In Far North Queensland's jungle there are the remains of a Spanish castle in a place called Paronella Park. Ever since I heard about this place I have wanted to visit it. On our recent trip to FNQ we did exactly that, thanks to our travel buddy Ann for organising it. Unfortunately it was a dull and wet day.
|Overlooking Paronella Park from the swinging bridge above the Mena Falls.
The story of this castle is fascinating. I hope you have time to read it.
In 1913 José Paronella left his fiancée Matilda in Spain and sailed to Australia to find a better life for himself and Matilda. He arrived in Innisfail just south of Cairns. He worked hard on the sugar cane fields and then created his wealth buying , improving and selling cane farms over the next 11 years. While travelling through the beautiful rainforest he found a spectacular place on the Mena River beside the beautiful Mena Falls for his dream to build a castle where he could entertain large numbers of guests. His dream included a ballroom, a movie theatre, tennis courts, a swimming pavilion, cafe, boating, picnic areas and magnificent gardens.
He returned to Spain to marry his Matilda but alas she had married another. Determined to sail back to Australia with a bride, he married Matilda's younger sister, Margarita. One year later, in 1929, the happy newlyweds purchased the land for José's dream.
Firstly he built the 'Grand Stairway" to shift building materials from the lower level to the upper level where he hand built a stone cottage to live in while he built his dream.
Then he and his work crew set about building an entertainment area. It included a movie theatre which was converted into a grand ballroom on weekends with live bands and a massive mirror ball reflecting pink and blue lights.
Also on the lower level José built refreshment rooms/pavilion and change rooms for swimmers. A fountain which is working again and tennis courts.
José made a Lover's Lane which enters a tunnel dug by hand. It leads to the delightful Teresa Falls which he named after his daughter.
7000 trees were planted on the 13 acre property and it is a delight to walk through these gardens which includes Palm Grove, Bamboo Forest and The Meadow. The avenue of huge Kauri Trees tower over the forest.
José also made a museum with a collection of guns, timbers, coins and dolls. he opened his home and castle to the public in 1935.
In 1946 the park and pavilion were damaged by floods but the Paronella's repaired and replanted and opened for business in 6 months.
José passed away in 1948 leaving Magarita and daughter Teresa and son Joe as custodians of his dream. Paronella Park was sold in 1977.
In 1979 the castle was destroyed by fire except for the stone work. In 1986 a cyclone almost ruined what was left.
In 1993 Judy and Mark Evans rediscovered the almost lost park and envisaged reviving José's dream with his appreciation of beauty and warm hospitality. They bought the property and they are returning it to its former glory but staying true to its historic and eco values. They have also had damage from 2 cyclones.
Too soon it was time to board the bus and head back to Cairns a 45 min drive. But first I braved the swinging bridge to look over the Mena Falls and to take the first shot on this post.