Summary: Well deserving of its reputation as a world-renowned bushwalking trail, the 32km Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island combines lush rainforest, picturesque beaches and idyllic tropical waterholes.

The Thorsborne Trail is my first overnight solo bushwalk in many years; being a solo walk has the advantage that it’s not too difficult to secure a spot on the trail (the Thorsborne Trail is a popular bushwalk, and the total number of walkers is limited to 40 people). I’ve decided to do it over a leisurely three days – you could complete the walk over two days, but even though I tend to walk fairly fast, there are some bushwalks like this one where it’s a shame to rush. 

Getting to the start of the walk is half the journey, with two flights from Sydney and then a bus from Townsville to Cardwell. I’m “overnighting” at the Kookaburra Holiday Park in the small town of Cardwell, before catching a ferry to Ramsay Bay.  The hour trip across from the mainland to Hinchinbrook Island is a pretty relaxing way to start a bushwalk!

Day 1: Ramsay Bay to Little Ramsay Bay (7.3km)

I’m walking from north to south, with a timber boardwalk across the mangrove-covered mud flats of Missionary Bay marking the start of the 32km Thorsborne Trail.

It’s only a few hundred metres before the wide and picturesque beach of Ramsay Bay is reached.

The start (and end) point of the Thorsborne Trail is a destination for day-trippers as well, so there are a few other people around on the beach. A few other “Thorsborne Trail Walkers” disembark with me, but with a maximum of 40 people on the trail everyone soon spreads out.

At the southern end of Ramsay Bay is a small, rocky headland, from which there is a last view of the 8.5km long beach.

On the other side of the granite boulders is the much smaller Ramsay Bay South, also known as Blacksand Beach. It has finer sand and less waves – and would be a better option for swimming, except there’s a risk of crocodiles on all the beaches!

The Thorsborne Trail heads inland after Blacksand Beach, ascending to the saddle of Nina Peak, where the landscape changes to tall eucalyptus forest. The rough track to the top of Nina Peak is very steep, with some rock-scrambling near the end, but it’s worth the effort, being one of the few points along the walk with views of the coast. And the views are spectacular! 

Nina Bay is almost directly below, and the small Agnes Island to the south-east.

To the north is Ramsay Bay, with its long, sandy beach.

Inland, to the west, are Mount Bowen (1,121m) and The Thumb (981m) – the highest peaks on the Hinchinbrook Island. (It is possible to reach the summits of both Mount Bowen and The Thumb, with written permission from Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. There are several short, but very demanding, off-track routes.)

The Thorsborne Trail descends from the saddle back towards the coast, crossing Nina Creek before reaching Nina Bay. Nina Bay has a 500m-long beach, bordered by rock-fringed headlands, and a campsite. The meets the beach in the middle, and follows the beach up to its southern headland.

Nina Bay Campsite: Two areas for camping, with fresh water 200m before the campsite or at the southern end of the beach. Drop toilet.

Towering over the beach is Nina Peak.

On the other side of the rocky headland at the southern end of Nina Bay is the aptly-named Boulder Bay, with the “beach” consisting of a field of water-smoothed rocks.

After crossing Boulder Bay, the Thorsborne Trail ascends again to cross the headland to the south of the bay. 

The next beach is my destination for today, and the most common campsite at the end of the first day (for those walking north to south): Little Ramsay Bay. 

Little Ramsay Bay Campsite: Located near small lagoon. Water from creek behind the lagoon or southern end of the bay. Drop toilet.

Behind Little Ramsay Bay are a few lagoons, the largest one framing a reflection of Mount Bowen in the still waters.

Keen to avoid a potentially busy campground, I continue along Little Ramsay Beach and across another small rocky headland, finding a small, private and sheltered spot at the northern end of Little Ramsay Bay.

It’s been a great first day, as I go to sleep with the sound of gentle surf in the background.

Day 2: Little Ramsay Bay to Mulligan Falls (19.1km)

I’m up bright and early the following day, which is a long day… this section is often done over two days, although it’s not particularly challenging to do it in a single day. The early morning light make for some great photos of the mountains and the lagoon, as I set off southwards from Little Ramsay Bay.

