Love is a great foundation for grand plans.
An astonishing example of this can be found deep in the tropics of far north-eastern Australia.
There, sunlight filters down on a dream: a fairytale forest castle created more than 80 years ago by a Spaniard for his beloved.
And, as we wandered through this unexpected delight, we quickly understood the romantic dream behind such an extroadinary creation.
Jose Pedro Enrique Paronella was a romantic man – a dreamer in a harsh, no-nonsense land.
He arrived at Innisfail, Queensland, in 1913 and began work in the sugar industry while planning a special life with the fiancee he had left back in Catalonia.
It was while buying and selling cane farms that Jose discovered his dreamland – a beautiful tropical forest alongside the spectacular, cascading Mena Creek waterfall.
Jose had never forgotten the grand castles of his boyhood land and the gem of an idea was taking root when he returned to his fiancee after 11 years. Finding that she had married another, he proposed to her younger sister, Margarita, and returned to Australia to buy his piece of forest paradise.
Their incredible dream was to build a castle. And they did – on 13 tropical acres a fantasyland gradually rose amid the tall trees, tangled vines, creepers and ferns.
Neither Jose nor Margarita were afraid of hard work. Their fingerprints in the concrete foundations remain as testament to their astonishing labour of love.
No task, no matter how difficult, seemed to faze Jose. Described as an ”engineer, architect, builder and everything else in one”, he threw himself into every challenge.
“People smile and say ‘Paronella, he is mad. To work so hard and to spend so much money this way! Why does he not sit down and rest’. That is not my way”
Excerpt from ‘Spaniard’s Dream Realised’ – Brisbane Sunday Mail
The first section of the dream was a grand 47-step concrete staircase to shift building materials between the upper and lower levels of the site.
Gradually, the castle and its stunning surrounds took shape, including a grand ballroom and movie theatre designed to provide entertainment for the public.
There were also tennis courts, tunnels, bridges, fountains, a museum; pavilion with turret-topped balconies, refreshment rooms and changing cubicles for swimmers.
All this was wrapped in an amazing area of gardens and more than 7,000 trees, including an avenue of Kauri pines that now tower like Cathedral spires.
The backdrop of Mena Creek Falls was used for North Queensland’s first hydro electric plant, providing power to the entire site – and a tunnel was burrowed through a hill to give access to minature waterfalls.
Despite setbacks, the dream of Paronella Park continued – even after Jose’s death in 1948.
In 1967, Margarita passed away, leaving their son and daughter-in-law as custodians of the remarkable dream.
Flood, fire and the area’s tropical cyclones also wreaked havoc on the castle and the vision was almost lost when new owners stepped in during the 1990’s and started a number of restoration projects, while carefully staying true to the park’s history.
Today, the site is officially listed as an important part of Australian heritage.
However, we defy first-time visitors not to catch their breath when they see the truly extroardinary sight of a Spanish castle partly hidden in a tropical forest in one of the most beautiful parts of our planet.
In this helter skelter world, the dream and the romance live on – and there’s something particularly reassuring about that.
As explained on its website, visitors can take a 45-minute guided walk through the highlights of the park; try a self-guided botanical walk; or see the delights of the site by night, when the waterfalls are lit.
There is also a Paronella caravan and camping park; a suspension bridge above the Mena Falls; a museum in Jose’s cottage; an arts and crafts shop and a tea house that features scones and home-made tropical jam.
The park is also a stunning backdrop for weddings and other special occasions.