— CASSOWARY COAST, QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA — So just what is a cassowary? It is a large flightless bird, somewhat similar to an emu, with bright blue plumage. They are only found in Far Northern Queensland and New Guinea. Described as a 60-kg modern dinosaur, they are good swimmers and can run 50-km per hour.
This endangered bird is so unique that it has been adopted for the name of the coastal area where it resides between Cardwell, Tully, and Innisfail. Cassowary Coast is located between two world heritage areas: Great Barrier Reef and the Queensland Wet Tropics, ranked as the second most irreplaceable on earth.
1. Paronella Park
Spanish immigrant José Paronella came to Australia in 1913 with a dream. He wanted to build a castle. Finding work in the cane fields of far North Queensland, he bought and sold 13 cane farms, accumulating the fortune he needed to achieve his dream. He purchased 5 hectares beside Mena Creek.
He proceeded to painstakingly construct his castle, a picnic area by the Mena Creek Falls, tennis courts, bridges, a lover’s tunnel, and a restaurant. He then planted 7000 trees to enhance his setting. Paronella Park was opened to the public in 1935.
A totally different view of the park is seen each night with the Darkness Falls tour. Colored lights, accompanied by music, transform the buildings into fairy castles, culminating in a performance of four light classical pieces with a choreographed light show on the lower grounds of the main building.
Although you cannot walk into the buildings as the harsh weather conditions have taken their toll, Paronella Park is definitely worth visiting for those interested in history, waterfalls, and lush rainforest vegetation. You will receive a booklet describing flora and fauna to be seen. Paronella Park has been awarded many accolades, including #1 Must Do in Queensland.
Your ticket is valid for return visits for 24 months. It also allows you to stay free of charge overnight in the caravan park. Accommodation is available in the nearby Mena Creek Hotel.
2. Mamu Tropical Skywalk
Situated in the Wooroonooran National Park, Mamu Tropical Skywalk is in the heart of the wet tropics World Heritage area. At Mamu, you will experience a bio-diversity found nowhere else, in a rainforest that dates back hundreds of thousands of years.
Wandering through the rainforest floor is made easy with wide paths. However, much of the delights of the rainforest are way above our heads. To easily experience the beauty of the rainforest canopy, a 350-meter-long elevated walkway was constructed. Add a 40-meter cantilever out 20-meters above the forest and a 37-meter-high observation tower, and you can experience the beauty of the rainforest on all levels.
When you arrive, the attendant will assist you in downloading the complementary Skywalk audio guide on your phone, so you can listen to the numbered descriptions for your self-paced visit. You will also receive a booklet illustrating the flora and fauna you are likely to observe.
The total distance for the return walk is 2.2-km, and all paths are wheelchair accessible, excluding the tower.
You can visit Mamu separately or buy a combined entry with Paronella Park tickets.
3. Fruit Forest Farm – Cassowary Coast
Luscious tropical fruits of all kinds, many of which you may never have even heard of, are enthusiastically handed to you to taste as you ride around the farm in a converted banana trailer pulled by a tractor.
Since the 1980s, Peter and Alison Salleras have developed 10-12 acres of an ex-banana plantation into an oasis of tropical fruit trees from North Queensland, Asia, and South and Central America. The rest of the 220 acres is natural rainforest.
Your tour of Fruit Forest Farm begins with a delicious, freshly made pure Soursop smoothie. Then, boarding the banana trailer, you first see the long green pods of vanilla, the only edible fruit of orchids.
Then you are off on a rather bumpy, sometimes sloshy, exciting ride through a cornucopia of tastings from heavily laden trees. Whenever you pass a tree with ripe fruit ready for tasting, the tractor stops, and Warren jumps off to retrieve some freshly picked fruit, then he and Alison hand around generous portions to try.
Some of the unusual fruit you taste may include jackfruit, the world’s heaviest fruit, which may grow to 50-kg, and pomelo, the world’s largest citrus fruit.
We were treated to a delicious chocolate pudding made from Black Sapote, the chocolate pudding fruit blended with cream. My other newfound favorite fruits were red Dragon Fruit, Abiu, the crème caramel fruit, and Rollinia, an Amazon Custard Apple. Tastings were so generous we felt we had enjoyed a tropical feast.
Bookings are required, and tour groups are welcome.
4. Charley’s Chocolate Factory
Did you know cocoa is a fruit? That surely must mean chocolate is healthy…
Charley’s Chocolate Factory is one of the few places in the world you will see the complete journey of growing cocoa through processing and taste the final product.
