The Thorsborne Trail is a 32km track on Hinchinbrook Island in Far North Queensland which is normally hiked over 3 nights/4 days (although we took one day longer to enjoy the sights, side-trips and swimming). In July 2022, a group of 9 eager Sole Sisters ventured onto the trail to take advantage of the cooler weather in Far North Queensland.
It was during 2019 that we were discussing what other multi-day walks were similar to Jatbula that would provide a good opportunity to escape the Sydney winter to hike and swim at the same time. And thus our trip to Hinchinbrook Island was borne . We initially booked for 2020 but were dashed by the Queensland border being shut. We rebooked for 2021 but were then thwarted by the Sydney lockdown. Fortunately, we secured a booking for 2022 (no mean feat given the state of the booking system – more on that later) and were finally able to hike Thorsborne. I was exhausted by the preparations before we had even started.
Day 1: Ramsay Bay to Nina Bay via Nina Peak (4km/3 hours)
Departing from Lucinda, near the longest commercial jetty in the Southern Hemisphere (nearly 6km long!!), we board our ferry transfer to the island with Absolute North Charters. John asks if we want the dramatic or regular route – we choose dramatic and skirt the island’s east side admiring its peaks, reminiscent of Jurassic Park, and marvelling at its sheer size. Dark clouds loom in the south but the north is favourably sunny – and luckily the trail remains sunny for the rest of our time. The ferry ride takes about 90 minutes and this dramatic ride is only possible in calmer weather – otherwise the channel between the island and mainland is the best route. The boat pulls up on a jetty amidst the mangroves where it is easy to unload and cross over a sand spit to Ramsay Bay.
Our first day of walking is easy – starting at the southern end of Ramsay Bay, there is a short section of beach walking to a track that climbs up and over to another beach and then continues inland and up to a junction where there is an optional side trip to Nina Peak. This is a good place to dump heavy packs and carry a small daypack to the top for morning tea and stunning views across the island. There are a couple of rest areas on the way to the top – all of which have fantastic views and represent good stopping points for those not keen to continue. Allow about an hour for this side trip if you plan to stop at the vantage points.
From Nina Peak, it is a short walk to the campsite at Nina Bay via Nina Creek, which is a good point to collect water. Nina Bay campsite is large and has multiple “rooms” off the main track – most of which have fantastic views of the beach. One of our group tries out hammock sleeping for the first time (inspired by another blog about this trail). The afternoon passes quickly with a dip in Nina creek (to the extent that is possible), exploration of the creek at the end of Nina Bay and walks along the beach. If you are planning on hiking over 3 nights, this campsite can be skipped as it would be possible to walk all the way to the next campsite (albeit that would be a long day).
The night time skies are glorious but I simply don’t have a camera to catch this vista properly. And, not surprisingly, I am in bed early – safely ensconced in my tent away from the mossies/sand flies. We are the only group at Nina Bay and wonder if we will be alone for the remainder of our hike .
Day 2: Nina Bay to Little Ramsay Bay (2km/2 hours plus side trips)
A slow start to the day starting with some yoga on the beach. We pack up and head off down the beach, over some tricky looking rocks and up a small cliff aided by easy to find track markers. At morning tea, we stop on the rocks and spot a turtle bobbing up and down near a rock. We continue to rock hop around to Boulder Bay before reaching Little Ramsay Bay campsite well before lunch.
This is another easy day of walking and allows some of us to roam to Banksia Bay in the afternoon (a 90 minute return side trip – easy to hike to if the tide is low) or simply rest, enjoy the views, a good book and the wonderfully positioned campsite by the side of a large lagoon. Just don’t ignore those warning signs about the crocodiles though! We would love to swim in the bay but find a good creek behind the lagoon (with a vibrant Ulysses butterfly) and a pretty creek at the end of the beach. Tomorrow we find an even better pool for swimming which is not far on from the turn off to Banksia Bay and would have been another good side trip for this day.
During the late afternoon, the campsite fills up with a few other walkers who have come all the way from Ramsay Bay – they don’t look nearly as happy and relaxed as we do! Whilst it has been two quite easy walking days to start, we look at them and don’t regret our decision to start slowly. Our new companions are good company for the remainder of the trip and include a conservationist from Australian Wildlife Conservancy (I discover that there are interesting volunteer opportunities with AWC ) and a family of 3 including a dad on his first multi-day hike (what a way to start).
