Innisfail: Australia’s Art Deco Capital hidden away in Tropical North Queensland

Where I admire some Art Deco, visit a Spanish castle and see a waterfall that starred in a pop video.


A week before arriving in Tropical North Queensland I had never even heard of Innisfail.

Just 88 kms to the south of Cairns, it is easily reached on a day trip from there (easily reached, that is, as long as you have a car). It’s great to have the time to stay a bit longer though and discover a few of the nooks and crannies.

I spent two nights, staying at a motel in the town; basic rooms with great 1970s decor (I suspect un-ironically) including mirrors on the ceiling.

Great for lovers of Art Deco

Innisfail is a dream for lovers of Art Deco. This is because the town was destroyed by a cyclone in 1918 and rebuilt using the style popular at that time.



Great little clocktower in Innisfail

Innisfail is not a big place, and you can easily wander around and spot these places yourself.

Things to do in the surrounding area

1. Visit the Beach


Etty beach

Etty Bay is the nearest beach (not that far away but you need a car). If you want to travel further you have Kurriminie or Mission beach. There are stinger nets to (hopefully) keep out the killer jellyfish.



This part of the coast is known as the Cassowary Coast, named after the huge flightless bird. I heard many a tale of people coming across these beautiful creatures whilst on the beach but, despite constant vigilance on my part, I didn’t see one.


A lot of people confuse the brush turkeys that wander about for Cassowaries, but the Cassowary is much bigger than this, more like an emu.

2. Visit a Spanish castle



Just 20-30 minute’s drive from Innisfail, Paronella is a castle built by an immigrant from Spain, Jose Paronella. He bought 13 acres of scrub land in 1929 and built this spectacular palace, complete with tennis courts and ballroom.


tennis court

The ballroom boasted a huge glitter ball and there were movies shown on Saturday nights.


What remains of the ballroom.  The roof disappeared during one of the many cyclones, so you have to imagine it complete with mirrored glitter ball.

There is also a picnic area next to a spectacular waterfall.



In Jose’s day there would have been swimming here, however signs now warn of crocodiles ‘causing injury or death’ to anyone swimming.  In Jose’s day hunting would have kept the population of crocodiles a lot lower.


He first opened it to the public in 1935.


The stone cottage, where Jose lived with his family

Jose died in 1948 and his family continued to run the park through to 1977, when it was sold. Two years later a huge fire swept through the ballroom and further floods and cyclones added to the damage.

The current owners have worked on preserving what is left of the buildings.

3. Millaa Millaa, AKA the Mysterious Girl waterfall


Millaa Millaa falls

This spectacular waterfall is around 50 minutes drive from Innisfail. Does it look familiar? Peter Andre made a promotional video here for his song Mysterious Girl. I watched the video on youtube (with the sound down so I didn’t get that song stuck in my head for the rest of the day) and you can clearly see the falls, playing a supporting role as he writhes around with his shirt off showing off his six pack.


The falls also featured in an advert for Herbal Essence shampoo.

I did attempt to go and recreate the video, but the water was freezing.

There are a lot of waterfalls in the area and it is easy to become totally waterfalled-out. Millaa Millaa itself is part of a collection of three falls that you can visit on a little circuit, although it is clearly the most spectacular of the three and the only one with any chance of swimming.


Another waterfall on the ‘circuit’, this is Zillie


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