway between Townsville and Cairns. That makes it a fair drive from the major metropolitan areas, but an easy flight to Townsville followed by a 90 minute drive from there. This was once the kind of highway a mechanic would design to put his kids through Harvard, but it’s much better these days.
If you’re lucky enough to have the time and resources, sailing north to explore this stretch of coast with your own boat offers many adventures. otherwise, accommodation options vary from camping, caravan parks, motels, self-contained units to my favourite, a houseboat.
Staying at sea for a week is the second best stress remedy. It removes the rush, breaks routines, restricts contactability and avoids launching and retrieving your trailerboat every day. You’re on your own little floating island, you can add or subtract neighbours, choose the views and your schedule slows to ‘Island Time’. It’s a true holiday.
I’ve enjoyed five houseboats trips on four different boats, plus a yacht trip (all hired from Hinchinbrook rent a yacht), a multi-day trip based in a unit and many daytrips and overnighters at Hinchinbrook. (yes, I like the place.) All the houseboat trips launched at Port Hinchinbrook in Cardwell and all the land-based trips were run out of Lucinda/ Dungeness. From this experience I suggest that any trip of three days or less is better being based on land. The houseboats aren’t sprinters and you can use half a day to mosey out to a useful distance and another half to mosey back into port.
A trailerboat, however, can zip you out and about, allowing you to see more of the are in your short trip. it is a hassle launching each day, yes, but you can always have faith in the locals and other tourists and tie up somewhere overnight, or if in Cardwell, hire a marina berth to keep your boat on the water.
Four-day trips or longer—the longer the better— are ideal for the houseboat base. you can move around at your own pace, enjoy some sightseeing, fishing or whatever floats your boat. Use the houseboat as a base and explore further afield with a hired dinghy or your own trailerboat in tow. The sunsets and nights are spectacular, weather permitting, and it always feels like more of a break where there are no roads.
The longest experience I have enjoyed here on a houseboat was a 10-day holiday with some mates as a uni student. I was ready for terra firma at the end of that trip! But being an older, wiser creature these days, I would relish the opportunity to do another 10-day trip with less beer. This length of time makes it possible to spend a couple of days exploring each of Goold Island, Missionary Bay, the east coast of Hinchinbrook, the channel and the Great Barrier reef, if your tender allows.
A standard week’s holiday is easier to arrange and is long enough to give you a taste of at least two of the many personalities of Hinchinbrook. Where you go and what you do will depend on what you enjoy most, but no matter what that is, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
• Extensive seagrass beds also attract large numbers of turtles. Hinchinbrook is home to good numbers of loggerhead, flatback and green turtles and it’s common to see them pop up for a breath near to your boat. The hawksbill and Pacific Ridley turtles are a rare sight, but also visit some areas.
• Estuarine crocodiles are common throughout the channel and should be considered at all times when boating through this area. don’t swim in the Channel or Missionary Bay, don’t wander the edges of estuaries and don’t float too close. Commonsense will keep you safe.
• The 32km Thorsborne Trail runs along the Island’s east coast and offers a unique way to explore the national Park.
• It’s a four-day trek, five or six if you want to explore side tracks. You have to be fit and compass and topographic map skills are good insurance, because it’s not the type of environment in which you want to be lost.
• Hikers must be completely self-sufficient. Freshwater is available on the trail.
• It’s very popular and you may need to book up to 12 months in advance. Permits are required and are available from the Reef and Rainforest Information Centre, (07) 4066 8601.
• Camping is permitted at Macushla or TheHaven. Toilets, picnic tables and barbecues are provided.
• Water taxis operate from Cardwell and inspiration at port Hinchinbrook Dungeness (lucinda) if you require a transfer to the island.
• If you’re unfamiliar with the tropics, choose your time well, considering the summer heat, and the possible chance of heavy rain between december and April.
A note of caution
There are many shallow areas in Hinchinbrook Channel and Missionary Bay. Safe passages are marked in some areas, but be sure always to check a chart when planning each day’s adventure and ask the advice of locals when unsure if where you want to explore is navigable at the time you want to travel there. You don’t want to have to get out and push in crocodile country!
Inspiration at Port Hinchinbrook
Offers a range of accommodation options including self-contained units, luxury apartments, holiday villas and resort homes. The presentation and service is excellent. Call Robyn, Ph: (07) 4066 2250. www.stayporthinchinbrook.com.au
Hinchinbrook Rent a Yacht
Is based at Port Hinchinbrook Cardwell and has a range of yachts, houseboats and cruisers available for self-drive holidays. The vessels are fully self-contained, don’t require a boat licence, sleep up to 12 people and you have the option of hiring a dinghy. Give Blue and his staff a call on (07) 4066 8007. www.hinchinbrookrentayacht.com.au
Hinchinbrook Marine Cove
is based at Dungeness (Lucinda) and offers a range of unit, cabin and apartment accommodation. Lazy Croc Houseboats are also available for hire. Ph: 1800 002 338. www.hinchinbrookmarinecove.com.au
Port of Call
is situated next the boat ramp on Commercial drive, Port Hinchinbrook and offers a range of fishing and boating supplies, diesel and unleaded fuel (on and off the water) plus boat and vehicle storage. They also operate fishing charters from a 40ft Blackwatch. Ph: (07) 4066 8092. www.portofcallnq.com
Moonshine Fishing Charters Ph: (07) 4066 8092
Sea Baby Charters: (07) 4774 7257
U-Beaut Barra Charters: (07) 4068 6057
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