You will first learn about the 3800-year history of cocoa in an entertaining and informative talk before wandering through the cocoa plantation.
Cocoa harvesting is labor-intensive, as the pods containing the cocoa nibs do not fall when ripe, so the crop must be hand-cut before fermenting and drying in the age-old tradition. You can taste the fresh nibs, which taste like custard apples or lychees, before drying.
Charley’s Chocolates produce International award-winning chocolates flavored with tropical fruits and nuts. They placed in the first eighteen at the 2017 World Cocoa Excellence Awards in Paris.
Chocolate tasting, probably the reason most people come, is the highlight of the day. Dozens of specially made tasting rosettes are shared as they describe the taste and origins of the added flavors. We were told to suck slowly to appreciate the flavors. There were so many to try we couldn’t eat fast enough to keep up with the descriptions, and that’s saying something for a pair of chocoholics.
And the name? No, this is not the home of Willie Wonka! Instead, the name is derived from Travels with Charley, written by John Steinbeck. He traveled around America with his chocolate poodle.
Tours run Thursday and Sunday. Pre-booked tickets include the guided tour and extensive chocolate tasting. In addition, members of local service clubs serve a tasty beef burger lunch.
5. Babinda Kayaks – Cassowary Coast
Crystal clear waters await you at Babinda Creek, in the foothills of Queensland’s two highest mountains, Mount Bartle Frere and Bellenden Ker.
Walking down the steep steps, we could already see fish swimming beneath us. Stepping into our double kayak, we started to paddle. Gently, with almost no effort, we floated down the pristine mountain stream. The lush green rainforest around us had a gentle calmness.
We had chosen a double kayak. We could also have selected singles or a stand-up paddleboard for our self-paced half-day trip down Babinda Creek. Starting with a safety brief at the base and wearing our obligatory life vest, we secured our picnic lunch and headed off on our 9-km paddle.
Mostly the creek flowed gently with only one slightly more challenging “mini rapid” to maneuver. Occasionally we passed small beaches, ideal for a private picnic. After lunch, we couldn’t resist stopping for a swim in the chilly waters of a deeper area of the stream.
Up to four hours are allowed for the leisurely one-way trip. You then phone Paul, and he comes and picks you up and drives you back to your vehicle.
This was definitely the most relaxing activity we did in our holiday on the Cassowary Coast and one we plan to do again with our grandkids.
Pre-booking is essential with Babinda Kayaks as starting times are staggered. Group bookings are welcome.
6. Murdering Point Winery
Who said you have to grow grapes to make a delicious wine?
The Berryman family are traditional cane farmers. However, growing tropical fruit to diversify their farm’s produce, they established the winery in 2001. They have now developed an innovative collection of wines using native and exotic tropical fruits of Far North Queensland.
Fruits are either grown by the Berryman family or sourced locally. Their 12 varieties of fruit wines include fruits like Davidson Plum, Black Sapote, and Lychee. Our favorite was Jaboticaba.
Selling from the cellar door in their cane farm, you can enjoy a unique tropical experience during a relaxed tasting of their range of premium reds and whites, in both dry and sweet styles, ports, liqueurs, and creams.
Their tropical fruit wines have won many awards and wine show medals. In 2009 Murdering Point Winery was inducted into the Tourism Tropical North Queensland Hall of Fame.
The tasting cost $5 (refundable with purchase)
7. Fozzy’s Three Island Tour
We boarded the Island Spirit, a custom-built enclosed water taxi, at Wongaling Beach. Then, we headed south for our three-hour tour of the Family Islands with Mission Beach Water Taxis.
Captain Cook named the islands The Family Islands as they all look so similar. As we toured the islands, we were enlightened about their history by an informative and lighthearted commentary by Skipper Troy. We learned of the solitude on islands with no facilities in contrast to the luxury tourist developments both past and present.
We then landed on a “secret” beach. We wandered along the deserted white sand beach and then enjoyed the self-catered picnics we had brought with us.
8. Murray Falls – Cassowary Coast
Follow any side roads signposted to “falls” as you travel down the highway, and you will find gushing waterfalls, each with their own unique beauty.
In the Murray Upper National Park, where rainforest mountains meet tropical lowlands, between Tully and Cardwell, Murray Falls is an idyllic place for a picnic or camping.
Tall gum trees are scattered throughout the grassy parkland. As the sunlight fades, small children run around freely, chasing each other with torches. Campfires in contained fire rings are lit, and friends gather for sundowners.
Early morning is the perfect time for the short walk along the boardwalk to the falls. Unfortunately, with large volumes of water cascading over the naturally sculptured boulders, you cannot swim near the falls. However, further downstream, there is a tranquil swimming hole.
