At Paronella Park, elaborate Gaudí-esque structures covered in moss are encompassed by thousands of tropical trees and ferns. You couldn’t be blamed for wondering where on Earth you might be (or what year it is) — though the sound of laughing kookaburras may provide a clue.
The green-soaked dreamscape is located 90 minutes south of Cairns in Queensland, Australia. Bought in 1929 by José Paronella, an immigrant sugar-cane farmer who grew up in Spain’s Catalan countryside, the 13 acres of scrubland evolved into a “pleasure garden” nestled within a jungle. In the years that followed its opening in 1935, the park hosted weddings, movie nights, and dances with live jazz.
“‘What is this place?’ is one of the hardest questions you can ask, because to every person it's something different,” said Mark Evans, who bought Paronella Park with his wife, Judy, in 1993.
The couple’s diligent preservation efforts, including the restoration of the historic 1933 hydroelectric system, have resulted in advanced ecotourism certifications. Powered by an on-site waterfall, the hydroelectric plant provides electricity to the entire park. “We want to be self-sustaining,” said Evans. “We have a master plan, it's conservation, but keeping the whole concept of José's dream.”
From the lily-pond fountain to the majestic Queensland kauri trees, art and nature collide. José Paronella’s grand staircase and castle make for stunning photography backdrops and visitors may spot a bride and groom while seeking out some of the rainforest’s native inhabitants — like the Ulysses butterfly or azure kingfisher. You might even catch a glimpse of a bandicoot scooting by as you explore the grounds.
Paronella Park may be many things to many people, but for Evans, the park is the embodiment of José Paronella’s dream. With passion, Evans declared: “The dream continues.”
Paronella Park is a 90-minute drive from Cairns, and a three-hour drive from Townsville.
The park has a cafe, but guests are free to bring their own picnic. Alternatively, you can pop over to the nearby Mena Creek Hotel for some Aussie pub grub.
Guests can stay overnight in one of the park’s six cabins or set up camp in the caravan and camping grounds.