Road trip to an old Spanish castle nestled in the rainforest

Head south from Cairns towards one of Queensland’s must-see destinations – Paronella Park.

Cairns, Babinda, Innisfail, Paronella Park


Distance  107 kilometres 
Travel time  1 hour 30 minutes
Time of year to go  Any
Vehicle type  2WD, AWD, 4WD or caravan 
Highlights  Babinda Boulders, Etty Bay and Paronella Park
Camping  Paronella Park Caravan and Camping grounds (bookings essential)

Cairns to Babinda, 58km

(via Bruce Highway/A1)

Want to experience the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics World Heritage Rainforest? Look no further than Cairns in Far North Queensland. The city is considered the gateway to the reef with an esplanade lined with bars, cafes, restaurants and a boat harbour. Drive one hour south, travelling along the Bruce Highway and turn right into the small town of Babinda. The drive is filled with mountainous scenery as well as sugarcane and banana farming.

Follow the road signs to a beautiful, secluded swimming hole called Babinda Boulders, which is about seven kilometres west of Babinda. This is the perfect spot to cool off for a swim in the clear blue streams of water which weave through giant granite boulders into a large swimming hole. The water is so clear you can almost see the bottom. The swimming hole is surrounded by lush rainforest so there are plenty of shady spots to have a picnic. 

Babinda to Innisfail, 30km

(via Bruce Highway/A1)

Just half an hour south of Babinda is Innisfail, the Cassowary Coast’s largest town . Recognised as one of the wettest regions in Queensland, this town thrives for sugar cane and banana farming. It is also home to some of the best collections of art deco buildings in Australia.

Explore Warrina Lakes, a 50-hectare recreational park in town which has man-made lakes, barbeques, gazeboes, walkways through open parkland and rainforest trails. Alternatively head to Flying Fish Point, a 10-minute drive towards the ocean, and enjoy fish and chips on the beach. Keep a look out for roaming cassowaries as they are regularly spotted in this area.

Innisfail to Paronella Park, 19km

(via Innisfail Japoon Road)

Just 20 minutes south of Innisfail is one of the most magical places in the world, Paronella Park. The concept was developed in 1929 when Jose Paronella, a Spanish immigrant, purchased 13 acres of scrub along Mena Creek with a vision to build a Spanish castle and ‘pleasure grounds’ in the rainforest. Paronella built the entire park by himself and installed the first hydro-electric plant in North Queensland to power the castle grounds when it opened to the public in 1935. The Park has been recognised by multiple Regional and State Tourism Awards from 1998 onwards and was recently used as the backdrop for the film Celeste.

RACQ members can save on Paronella Park tickets online. Visitors can book a guided tour to learn about the highlights of the park including the extraordinary story of Jose Paronella and his vision for the castle, go on a botanical walk, camp onsite, enjoy a lunch at the café or buy some local arts and craft from the gift shop. For a coastal drive in Far North Queensland head north and drive from Cairns to Cooktown to experience the Bloomfield Track.

Images by Paronella Park and Getty Images. 


Taking your own road trip?

RACQ can help you on your way, whether it’s providing maps and guides for your journey, car hire, discounted motorhome hire with Apollo Motorhome Holidays, insurance or roadside assistance so you’re covered 24/7 on your trip.

Road trip benefits