Paronella Park – continuing the legacy

Posted by Patrick Mills on 5 September 2016 | Comments

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The story of a forgotten ecotourism legacy and the people who brought it back to life.

Built in the 1920s and 30s by Jose Paronella, the 5 hectare Park operated as a pleasure garden, and was one of Queensland's earliest tourist destinations, opening to the public in 1935. After José’s death in 1948, the Park fell into extended periods of decline only to be purchased by Mark and Judy Evans in 1993. Since then, through dedication, hard work and by adhering to the principles of ecotourism, Paronella Park has developed into one of Queensland's premier tourist destinations employing 50 staff, and receiving more than 100,000 visitors annually!

The Paronella Dream

A Spanish castle in the rainforests of Far North Queensland, Paronella Park is a unique tourist attraction. However, while the property is obviously very beautiful, it’s the story behind it that makes it so unique and special - a story about one man with an incredible dream.

José Paronella arrived in Australia from Catalonia in Spain, in 1913. He worked in the sugar cane industry for 11 years initially cutting sugar cane, then purchasing, improving, and reselling cane farms.

José first saw this 13 acres of virgin scrub along Mena Creek in 1914. He eventually purchased it in 1929 for £120. His vision was to create pleasure gardens and reception centre for the enjoyment of the public.

039 Paronella Park 2

Spanish Castle - Then - Photo Credit:

For 30 years, Jose developed a practically self-sustainable property, rich in biodiversity - a true Garden of Eden. He sourced his materials locally, taking cement from the river and using old train lines as building reinforcement. Jose also introduced a Hydro Electric generating plant in 1933, the earliest of its kind in North Queensland, successfully supplying power to the entire Park. In addition to this, Jose also had a remarkable influence on developing local biodiversity, planting upwards of 7000 trees in his time!

Jose’s choices, when developing Paronella Park, reveal a man with an outstanding vision of sustainability - a true ecotourism pioneer.

Jose passed away in 1948, and left his legacy to his children. In the following years, the park suffered a number of mishaps (a fire in ‘79, and Cyclone Winifred in ’86) and gradually fell into disrepair only to be found again by Mark and Judy in 1993.

Carrying on the dream

Arriving at a run down and long forgotten property, Mark and Judy saw remnants of Jose’s dream and worked hard over many years to turn it into the success story it is today. Many people, including the local bank manager, told them buying Paronella Park was a mistake, and that it would never work – the same sort of negativity José encountered when he first began building his dream.

Mark and Judy see themselves as custodians of José Paronella’s dream.  Much like José, they view operating in an environmentally sustainable way as an obvious choice, and one that provides many benefits.

1937 2013

Spanish Castle - Then and Now. Photo Credit: 

Following in Jose’s footsteps, they took it upon themselves to restore the original 1930s era hydro-electric system bringing a part of José Paronella’s dream back to life. Mark describes the hydroelectric system to guests on the night tour as “the heartbeat of Paronella Park”.

Initially, one of the major challenges was hiring and retaining good staff – a key component of delivering the story of Paronella Park effectively to their guests. This was overcome by building a reputation as a quality workplace with a positive culture. Now, Paronella Park is the single largest employer in its area. Many current staff were initially visitors, who fell in love with the Park and its story.

sunset at the park

Paronella Park waterfall - photo credit: Paronella Park FB Page.

What lies ahead

Mark and Judy understand and actively follow the principles of ecotourism. When asked where they think ecotourism is headed they said:

“More and more businesses, like us, will see ecotourism and operating in an environmentally sustainable way, as a smart business decision”

Mark and Judy and Paronella Park are now working hard to create a destination south of Cairns. 

“We have purchased the Mena Creek Hotel, operate the Mamu Tropical Skywalk (another Ecotourism Australia certified product!), and are currently finalising construction of our new caravan park. Our aim is to continue to grow, to deliver exceptional experiences, and to do so in keeping with our commitment to the natural environment.”

Jose Paronella was a pioneer for Australian ecotourism and Mark and Judy’s commendable efforts in restoring Paronella Park ensure that his legacy continues for years to come.

Paronella Park has been certified since 2006 at the Advanced Ecotourism level, Ecotourism Australia’s highest level of ECO certification achievable. Advanced Ecotourism certification means that the operator consistently delivers quality tourism experiences that follow sustainable practices, with exceptional interpretation values and commitment to nature conservation.

As well as being Advanced Ecotourism certified, Paronella Park has also received Ecotourism Australia’s Climate Action Business certification. This certificate recognises the operator’s commitment to reducing their carbon emissions and their contribution toward climate change. Ecotourism Australia’s certification programs guarantee that Paronella Park’s products are backed by a strong, well-managed commitment to developing nature-based tourism.

Photo credit: and Paronella Park FB page.



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