ROCKING IT ON THE THORSBORNE TRAIL

Lisa MurphyADVENTURES, STORIESLeave a Comment

The Thorsborne Trail was on our hiking bucket list for 14 years before we actually got to do it. We read about it in 2004 and thought WOW this trail looks awesome.  But that was as far as we got.  Fast forward to 2018 and here we are. In an impulsive move, I booked the trail for four nights camping, cheap flights reluctantly with Jetstar and car hire.  We would drive about 300 km south to Lucinda and start the walk two days after we arrived. This meant we could stock up on the essentials such as food, cooking fuel, batteries and matches in Cairns, plus free camp at Babinda and visit some of the (cheeky) waterfalls on the way south.

Getting to Hinchinbrook Island, we used Absolute North Charters. John is knowledgeable, helpful and friendly taking great care to look after hikers.  He can also pick you up from Lucinda to get you to Dungeness where the boat departs from.  You can take the boat transfer from Lucinda or Cardwell to Ramsay Point where most people walk the 32km trail from north to south.  The transfer takes forty five minutes to ninety minutes from Lucinda depending on whether the boat calls in to Cardwell. You might be lucky and spot a dugong in the ocean near the silty inlet of Hinchinbrook before the boat weaves through the mangroves to Ramsay Point.  From here, the walk begins.

Initially the trail is easy and takes you across to the eastern side of the island to Ramsay Bay.  A stunning white sandy beach (which looks so inviting for a swim!) welcomes you and it’s a beach walk to the end of the bay. Then it is a bit of uphill stuff which with a heavy pack, tested my legs. Day one is always the heaviest pack day when we are loaded up with maximum food/fuel weight and water.  

We took our time to soak in our new surrounds. Wondering if we see a snake or croc on our trek.  After about 90 minutes on the trails, we reached a saddle and saw a log that looked like a great morning tea spot.  We realised then after seeing lots of backpacks on the ground, that we’d also reached the turn off for Nina Peak. This unmarked trail was rated Grade 5 and steep.

After a quick snack we decided to head up with a few basics, leaving our heavy packs behind. It was a nice challenging climb even without our packs.    I knew my legs would feel it tomorrow. I was grateful for long pants as the foliage was a bit scratchy.  We reached some rocks (with nice views) that turned out to be a false peak so we continued up a rocky scramble that rewarded us with what I reckon were the best views of our trek.  So worth it.  We took some time in silence with almost 360° views on the clearest of sunny days. It was such a beautiful offering and I couldn’t help but feel this was going to be one of those adventures with awesome on the forecast.

We returned to our packs, lunched on the log and made our way downhill, then up over a rise and creek bed to Nina Bay where we decided we would camp rather than walk another two hours to the next campsite. Nina Bay was a cute spot to bed for the night. We spent the afternoon making home basically and sitting on the beach enjoying the tranquility of being in a remote location, off the grid but with everything we needed. With no water tanks on this trail we had to source our water from either end of the bay where creeks trickle into lagoons. These are also potentially home to crocodiles.  We kept well away from these from dusk til dawn. 

We decided to try the creek at the southern end of the bay and to the sound of rolling waves we headed off on the beach with our bottles. The creek was rocky and not flowing into the lagoon so we rock hopped about 100m upstream to where the flow could be heard.  Retrieving fresh water this way felt satisfying, but we still purified our water not knowing how clean the water would be.  With only 40 people allowed on the Trail each day, human impact is minimal on the island and the creek water looked pretty clear and fresh.  But the saddest part of this hike was the beach rubbish.  It washed up everywhere.  Hiking all of it out was just impossible. I think this was the hardest thing about this trail, as we had to walk away. 

Our first day on Hinchinbrook Island came to a close as we sat on the beach with our cuppa soup‘s and enjoyed the sun setting behind us.

