Raiders of the Lost Paronella Park!
It belongs in a museum...well it is a museum!
Tucked away in the small town of Germantown, Queensland hidden behind the dense jungle foliage are the crumbling ruins of a dream. As if pulled straight from the set of Indiana Jones the ruins of Jose Paronella's magnificent property transport you to another world of adventure, mystery and heritage. Just a short drive from our camp in the rest area we pulled in to the parking lot being eagerly greeted by a friendly chap. Turns out he was one of the current owners and caretakers of the park, and he was more than willing to point us in the right direction of where to check in and enter the park. After checking in we pulled Matilda up to our campsite, which was a tad unique as it was a flat caravan spot in the wide open right on a bend barely wide enough for us to set up our tent and and camp.
We prepped our cameras while we eagerly waited for our awesome friend, Steve, to arrive from Cairns. Feeling like we were going to rendezvous with Indiana Jones I of course had to grab my expedition hat, because why not complete the theme with the authentic look! No matter how many eye rolls I received from Anna I also had to compliment my wide brimmed wool hat with my tan expedition shirt. After not much time Steve pulled up in his white Nissan Navara with a huge grin on his face. He was as excited as we were to explore and photograph the ruins, especially since he had been the one to so highly recommend the visit here. He hopped out of his truck and threw a swag down on the ground, within minutes his camp was set and we were gearing up for our stroll through the park.
Being an avid photography enthusiast Steve arrived with a full arsenal of Canon products which he was more than happy to share and let me get to do some shooting with some serious quality cameras! We made the short trek into the park where we were greeted by a single room yellow house full of relics and photos detailing the history of the park. Starting as a long shot dream, Jose Paronella created his own reality in the small rural town. Purchasing the original property in 1929 he began construction of his venue with a few gardens and parks for visitors to peruse. Not one to be constrained though he soon constructed the house and then what became known as The Castle by hand with sand dredged from the river below. Planting over 7,000 trees and building the property with a unique style reminiscent of his home country of Spain the park expanded and became a grand reception area. Wanting to outshine all the naysayers, he built himself his own hydro electric station in 1933, bringing electricity to the park before the town had even been incorporated into any sort of power grid. Unfortunately though a series of heavy rains and storms through the decades, as well as Jose Paronella's passing in 1948 meant the property eventually fell into disrepair bringing a feeling of abandonment. While feeling like ruins, the park has never truly been abandoned, and now thanks to a team of passionate members the park has been maintained and restorations are happening slowly but surely. Thanks to the tireless work of the current groundskeepers and owners, Paronella park is an amazing destination hidden away on the banks of the Mena River.
Moving on from the info room of the main house, we soon found ourselves moseying through a garden of hanging vines and tropical plants. The outline of the castle-like structure stood out dramatically against the grey skies. A shattered Paronella Park sign lay askew on the ground, rust stained and tarnished from years of weather exposure. The cracked concrete path led us to the rivers edge where we peered over the drop of a water fall full of rushing brown water. The water collected in a large pond below where the black outlines of large fish could be seen swimming to and fro. Following the concrete path we soon found ourselves descending a long stairway downwards to the pond. While probably close to 15 meters tall, there was a high water mark only a few steps down indicating the extreme height the water had come to during one of the catastrophic floods the park had endured. Further continuing along the steep stairwell we arrived to a sandy landing pad dotted with concrete picnic tables and lined by a concrete fence with an opening to a small stone platform. As soon as you came to the waters edge you were greeted by a swarm of eager fish who after years of being fed by patrons had now associated people with food.
From our new lower vantage we could see the full height of the waterfall and see where the water plummeted to. Tumbling over a large stone overhang, the water landed in a calm pond surrounded by lazy trees and I'm sure one or two crocs lurking just below the surface. Our self guided tour continued along a gravel pathway that led to the main attraction of the park. A small asymmetrical concrete building with a large room cut through the center called the Drink Room. Looking like a blend of an Aztec pyramid and Spanish architecture the scene immediately made you feel like you had just wandered into a destination from Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider. Expecting to see my favorite movie hero swing down from a vine we imagined the fountain inside was the Fountain of Life from The Last Crusade, and could almost picture the ancient knight sitting around the corner ready to pounce. Careful not to trod upon make believe booby traps that would trigger poison darts we parted the grass and came around to the front of the building where two fountains playfully shot streams of water into the air. Not wasting an opportunity to act out a scene from the movies, Anna snapped a pic of me looking like I was about to enter the forbidden chambers!
Indiana Jones fantasy complete, we continued to follow the path through the rainforest and over a small bridge to its conclusion at a small manmade waterfall. Through clever planning and designs beyond his time, Paronella was able to manufacture a feel of total wildness and seclusion and make this little waterfall feel completely natural. Back out to the main path we were in the Avenue of Giants, a small gravel trail enclosed by straight rows of perfect towering Queensland Kuari Trees. The trail had come to a close and with rumbling stomachs signaling the need for some tucker (food). Making a bowl of tasty ramen and cracking open a chilly beer, we chatted with Steve about our adventures so far and adventures to come and he told us stories of his past and the adventures he had had. Soon night had fallen, and lucky for us this did not mean the end of our evening!
One of the unique things about the park if you camp there is that you're granted after hours access to take photos and explore the ruins at night. As we began to get our camera gear ready again the heavens let out a torrent of water, the first rain we had had in ages and of course we were supposed to go out exploring. We were not to be deterred though, as adventure waits for no weather! Marching down the pathway we soon found ourselves in a whole new world totally different from the day. Never mind the scrambling down slippery steps and through rushing streams of water we once again found ourselves at the Aztec-esque building where the staff treated us and other guests who braved the rain to a light show synchronized with music and the dancing fountains. The night added a whole other element of mystique to the ruins and topped with the rain it just totally completed the picture. While we weren't able to get any long exposure shots, the stories and experiences we had in the rain made it so much better and such a unique experience.
The rain did finally end though, and with sopping rain jackets we went back to the pond full of fish to find the water fall lit up brilliantly with a light. Setting up our tripods we played around with settings and Steve showed me some awesome tips for night shooting. With the late night hour beginning to play tricks on our eyes we decided to call it a night right about when the clock crested midnight. With the fresh rains drenching the parking lot we had to weave around tons of cane toads that had hopped out of the brush to bask in the moisture. Not wanting to pass up an opportunity for a real hot water shower before bed we took full advantage of the full facilities and "luxuries" provided for campers. After a week on the road with no real shower hot water was a very welcome relief!
By the time we tucked in the rains had begun again and we were soon asleep. The pattering of rain on the tent grew and faded and soon we were awoken to the morning song of countless birds and the dripping of last nights rain off of the tent and trees around us. Breaking camp and eating our quick breakfast we enjoyed our one last cup of coffee with Steve before having to say goodbye and hit the road once again. When that hour finally came we said our goodbyes and loaded up in our respective cars. It's always difficult making good friends in the places we stay and having to say goodbye, but hopefully we'll be able to meet him once again as our travels across the red continent continue! Soon we were back on the road, but now heading west into the country where the rainforest gradually disintegrated into a arid scrub land and dusty gravel roads.