There is a 1.8-km walk through a cool rainforest gully to a lookout over the falls.
9. Cardwell Foreshore – Cassowary Coast
The Cardwell Foreshore runs 3.8-km beside the Hinchinbrook Channel, overlooking the Great Barrier Reef and looking towards Hinchinbrook Island.
An ideal place for a casual stroll or a family bike ride, there is plenty to see along the way. The Coral Sea Memorial Park and family playground are at the northern end. Scattered along the path are interpretive signs explaining the flora and fauna and history of Cardwell.
Halfway along, the Jetty Plaza and Dugong Park have playgrounds, barbeques, and shaded picnic areas.
Continuing on, you will come to the Bagu Aboriginal artwork depicting a traditional fire story. Opposite the foreshore is Cardwell’s Bush Tucker Garden, where you can wander through a specially planted garden explaining traditional food. Entry is free.
At the southern end of the path, you will see a bright yellow food van where you can purchase a well-earned treat. Then, join the queue for one of Jesse’s nationally renowned Cardwell Pies. Locals and tourists have been enjoying them for over 25 years.
In the Colleen McLaughlin Memorial Park, the path meanders through dense wetlands on either side, snaking its way through dense Melaleuca Woodlands to the end of the ride.
10. Art Deco in Innisfail
People interested in architecture history should visit Innisfail, considered the art deco center of Australia.
In 1918 Innisfail, a thriving cane growing town was devastated by a cyclone, destroying many of the town’s wooden buildings. The Queensland government funded its rebuilding as part of the depression employment program. It was rebuilt in the Art Deco style that was in vogue at the time.
Care has been taken to use paint to emphasize the art deco character of the town. Buildings that have been modernized in the town have retained the style by keeping the façades.
The best-preserved building is the Heritage Listed Johnstone Shire Hall, built when the previous building was destroyed by fire in 1932.
Complimentary half-hour tours are given at 10:30 am each Friday.
11. Tyto Wetlands
Just to the south of the Cassowary Coast is Hinchinbrook Shire, a birdwatcher’s mecca.
The Tyto Wetlands is 90 hectares of wetland reserve, home to over 230 species of birds. These include the threatened Tyto Owl, the Australian Masked Owl, for which the reserve is named.
Encompassing a diverse habitat of bird hides, lagoons, and lookouts, you can enjoy the reserve on a series of tracks and elevated walkways and lookouts. Panoramic views over the wetlands are seen from the Tyto Observation Tower. In addition, there is an interpretive display at the Information Center.
Limited free camping is available in the adjoining Tyto RV Stop, permits obtained from the Information Center. Entry is free.
12. The Pub with No Beer
This hotel in Ingham, also in Hinchinbrook Shire, is worth a visit for its history.
In 1943, during World War 2, American troops were stationed in Ingham in transit to Papua New Guinea. They enjoyed Australian beer so much they drank the town dry. The next day cane cutter, Dan Sheahan, came into town for a well-earned drink to find there was no beer left. In his misery, he sat down and penned the poem The Pub Without Beer.
The poem was later turned into a song. Slim Dusty’s version, The Pub with No Beer, released in 1957, became the first Australian single to be awarded a gold record. It has been recorded by many artists and has become a treasured part of Australian folklore.
The original Day Dawn pub of the poem is now known as Lee’s Hotel. In 2005, the hotel became the only Heritage Listed hotel in Queensland. It may be known as the Pub with no Beer, but the food is good. It won the Queensland Hotels Award for Best Restaurant– Regional in 2021
13. Etty Bay
If you are nearing the end of your stay in the Cassowary Coast and you still haven’t actually seen a cassowary, then Etty Bay is the place to go.
Cassowaries roam freely on the beach and through the beachside caravan park. Mostly seen in the morning, they wander through the park looking for a free feed. Watch out for your breakfast. They are renowned for pinching toast off the table.
The cassowaries here are used to people. However, in the wild, they can be very aggressive. So the saying here is, “Be Casso-wary!”
Cassowary Coast – Conclusion
Having lived in nearby Cairns, we have driven through the Cassowary Coast area many times to Brisbane. This time we have enjoyed an extended stay.
With so many other things to do on the Cassowary Coast, I suggest you pop into an Information Centre and pick up a copy of 100 Plus Things to Do on the Cassowary Coast. You may find you will do what we did, and come for a couple of days and stay for two weeks.
*Opening photo ©Alan Riles
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Last Updated on March 11, 2023