The campsites were sheltered and once darkness arrived, sleep found me quickly (before 6:30PM!) and one of the first miracles performed on this hike, I punched out 12 hours of sleep until sunrise. I can never do that at home.  On the flight to Cairns, I finished a book called Woman in the Wilderness by Miriam Lancewood where the author spoke of the body clock when out in nature.  Your body sleeps when the sun sets and you wake when it rises – even if it means 13-14 hours of darkness.  Without the artificial light globes, screens and the buzz of civilisation you switch off. Fast. Being off the grid also meant no scrolling on the phone in bed or watching TV.  The feeling of pure presence had arrived. And I feel connected to the rhythm of day, night and sleep pretty quickly.

Our second day was going to be a short one with only 4km to little Ramsay Bay.  We ate breakfast on the beach and enjoyed a fresh coffee on my little Sea to Summit coffee filter.  We took our time packing up our camp as our walk would only take 2-2.5 hours. We heard a few creatures in the night rustling in the leaves, some hopping and some scurrying and we wondered what animals lived on the island as we had really only heard about the native bush rats that liked to break into food bags, rubbish bags and backpacks.  We utilised the food boxes and stored anything edible in those overnight but we were yet to see a creature and guessed all morning as we walked to the next site what those different wildlife sounds were.  

Our walk to Little Ramsay Bay meant a rocky scramble out of Nina Bay around to Boulder Bay while looking for markers which offered a challenge as well as a rocky to terrain.  We even climbed a little cliff face. We had our eyes peeled for green sea turtles that live and swim at the headland between the Bays. Tide was low enough for our rock scramble but sadly no turtles. Already I was loving the trails diversity and we’d barely done 5km since we started the day before!

After a climb over the ridge between bays, we found ourselves on the gorgeous beach of Little Ramsay Bay. The rolling surf here was divine to listen to. And to swim here was tempting but the croc warning signs killed that idea.

We’d been told the water source for this camp was on the right hand side of the lagoon (which looked so still and eerie at dusk we convinced ourselves a croc lived in it!).  This creek was a bit wetter and had a trail of pink ribbon markers leading us quickly to the flowy spot. Once topped up we headed in to camp. Again the location was a bit 5 star.  Shady flat spots, sheltered by trees and shrubs all within close earshot of the ocean. The sound of the waves was soothing and with a high tide at midnight, a decent surf thundered at regular intervals breaking the night silence. I almost got up for a look as the surf felt like it was only 20m from our campsite.  One of our fellow hikers told me in the morning about the bioluminescence in the rolling surf when she got up for a midnight loo visit and watched the surf in the dark. I was envious I’d missed that show!

We shared our camp with a brazen goanna and some friendly hikers who over the course of five days you get to know through sharing stories and tips on all things from the gear they have to the menu and variety of food they carry. It’s always a learning curve and it’s one of my favourite parts of meeting other hikers and sharing the trails with them.  I even learnt on this hike that you can sew your own coffee bags with your favourite grounded coffee brand.  (Decent coffee bags are hard to come by these days since Jed’s Coffee Bags disappeared from our local supermarket so if I can’t get my preferred brand any more I can make my own!).

Our third day on the Trail is known as the “big day” from Little Ramsay Bay to Zoe Bay.  We knew we need an early start to take our time and enjoy a relaxed pace with hopefully time for a swim at Zoe Falls not far from camp. 10.5 km would take six or so hours.

This unique section of trail had everything! It was also my favourite day.  

Beach walking, creek crossings, boggy swamps, rainforest and rock hopping. The creek levels were low so we did not encounter the challenges of wet feet or taking our boots off or waiting for levels to go down after rain unlike some of the stories we had heard about. I embraced the challenge of the terrain with my pack, realising it had been over 12 months since I had completed a grade 5 trail.  I had missed testing myself with this kind of stuff!

We lunched in the rainforest on some logs and then came across three swamps. I did lose the same foot and leg in mud – twice.  It. Just. Kept. Sinking.  I actually wondered if this was what quicksand felt like.  The mud was so keen to take my feet and legs and every move proved a deeper plunge.  With my poles disappearing as much as my foot, I grabbed a tree and my boot was released by the mud.  After reaching the beach of Zoe Bay the day was fast disappearing.