The Thorsborne Trail now heads almost directly inland, ascending a rainforest gully and passing a side-track to Banksia Beach (there is another official campground here, with water available from Banksia Creek). After crossing Banksia Creek, the track begins a steady ascent through rainforest to a saddle, followed by a steeper descent through a rocky gully to reach a flat rainforest area. It’s markedly different from the previous day’s coastal walking, with the Thorsborne Trail traversing dark and humid rainforest and crossing two creeks (North Zoe Creek and Fan Palm Creek) – both easy crossings at this time of year.

Part of the attraction of the Thorsborne Trail is the variety of landscapes: it’s not just walk along the beach (although there are some nice sections along picturesque beaches), but a juxtaposition of open coastal walking, enormous rainforest trees and strangler vines, and dark mangrove swamps…

…although this may be less of a highlight at the end of the wet season! Being September and the end of the dry season, I manage to keep my feet relatively dry. If you’re undertaking this walk towards the start of the dry season, you may end up with parts of the walk being through knee high mud and water.

The Thorsborne Trail eventually leaves the rainforest to emerge onto the enormous expanse of Zoe Bay. The 2.5km long beach was formed by the front of a 2km wide and 4km long valley being infilled with sand and mud. It’s not an unattractive beach – but it’s definitely the least nice beach of the ones I’ve encountered so far. 

At the southern end of Zoe Beach is a campsite, which often marks the end of Day 1. I’m pushing on – it’s only 11am, and this campsite (and Banksia Bay) are the worst for sandflies (midges) and mosquitoes!

Zoe Bay Campsite: Open area under trees on and near the beach. Camp further back into the forest to avoid sandflies. Water is 600m upstream from South Zoe Creek. Toilet, food boxes and picnic tables.

The reason you’d stay at Zoe Bay is not so much the beach, but Zoe Falls, which are about a kilometre upstream of the lagoon. The beautiful tropical pool is surrounded by trees, with a waterfall at the far end. I’ve arrived at just the right time and have the swimming hole to myself; everyone who camped at Zoe Bay the previous night have left, and no-one has arrived yet. I can see why you want to lounge around here all afternoon, especially if you’re travelling with friends or children.  

From Zoe Falls, the Thorsborne Trail ascends very steeply next to the waterfall, with some great views back over Zoe Bay.

There are some more pools at the top of the waterfall – a bit like a natural infinity pool, with Zoe Bay as the backdrop. It would be another great spot for a swim, although it’s only been about 15min since I left Zoe Falls, which are now just below me!

The Thorsborne Trail continues to ascend along South Zoe Creek, which is crossed a few times. 

It’s a fairly unrelenting climb up to a granite saddle, which is the highest point of the Thorsborne Trail at 260m (other than the side-trip to Nina Peak). From here there are views out over the Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to Palm Island (which confusingly, is actually a locality consisting of an island group of 16 islands, including Great Palm Island and Orpheus Island). 

The track descends from the saddle, leaving the low scrub of the higher elevation for rainforest again, and crossing Diamantina Creek along the way (which may be a “wet foot” crossing earlier in the dry season). A side-track just before Diamantina Creek descends to Sunken Reef Bay, where there is another camping site, used more by sea kayakers than Thorsborne Trail hikers. Today’s destination is a rainforest campsite at Mulligan Falls, on the lower reaches of Diamantina Creek.

Mulligan Falls Campsite: Multple rainforest campsites near the base of Mulligan Falls. Water from the creek at the base of the falls. Toilet, food boxes.

Mulligan Falls and the waterhole beneath the falls is another stunning location, having deep lower and upper pools below the cascades. It’s a nice spot for a swim at the end of a long walking day!

Day 3: Mulligan Falls to George Point (6.5km)

It’s an easy walking day today, with the last (short) section of the Thorsborne Trail to George Point, where I’ve got a boat transfer booked at midday (transfer times are subject to tides and will vary). The walk continues through the rainforest, descending very gently back to the coast.

It’s recommdended you fill up your water bottles at Mulligan Falls, which is the last source of reliable water before George Point. The track crosses a number of creeks, and many are dry – but even late in the season some have a bit of water and one is still running.

It’s only about 2.5km before the Thorsborne Trail reaches the coast, heralded by the vegetation changing from rainforest to paperbark swamp and finally coastal trees. 

The last five kilometres is easy walking along Mulligan Bay; in the distamce to the north is the long (6km) almost 6km long jetty of the Lucinda sugar terminal on the mainland. 

