How hard is the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island?

The Thorsborne Trail is rated as difficult by Queensland Parks & Forests,  but is it really a difficult hike?

We received an email asking us to compare hiking on Hinchinbrook Island with Tasmania.  In this post we summarise a few points from our experience hiking the Thorsborne Trail a couple of years ago.

The question:

My husband is keen to walk the Thorsborne track later this year and for it to be our family holiday. I am just a little concerned that my fitness level may hinder the family. I have walked the Cradle mountain track, the day trip , first day to  the lookout above Dove Lake taking the difficult track.  I note that the Thorsborne Track description rates the walk as difficult. Are you able to make a comment about any comparison. Thanks

Swimming above Nina Falls - Thorsborne Trail

Swimming Nina Falls - Thorsborne Trail

The Answer:

Mmm, how long is a piece of string you ask???

First a couple of observations:

  • The track up to the Cradle Mountain Plateau in Tasmania is a bit tough. There is a short section of almost vertical climbing over rocky terrain.  There is even a chain embedded in the rock to help.  Of coures, adding a 20kg back does make it a bit more challenging!
  • Sue finds this bit the most challenging of the whole Overland Track, and studiously avoids it on each trip by heading up “The Horse Track”
  • Gauging the difficulty of a hiking track is very subjective and a LOT depends on the individual’s fitness, previous experience, aversion to heights or scrambling etc.

Compared to hiking in Tasmania, The Thorsborne Trail is not difficult BUT it has the following “features” that can make it interesting.

  • It can be really hot and humid and it saps your strength
  • There are many exposed sections of the track that are in full sunlight for much of the day.
    • We went there thinking tropical paradise,but reckon ROUGHLY 40% of the walking is inland and quite open, exposed and rocky. The sun belts down and it feels like you are walking in the desert.
Hiking one of the beaches - Thorsborne Trail

Hiking one of the beaches - Thorsborne Trail

  • Part of the reason it may be defined as “difficult” is that the track is rough, narrow and rocky in places BUT no worse (by far) than the track up to Marions Lookout in Tasmania. i.e. it seemed to us to be a normal bush walking track.
    • As Parks Queensland state on their site:  the Thorsborne Trail is not a graded or hardened walking track and in some areas is rough and difficult to traverse.
  • River crossings -There are many stories of people getting into serious trouble trying to cross swollen rivers on the Trail. Basically they were stupid and did not make the decision to wait it out or turn back. Of course this is very weather dependent. When we did it none of the rivers were more than a foot deep!!
  • Did we mention the heat? Distances each day are quite manageable but the heat can drain you.
Sunrise Hinchinbrook island

Sunrise Hinchinbrook island

Of course you can get around all these things and enjoy the walk. It IS well worth doing!

  • Get fit before you leave. Every km you walk at home will have a great impact on your ability to walk the track
  • Your pack weight should not be too bad as you don’t need cold weather gear or heavy sleeping bags (did I mention it is hot?)
  • Get away early before the heat of the day hits
  • Carry (and drink) plenty of water and keep drinking and topping it up when you can.
  • Have long breaks and a swim where possible to cool down. There are plenty of fantastic swimming holes along the way. We ended up just jumping in to the waterholes in our hiking gear, they dried off quickly
  • Wear good hiking footwear. We made the wrong decision and wore runners rather than  normal hiking boots/ shoes with heavy soles. The track is quite rough in places so you need good protection for your feet (especially the soles)
  • Make sure you have lightweight longed sleeved pants and a shirt for in the evening. The locals we met always put them on with socks to protect themselves from sandflies.

In summary, we went into it thinking it was going to be an easy walk. At the time we thought it was moderately hard BUT the main reasons were the heat and sore feet from walking in the wrong shoes.

The positives FAR outweigh the negatives.The scenery is spectacular, the water falls and swimming hole magic and the beaches out of this world! We had a GREAT family holiday.

If you are worried about slowing up the group, leave first and get some distance behind you in the morning. They can pack up! Leave early from the lunch break and head off. It is well marked and pretty hard to get lost.  This can take the mental pressure off you to keep up and it is really nice hiking alone sometimes.

View from Nina Falls -Hinchinbrook Island

View from Nina Falls -Hinchinbrook Island

The final piece of advice is to not make it a race. Take your time, plan a rest day, just go from one camping spot to the next. Even by stopping for a couple of  swims on the way, you are still into camp very early afternoon. There is plenty to see and do around each campsite and the sea is great to swim in!

We hope you decide to go and would love to hear how it turn out!

Comments

  1. Natalie Obersky says

    I totally support Frank’s comments, the trail is certainly not a hard hike. However do consider the time of year you intend to walk very carefully and keep an eye on the rainfall charts prior to leaving.

    My husband and I have completed the Thorsborne trail seven times at different times of the year. If you intend to undertake the trail in May/June be prepared to get wet for a couple of days (when it rains it tends to set-in for 3 days or more). When it does rains it’s the tropics so it pours. This makes creek crossings as well as the headland sections of the trail difficult as the rocks become very slippery when wet. So allow more time for stops than usual.

    We had the unfortunate luck on our first trip (mid-May) of continuous rain 9 weeks prior to our arrival due to a late cyclone (cyclone season finishes at the end of April). All the creeks on the trail were running which added 2-3hrs of time on EPA’s estimates each day. Although this was tough, the island is a spectacular place hence our return trips.