Being a warm day again I was hanging out for that swim but once we got to camp, it was a little late.   As sometimes happens after a few days of hiking – particularly a big day, I need space. I was tired and I didn’t like where we had selected to put the tent and although it was a gorgeous sheltered site, I was being eaten alive even with bug spray. The coastal campsites near to the beach offered more light and breeze and picnic tables which would make meal preparation easier.  By the time we finished replenishing our water supply which was a 30 min round trip, it was almost dark. My hopes of washing away the day were dashed – it would have to wait till tomorrow. When we headed to bed we discovered there were sharp tree roots, bark and big palm seeds under the tent even after we had cleared the space earlier.  We had barely got into bed before we had to move the tent as I feared damaged to our tent and mattresses.  Then a beyond brave bush rat was hanging off our carefully tied rubbish bag with no fear whatsoever despite our cussing at it to move on.

Suddenly it turned into a late night for us (he he) 7:30 PM!

It’s funny what hiking/fatigue/challenge can do to your emotions.  I’ve seen it in kids on outdoor ed camps, on adult multi day hikes where poles have been thrown and swear words screamed in frustration.  Being a patient person normally, I know I am not immune to this stuff.  Any frustration, pent up angst or anger needs to be released at some point. The space that a hike gives you sometimes serves as a sauce bottle for a big squirt and release – even when hiking with your favourite people.

So day four on this hike was time to release the pressure that built in me.  At breakfast we ran out of butane gas. Against my better judgement and intuition I had decided not to purchase a larger canister, forgetting we would be camping and using it before we even started our hike. Plus I had overlooked the amount of cooking time our dishes needed at dinner time opting for a few gourmet favourites that need a bit more gas than normal.  I then spent the next few hours in emotional self torture mode.  I was grumpy with myself and everyone really (they had done nothing wrong). 

Our first stop for the morning was Zoe Falls. I love seeing the friendly jungle perch come and say hi. We saw these fish in lots of freshwater bodies and streams.  Some of them were huge and had only ever known life in this one place.  Here I was exploring the island on feet that could take me far.   Insert gratitude moment here.

It was a bit early for the swim I craved the day before so we continued up up up until we reached a climbing rope.  Now this looked FUN. It suddenly felt like an obstacle course. I grabbed the rope and manoeuvred up to the top of Zoe Falls where infinity pools dotted the rocky crossing. The views that greeted us suddenly had me and my earlier hissy fit feeling a bit insignificant. It was a beautiful clear sunny sky with views to the ocean and so many places to choose from to sit and enjoy.

A dip in the pools was suggested but my emotions were still raging inside. Stupidly, I said no and instead found a rock to sit on so I could meditate and calm my farm. I still needed space.  Alone.   After a few minutes, I started to feel better.

The next section of trail was in full sun and it felt warm as we followed the creek for a while before climbing uphill steeply and then some more.  We were dripping in sweat by the time we reached the saddle for a morning tea break. Shade was hard to find. I started to imagine swimming at the falls we would be camping out later in the day.

We came down the saddle with views of Palm Island and Magnetic Island.  We continued up and over little rises before reaching Diamantina Creek.  I was ready to strip off at this point but knowing we were only half hour from Mulligan Falls and our campsite for the night, we pushed on downhill through to rainforest that led us to our shady campsite. We dropped our packs, headed straight for the falls and stripped off. There were a couple of hikers already there and I had to apologise in advance about my swimwear. White striped IOmerino underwear! What was I thinking? But it was matching (winning!) so it was almost a bikini really.  Thankfully no photos of that scene.

Getting into the water was a bit tricky as the rocks were really slippery. Eventually I found a spot that looked accessible and I joined the friendly jungle perch in their home.  My mood lifted instantly.  I was swimming in a gorgeous beautiful waterfall FFS. In my underwear.

I must say rock hopping in your underwear is a bizarrely liberating activity.  We dried off on the rocks like seals in the sun.  The imagined drama of the day washed away.