Day 3: Little Ramsay Bay to Zoe Bay (10.5km/6 hours)
Today we are rewarded with a stunning sunrise and some more serious hiking. From the end of the beach, we have to rock hop as the tide is now too high to walk around the rocks. Most of us enjoy a good rock hop and this is certainly a portent of the day to come. It is not long before we reach our first swimming spot. From here, there are creek crossings, more rock hopping, a prehistoric eerie looking mangrove swamp to navigate through – we later hear stories later of our conservationist friend sinking up to her thigh. She wasn’t concerned – she knew we were behind her!
This is a fun day. We enjoy a swim in Blue Lagoon around lunchtime complete with another Ulysses butterfly – this stunning pool is about 50m off the main track and worth exploring upstream to find it. Some of us continue to rock hop up the creek from Blue Lagoon to find a mysterious lake at the top but decide it is simply too far (we go about half way which takes us 45 minutes). If however you plan on spending two nights at Zoe Bay, we think this would be a fun day hike to go somewhere remote and, according to John at Absolute North Charters, stunning. Beware of crocs in some of the creek crossings!
Zoe Bay is a busy campsite with access for boats and kayakers. We are surprised to find that there are over 20 people at this site – and the sandflies also seem busiest here. The highlight of the day is swimming at Zoe Falls in the afternoon and lazing on the rocks in the afternoon. The trail passes by here in the morning – another chance for a swim before hiking on for the day. There is the most glorious sunset from the beach at Zoe Bay. Be warned that the tide comes right up to the campsite and access would be difficult at high tide.
Day 4: Zoe Bay to Mulligan Falls via Diamantina Creek (7.5km/ 4-5 hours)
OMG! Are those crocodile tracks on the beach in front of our campsite this morning? We have no idea but it does make us wonder what was on the beach last night when some of us came out to star gaze (or pee) in the middle of the night….
Today is mainly about the swimming rather than the hiking although the hiking is top notch too. The first swimming spot is Lower Zoe Falls (again), then Upper Zoe Falls (not forgetting the infinity pool – in fact there are several pools here to explore). Around lunchtime, we reach Diamantina Creek for more swimming, including a nice slide into one pool. And finally we reach Mulligan Falls for more (you guessed it) swimming . Somewhere along the track, we gain views all the way to the Palm Islands group and can just about see Magnetic Island in the distance. The change in vegetation is noticeable making this day highly enjoyable. There is no doubt that the trail gets better every day.
We befriend Jason, a keen photographer, carrying 7.5kg of camera equipment. I hope to use his night time shots as the stars are amazing. However I decide my phone camera and back up battery are all I need in weight.
Mulligan Falls is a wonderful place to relax. We sun ourselves on the rocks and enjoy the campsite which is sited in tall rainforest – very different to our previous beachside campsites. Tonight is our final night and we can see the starry skies through the trees – some of us venture to the Falls to gain a better look and hear our final sounds of the trail before we head back to reality tomorrow.
Day 5: Mulligan Falls to George Point (7.5km/ 2.5 hours)
Our final day on the trail is a short one over fairly easy terrain. There is time for a quick swim at Mulligan Falls before we head off. The start of the trail is in rainforest with several creek crossings and a huggable tree before emerging at Mulligan Bay. From here it is beach walking to the ferry pick up. It is clear that there are wild pigs around with significant damage to the undergrowth in several places and trotter prints on the sand. We wait at Mulligan Creek for the tide to lower before crossing and our final half hour to George Point where we are collected by ferry for a 10 minute ride back to Lucinda.
Logistics & Post Trail Thoughts
At the time of writing, there are only 40 people permitted on the island at any point in time. The maximum group you can book for is 6 people to stay a maximum of 5 nights. The bookings are managed by Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service and bookings can be made six months in advance. We booked on the minute/hour/day that it opened (no mean feat given that was 1am in Sydney). Arguably the hardest part about this trail was navigating the QPWS booking system (it took us three 1am starts to finally obtain one booking). We have given feedback to QPWS and hope that their booking system improves for future users – this trail is apparently the most complained about booking process in the entire QPWS system – for which we are not at all surprised. The cost per night is $6.85pp.