Behind the beach is Mount Straloch (922m), home of the wreck of the “Texas Terror”, an American B-24 Liberator bomber which crashed during a storm on 18 December 1942, killing all 12 people on board.

There’s one last creek (Mulligans Creek) to cross, which may require shoes to be removed, before reaching George Point. I’m half an hour early for my “ferry” transfer, where I’m joined by a few other bushwalkers who have also completed the Thorsborne Trail – and a few starting their journey north! There’s also a campsite here, although you’d only want to stay here if you have a very early ferry transfer.

George Point Campsite: Open area without separately defined sites. Toilets and picnic table. No fresh water.

The Thorsborne Trail has been one of my best Australian bushwalks – varied, never boring and not too challenging. Zoe Falls and Mulligan Falls are both about as good as you can get when it comes to rainforest swimming holes, and the restricted number of bushwalkers means youwon’t see many people. Three days felt just right in terms of timing, although I can why you’d stretch it out over 4-5 days.

0.0km Ramsay Bay (boardwalk)
2.0km Blacksand Beach
2.6km Junction with track to Nina Peak
Nina Peak is a very steep 1km (return) side-trip
3.8km Nina Bay
6.4km Little Ramsay Bay campsite
6.4km Little Ramsay Bay
8.2km Junction with Banksia Bay
11.8km North Zoe Creek (low tide required for crossing)
16.7km Zoe Bay campsite
21.4km Junction with track to Sunken Bay Reef
22.7km Mulligan Falls campsite
Mulligan Falls (swimming hole) is 0.5km return
23.2km Mulligan Falls campsite
25.2km Mulligan Bay
29.3km George Point

Important Info (Thorsborne Trail Tips!)

  • Bookings are essential – and it’s best to book well in advance, as the trail is generally fully booked during peak periods and school holidays
  • Book ferry transfers ahead of time 
  • Saltwater crocodiles frequent the beaches and the tidal creeks of the island, so avoid swimming except at the Zoe Falls and Mulligan Creek waterholes. You should try to cross North Zoe Creek, Nina Creek (at the entrance to Nina Bay) and Mulligan Creek at low tide
  • While on the track, use the rat-proof boxes or hang anything edible high in a tree to avoid having packs chewed through and food eaten by the native rats.

Best time for the Thorsborne Trail?

Although the Thorsborne Trail can be walked all year, the best time is the “dry season”, which is May to October. From November to April it’s hotter, more humid and there’s a high possibility of heavy or monsoonal rains. There’s more water along the trail at the start of the dry season – but also the risk that parts of the track will still be very boggy or partially underwater. So my pick would be July-September.

How many days?

How much time you have on the first and last days depends a little on the tides (which will determine your start and end times) – but three days or four days is the typical duration for hiking the Thorsborne Trail. If you’re fit you should have no problem doing the walk in three days; an extra day gives you one night at Zoe Falls and one at Mulligan Falls, which both have great waterholes.

As for which direction to walk… there seemed to be similar numbers of people doing the Thorsborne Trail in each direction, although I have read that north to south is more popular. The tides and timing of the ferry transfers may dictate which direction you decide to walk. I’ve seen a very considered explanation by Robert de Rooy – who has walked the Thorsborne Trail at least eight times – as to why North to South is preferable: “the northern part receives less rainfall and is dryer, so the camps and hike improve as you move south. We think it’s also smarter to walk towards good water sources as well which kick in at North Zoe. The second reason we walk North to South is North Queensland predominantly gets southeasterly winds, this means you will get a breeze on the front of your body rather than on your backpack as you hike.

What to bring on the Thorsborne Trail? 

Other than whatever camping gear you normally bring for a multi-day walk (have a look at Packing For an Overnight Hike), for the Thorsborne Trail make sure you pack:

  • Insect repellent (the ones with DEET as the active ingredient!)
  • Sunscreen (some sections along beaches)
  • Consider reef shoes (or even Crocs) for the wetter rainforest sections 
  • Some form of water treatment / filtration.

Accommodation near the Thorsborne Trail

Depending where you’re coming from and the time of your boat transfer to Hincinbrook Island, there are a few towns along the Bruce Highway offering accommodation. The most convenient is Cardwell (which is also where the boat transfers depart from), Cardwell has a few motels and apartments to choose from.

More information on the Thorsborne Trail

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