We had the most gorgeous little campsite to set up our tent in.  It was so still and so shady it felt so much later that it really was.  We returned to the falls for a late lunch before the sun disappeared over the range.  I proceeded to do a food stock take, working out we could eat a cold dinner no problems with our emergency breakfast of yoghurt and muesli thanks to Backcountry. I’d just added the water to the meal when a fellow hiker who was flying out the next day offered us a spare gas canister. I hugged her with force and love that only a fellow coffee addict would understand. I fired up the kettle before you could finish the next sentence. Life just got that little bit better. 

I loved this campsite because we didn’t need the bug spray (we had collected a lot of bites on this trek despite the multiple applications of bug spray) it was cooler (the only time I wore a long sleeve top) and very quiet. I thought I would again sleep like the dead but because I knew I’d be returning to civilisation and normal life again the following day, sleep was hard work. The rats were also active at this site and I woke to the scratching sounds near my head outside the tent. Hiking Utopia was fast disappearing from my universe…..

The final day of walking was an easy one to George Point, a downhill-ish rainforest trail with some creek crossings before rolling out onto a long sandy beach.  There was a cane toad on the trail and evidence of a wild pig, that surprised and reminded us that the island unfortunately has pests too.

Within two hours we had reached George Point after a very low tidal creek crossing on the beach.  After hearing stories of waist deep crossings of this creek, we were so surprised to keep the boots on in ankle-deep waters.  The finish point came on so much quicker than we expected and without the challenge we had had experienced the days before.  We were transferred back to Lucinda by boat transfer thanks to John at Absolute North Charters, seeing a pod of shy minke dolphins on the way home sealing our adventure hike on the Thorsborne Trail in the most nature awesome way. After a routine post hike feed of hot chips and a free beer at Lucinda Motel we made our way back to Cairns.

I left wanting to return to this trail again to experience all its diversity and challenge, to return to the feeling of Utopia – by being off the grid and in tune with the earth clock but with a bigger rubbish bag to clean up the beaches.  Apparently each hike on this Trail is different from season to season and year to year.  And I’m curious to know what our next adventure there will bring.

Next time I will pack more gas 😉

Some practical tips for doing the Thorsborne Trail:

  • Check the tide timetables as there are many tidal creeks that can mean either an ankle deep crossing or waist deep crossing!
  • Pack a collapsible water container for collecting water at camp sites to save the multiple trips to the water source.
  • Bug spray – mosquito coils – anything that you use to keep bugs from biting you, sand flies and mosquitoes are active here.
  • Don’t bother packing swimwear, your underwear will do the job at the waterfalls.
  • Poles will give you support with pack-carrying on most of the terrain you encounter.
  • Be croc aware – do not enter the lagoons or ocean for swimming, the waterfalls upstream are safer.
  • Carry water bottles that hold capacity for at least 4 litres each particularly in drier months.
  • A PLB is essential – most of the island is off the grid and with remote trails and challenging terrain this can be the difference between a rescue or no rescue!
  • Book ahead of time – the trail is open 12 months of the year but is recommended between April and September when humidity and cyclone risk is lower. The drier months are more popular.  
  • You must book your campsites for the number of nights you intend to stay via Queensland’s National Park Website and bookings can be made 12 months in advance.
  • Book your transfer with John at Absolute North Charters well ahead of your arrival. 

Lisa Murphy is Chief Adventurer at Big Heart Adventures and started the Wise Women Walking program in 2015 to support more women to start walking for wellbeing and to feel connection on the trails. Not just with awesome like-minded women but also with nature and with themselves.  The program aims to educate, empower and encourage women with a theme of Find Yourself, Be Yourself, Challenge Yourself. Wise Women Walking has seen hundreds of women join Lisa on short walks in the Adelaide Hills, Weekenders for Women in rural South Australia and multi day hikes both in Australia and abroad.  With her equally eager hiking husband Ian, Big Heart Adventures offers annual challenging charity treks inviting men and women to Nepal and Peru with the emphasis on travel that gives back.

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