We thought our decision to hike over 4 nights/5 days was about right – it was not at all rushed. We met people doing it in less who would have liked one more day and one person doing it in one more day who agreed one less day would have worked. If you are lucky to get a booking, any amount of time would be enjoyable. We chose to hike North to South – the trail gets better in this direction every day. If you were hiking South to North, you might be disappointed by the end. If you only have a couple of days then the south is the best option – although my favourite hiking day was Little Ramsay Bay to Zoe Falls.
We chose to go in winter and we think the trail would be quite unpleasant in summer or rain – the bogs are seriously boggy even in the dry period we were hiking. We also recommend checking tide times before booking.
We stayed at Wanderers Holiday Village in Lucinda prior to the walk. This was clean, comfortable, reasonably priced and well located to the pub and the ferry pick up. A bonus is that they stored a small bag for us whilst we hiked and gave us a fresh towel and shower on our return before we boarded the bus onwards.
We used Helloworld Travel in Ingham to book our transfers to/from the airport. This worked out a better option for us than hiring our own vehicles.
We flew in to Cairns and out of Townsville – ideally you would want to fly to/from Townsville but the flight times in 2022 from Sydney were not kind in a post pandemic world. Lucinda is located about 2.5 hours from Townsville and 3.5 hours from Cairns. The other ferry operator uses Cardwell as the base. We liked using Lucinda as it was a long boat ride to the island but a short one back: plus there was a certain degree of charm to this sugar cane town and pier. However Lucinda is less convenient to get to/from compared to Cardwell.
There is an app for this hike which is useful without being amazing. For a small fee, we would recommend at least one person in your group has it – if nothing else, the daily description is useful. The app could be much better and we would also suggest you also use a good route on an app like Gaia or similar. Trail markers are easy to spot – it would be hard to get lost on this hike. The app shows where there is water collection points and mobile phone reception – not that this should stop you from carrying a PLB.
Our packs were all about 13-14kg excluding water at the start. You will need to be able to collect at least 3L of water for the campsites but you will only need to carry about 1L with you on most days. All water you collect should be purified. My biggest mistake in packing was to take a 2 man tent for only myself. I should have packed my one person tent which only weighs 1.1kg. Because you will be hanging your bags up every night to avoid the rats, you really don’t need the extra room in your tent to store it overnight. I never changed my day clothes and only needed clothes to sleep in and something warmer in the evening – so I could have ditched more weight. I didn’t carry a swimming costume but plenty in our group did … but I did invest in a bra that I could both hike and swim in.
The rock hopping and creek crossings require a good pair of shoes/boots – not crocs in my opinion (as has been suggested in another blog). I did carry crocs for the campsites and short hikes to the waterfalls but I was happy to know my boots would protect me on this trail.
Most of us carried ultra lightweight chairs as there is a lot of not hiking but sitting on this trail if you do it over 4 nights. For 500g I would do this again.
And what did we think about the hammock? Well, it was different … but it weighed just the same as our tents and wasn’t nearly as practical. We didn’t think it would hold up well in adverse conditions.
A word on mosquitos and sand-flies: I smothered (and I mean REALLY smothered) my clothes in DEET before hiking this trail and wore long pants/long sleeves the entire time at the campsites. I also wore the same clothes every day (partly because I swam so much but also because I knew the DEET thing was working – plus I carry a very good deodorant and only wear merino tops). I didn’t suffer a single bite. Those amongst us who wore shorts or short sleeves or took their shoes off had a different outcome. Would I do this again? Absolutely! In fact, next time I plan to have my hiking clothes in a ziplock bag soaking up the DEET before I even leave Sydney. Whilst I was on the trail, I only needed to dab the odd bit of Goodbye Sandfly which is considerably more environmentally friendly and actually smells quite nice (relatively speaking).
Wildlife: beyond what I have mentioned in this blog we saw little wildlife which was surprising and a bit of a shame. We heard cane toads one night and wondered if this had had an impact on the island’s fauna. Or, maybe our group was simply too noisy and scared the animals away?
Words by Fee; Photos by Everyone