    Our hikes in August and Sept were rewarded with good weather and mild temperatures (so mild we were actually cold a few nights but do note cold in terms of far north Qld standards not Tassie a sleeping bag liner or light sheet with light clothing should suffice). Late winter is the best time of year to do the trail but the only downside is that these months are very popular ie. school holidays + local walkers, so book well in advance and be prepared for company each night.

    From Oct the days do start to heat up, so too does the humidity and the bugs (yep the bugs get worse in warmer weather and Frank’s point re long sleeved shirts and pants is a must – ensure they fit loosely as the mosquitoes will bite you through the fabric if it is against your skin and insect repellent will only work to an extent – carry mosquito coils with you and light one whenever you stop for more then 10mins). The upside – we have found Oct-Nov drier and less busy which makes for quick walking (swamps only have shallow areas of mud and are not filled with water) and empty campgrounds which you’ll have to yourself.

    I’d give Dec – April a miss. Simply it is wet season, cyclone season, ridiculously himid and the ferry at the northern end stops operating (from mid-January).

    Overall this is a fantastic wilderness walk which is well worth the training and the few bug bites that you’ll encounter.

    • Penny says

      Hi Natalie,
      We are booked to walk in the first week in October and are wondering whether we should take sleeping bags or would we be okay with just our sleeping sheets? We are hiking with our two daughters 14 and 13 so we want to be safe, will it be easy to tell which pools and creeks we can swim in that are croc free?
      Any other advice? What about wet weather gear?
      Cheers, Penny

  2. Frank says

    Hi Natalie,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to put together such a comprehensive reply. It will be a great resource for anyone planning the walk and being able to draw on your experience. This is partially what this site is about, sharing information from the people who have done these walks.
    Many thanks again,
    Frank

  3. Bernie says

    Hi All,

    Personally, I wouldn’t rate the track as at all difficult. The distances for each day are relatively short, so you can take your time and enjoy all that it has to offer. Swimming whenever you can is a must! I think that it is rated as difficult because of the isolation, low track maintenance, and absence of any facilities. Self sufficiency is a must, and in some places the track is tricky to follow, so some navigational skills are essential in case you lose the track.
    As mentioned, the heat, humidity and high rainfall can be a problem, so walk the track in winter when these factors are at their lowest. Regardless of season, you can expect to get wet at some stage. The first time we went we took raingear, but it was so hot with it on, we sweated just as wet anyway. Other times we left them at home and just walked in the rain – even the rain is warm!
    Unless the flooding is severe, you can usually cross the swollen creeks OK without a pack. I carry a thin climbing rope to tie accross the creek, together with a long cord and a small pully to ferry the packs accross if it is not safe to wear them.
    And yes, a good insect repellant is essential!! On one trip we met a couple sea-kayaking around the island; being eco-friendly with tea-tree oil & citronella in baby oil as relellant. They were so heavily covered in bites, they looked diseased!
    All said I can highly recommend this walk. First one that I took my daughter on, and it’s still her favorite. Definitely in my top 5.

    PS. Just got back from The Overland Track – had a ball!!!

  4. Frank says

    Hi Bernie,
    Great comments and advice , thanks very much.
    We did try the baby oil and dettol. It worked a bit but DEET was pretty good and covering yourself even better!

    Great to hear the Overland Track went well, throw us a comment or email about your experience, we would love to post it here. Weather would have been great.
    Frank

  5. Kim says

    Thanks for your blog. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed the Thorsbourne Trail I will have to disagree with Bernie in some respects! We have just walked the trail (late May early June) for my husbands birthday present and the weather was perfect, no rain, not too hot with very welcome breezes felt on most saddles. However the distances in some stretches were unexpectedly long. The track was also extremely rough with slippery and often loose falling rocks, precarious cliff headland traversing and a thigh deep swampy bog, preventing the ability to take in and admire all the surroundings and views because my eyes were constantly cast downward surveying where to next place each foot! Not to mention the ” rope section” with a death defying cliff edge which leaves no room for error and definitely one of the most challenging section of the walk. I would say the tract is quite difficult! The idea of a rope across the creeks for the packs is one I will remember for the future though. Thanks Burnie. The trick for the Thorsbourne trail is to have a very very light pack so your balance is not compromised allowing ease of climbing, rock hopping and creek crossings.
    I might add that we were fortunate in that the three small groups of hikers we found ourselves with along the way were all exceptional people and in many ways made the walk even more memorable for us.
    Kim

    • Frank says

      Hi Kim,
      Sorry for the delay in replying and thanks very much for your terrific comment.

      It is interesting how people perceive the same track in different ways. We underestimated the walk and took it as a bit of a stroll. A couple of the days were “toughish” and combined with the heat and poor choice of footwear, we were happy to get into camp.
      The other thing Clare and Tom found were the sandflies. Clare really struggled and was covered!

      That being said, would highly recommend it to anyone. The beaches and scenery are fantastic (as are the wonderful swimming holes)

  6. Steph says

    Hi everyone,
    My boyfriend and I are going to be in Qld for three weeks or so in Jan/feb and were really hoping that the TT would be a part of our trip but after reading this we r a bit worried!! Is walking the trail a complete no-no at this time of yr?? We would love to do it but don’t want it to be so awful that isn’t fun… Also, if we do decide to go ahead, how long should we allow?? Obviously time is precious and there is so much we want to see, but we also want to b able to make th most of th island. Do we need the full four days?
    Would really appreciate some advice and hope our plans aren’t thwarted in the making!!
    Thanks so much,
    Steph

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