One of the best multi-day hikes in Australia
The Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island, Queensland, features in Lonely Planet’s “Epic Hikes of The World.” Just a few hours drive from either Cairns or Townsville, the reward for getting the logistics and transfers right, is access to hiking this remote wilderness trail. The variety of terrain, natural vegetation, pristine beaches and wilderness location, offers everything a multi-day walk should, and more. Its wild beauty, the location of the camp sites and the sheer number of “wow” highlights along the trail, make this adventure well worth the logistics of getting there.
Protected since 1932, Hinchinbrook Island, a part of the Great Barrier Reef Heritage Area, is one of Australia’s largest National Parks. As it is managed under the minimal impact bushwalking and no-trace camping ethics, you need to ensure you “leave-no-trace”.
We adventure trekked the Thorsborne Trail in a day, but typically, this trail is recommended as a 4-day full pack experience, with overnight camping along the route. You could choose to do it in anything between 1 and 4 days, as long as you are confident hiking in remote locations and are self-sufficient, carrying everything in and out. You must carry a Personal Locator Beacon. Be croc wise and stay out of the creeks and the ocean.
Hinchinbrook Island, QLD
When to go
April to September
The terrain is tough underfoot, and you will be hiking on a variety of natural surfaces, including but not limited to beach sand, bush tracks, roots, and boulder strewn creeks which require you to rock hop across. Don’t expect any landscaped trails. If you are carrying a full pack for a multi-day hike, it would be well worth spending time before you go to Hinchinbrook Island, training with your weighted pack on these kinds of uneven surfaces. When we were there, a large landslide had caused a big rift and it was tricky navigating and making our way across it. The arrows showing the route are not always easy to find, so make sure you have your map and GPS device on you to double check your progress and direction regularly.
Highlights along the way are the picturesque Zoe Falls and Mulligan Falls, with turquoise waters for a dip, clear running creeks, eucalypt forests, and the pink rocks strewn across the beaches on the coastal path. The natural scenery varies from heath covered mountains, to mangroves, to pristine beaches, sweeping bays and lush rainforests. Experiencing this array of wild habitats all in one day could well have felt overwhelming, but instead it felt like we had entered some kind of time warp in a Jurassic Park type setting! We ran and trekked the trail in around 6.5 hours, which meant only short stops for a swim and a lunch break. Our journey was enriched by meeting people of all ages hiking the trail and getting out in nature.
When to go
Before you plan anything else: check out the weather for the region: April to September is suggested as the best period for hiking. There can be heavy rainfall and strong winds, which will affect your ability to reach the island by boat. So be prepared to adjust your plans and monitor the weather in the week and days leading up to your trip.
Permits: First step book a permit – as it is a popular destination, the trail can be booked up months in advance, so don’t book any other transport, accommodation or boat services until you know you have the permit. Group sizes are limited and to minimize impact, permits are issued for a maximum of 40 people on the trail at any one time.
The location of the trail on Hinchinbrook Island, means there are various elements that need to be pieced together through research to support a one day or multi-day hike itinerary. The getting there and getting away experience can be tough if boat transfers are not planned correctly. Access to the trail is by boat with one of the operators from either Cardwell or Lucinda. Services may vary according to weather, tidal conditions and time of year, so this aspect forms a major part of your logistics planning.
The trail can be walked north from George Point or south from Ramsay Bay. The trail is marked by orange trail markers from north to south, and yellow trail markers from south to north.
- When planning your hike, you will need to liaise with the local boat operators at Lucinda and Cardwell regarding tide times, as these will impact the times of day that you can be dropped off or picked up on the island.
- You will most likely need to stay a night on either side of your hike at either Cardwell or Lucinda, or one at each, and again this will need to be factored into your planning and the direction you choose to walk the trail.
- Depending on the number of days you choose to hike the trail, and the direction, this will inform which camp sites you need to book when you pay for your permit.
It is important to note that as our day on Hinchinbrook was part of a larger expedition we had to work hard to make the logistics work for us, with regard time on the trail, tides, sunrise/sunset and what the boat operator could offer us. Our day trek of the island looked like this: 7am Departure from Hinchinbrook Harbour south of Cardwell (stayed the night in Cardwell) with Hinchinbrook Island Cruises – boat transfer to the start of the trail (North boardwalk Ramsay Bay). Afternoon pick up around 4pm, was at George Point with the same boat operator.
Depending on which way you choose to walk the trail, it is either longer to get to the start and quicker to get back to the mainland after the finish, or vice versa. Again, factor in the boat transfer times to your itinerary planning. You can find more info on the boat transfers here:
The camp sites are simple, but generally positioned in lovely locations on the island near some of the picturesque waterfalls. There was plenty of water in the creeks when we went, however this may not always be the case, as the fresh water sources are seasonal. Remember always to treat the water appropriately for safe consumption. Check out the Queensland Parks website for more detail on these aspects.
A suggested gear list can also be found on the above site. Don’t be fooled in to thinking you won’t need some protective layers just because you are in QLD! We needed our Gortex rain/wind breakers on the boat trip there and back and it was a sunny winter’s day in July.
- Transport to/from Cairns or Townsville (flights or vehicle)
- Transfers to Lucinda/Cardwell
- Transfers to boat at start and end
- Boat transfers to start and from end of trail
- Accommodation on the mainland either side of hike
- Purchase or rent Personal Locator Beacon
Your basic lightweight, full pack camping list applies for a multi-day hike of the Thorsborne Trail. The more experienced hiker you are, the more specific you will be about your gear and you will already have a refined list. But here’s a simple outline of the basics for those wanting a start, and you can find more suggestions on the QPWS website too:
boots/trail runners (wearing)lightweight shoes for camp
2 pairs shorts or hiking pants (wearing one)
2 short merino/wicking/dryfit shirts (no cotton)
2 pairs undies (test these: wicking material best, not cotton it gets wet when you sweat)
1 long thermal/merino top
1 thermal long johns
waterproof/gortex rain jacket
lightweight merino gloves (optional depending on time of year/climate)
2 pairs good quality hiking socks plus 1 for bed
Food, water, cooking equipment:
camping stove and fuel
lightweight food, snacks, enough for 4 days
1 water bottle
potcup/mug, bowl, plate
first aid kit
1 spork or spoon and 1 pocket knife
head torch and spare batteries
zip lock bags
small toothbrush and paste
EPIRB or personal locator beacon (PLB) (check subscription requirements before you go)
battery and charging cable for phone/camera
map and track notes
rain cover for pack
toilet paper and tissues
One day or four?
As much as we got a huge buzz out of completing the trail in a day and were blessed with near perfect weather conditions and tides, I can’t wait to go back to Hinchinbrook and hike the trail over several days, to be able to really take in the wonder of this beautiful island and its wild landscape. As with any wilderness expedition, the weather plays a huge part in how you experience the trail and the environment, so take the time to research the best of time year to visit, check the forecast before you go, and be prepared for all kinds of weather and conditions. Organizing the boat transfers and logistics on either end of the hike might seem like a mission, but it is what makes the experience of Hinchinbrook Island a real adventure! Cruising through the mangroves to the start of the hike, and then again taking the boat from the finish back to the mainland, gives you an unrivalled view of the island, the bays and the mountain peaks that surround you when hiking the trail.
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