Whether you’re free to travel or stuck at home waiting for borders to open, the ancient Daintree Rainforest awaits you in Far North Queensland.
This UNESCO World Heritage rainforest has been on the comeback since it became protected in 1988. It’s just been handed back to the indigenous owners, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people.
This month I ventured beyond the lower Daintree up to Cape Tribulation, land of the last sealed road before Cooktown. It’s tropical. It’s biodiverse. It’s 1.8 million years old (the rainforest, not the road). A walk down the street could yield a cassowary or a Ulysses butterfly. In wet season or in dry, here’s what you need to do and see in the Daintree Rainforest.
Words of warning
Don’t swim in the ocean. Don’t pick up pretty cone-shaped shells (they’re called cone shells and – more importantly – they contain a harpoon that will kill you in under 3 minutes). Don’t stray off walking trails, unless you want to be caught on a thorny vine or stung by a stinging tree that will leave you in severe pain for up to one year.
Hey, what’s a rainforest without its more viciously talented flora and fauna?
Do a guided night walk
The magic of Cape Tribulation is in the rainforest and the reef. Unlogged rainforest extends hundreds of hectares beyond the awesome mountains visible from the beach.
This place has nature coming out if its (figurative) ears. There are stick insects everywhere. The bees are blue, for goodness’ sake. There is no animal or plant here that I recognise.
On that note, a guided night walk is a top thing to do. Ferntree Rainforest Lodge offers a 1.5-hour boardwalk tour, where guide Kane wields his torch beam expertly and shares his many insights into Cape Tribulation’s coastal rainforest. From stick insects that spray peppermint-scented juice, to echidnas, to glowing mushrooms and prehistoric trees, prepare to discover fascinating layers to the Daintree. Or go deeper into unlogged rainforest on a two-hour night walk with Jungle Adventures.
These tour guides are your windows into this ancient rainforest, and asking questions pays off. For example, ask Kane about native mushrooms. Go on, I dare you.
Snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef
The rainforest practically meets the Great Barrier Reef in Cape Tribulation, and you definitely should too.
Ocean Safari’s snorkelling tour is one of the best ways to do this. Unzipped stinger suits draped elegantly from your waist, you’ll board a speed boat off pristine Myall’s Beach and zoom 12 miles into the ocean. On the trip out, look back: the mountains of the Daintree stretch from left to right, as far as the eye can see.
There was only one crocodile on my trip with Ocean Safari. It belonged to a little girl and was made of rubber. I also swam with two (real) sea turtles, and an abundance of the most marvellous fish of all sorts of shapes and colours. Divers also regularly see eagle rays (which can “fly” ten metres through the air), sting rays, and little reef sharks.
It’s two hours of easy snorkelling in pristine waters around a pure sand island. Swim out to the 600-year-old boulder coral, or just enjoy the colourful coral, clams, fish, and starfish in the shallower water.
Spot a cassowary
If you are a favoured being, you’ll see a cassowary. I got lucky: over three days I met two adults and a chick. Here my tips for spotting a cassowary in Cape Tribulation.
Tip 1: On a whim, walk along a boardwalk. After 50 metres stop because you hear leaves crashing heavily somewhere ahead. Back away, slowly, when you realise you’re looking at a cassowary and his stripy, fluffy chick ten metres ahead of you on the boardwalk. Watch from a safe distance until they walk deeper into the rainforest.
Tip 2: If you see someone staring intently into the trees at the side of the road, stop your car and get out. They might be looking at a cassowary.
I was that someone: I was walking along a footpath screened by trees, looking at the ground, idly wondering who’d eat all the juicy yellow native fruit on the leaf-strewn path, when I glanced up and froze. A few metres away on the path was a cassowary. It turned its beak toward me: cassowary in profile. A dashing angle.
I did not back away slowly, but spun and scooted off, picturing an untimely death via bonehead. When I reached the road the cassowary was still gulping down yellow fruit. I relaxed and watched the iridescent blue head performing the first step in a process essential to rainforest regeneration: eating and dispersing the seeds of more than 200 native fruit tree species.
Tip 3: Stop trying. It really is luck.
Take a hike or a swim
There are plenty of hiking trails around Cape Tribulation. Mount Sorrow is a hard, 4-hour return trek with the reward of a gorgeous lookout in good weather. Various boardwalks with educational signage are perfect shorter walks, some of which lead to beaches.
Enjoy a crocodile-free swim at Mason’s swimming hole, or 4WD it out to the magical swimming hole at Emmagen Creek.
Follow it up with a home-grown tropical fruit ice cream at the Daintree Ice Cream Company. It’s so worth it, and the cassowaries think so too.
Alex is a journalist and freelance writer who loves bringing you inspiring stories. Have an idea for a story? Let her know at firstname.lastname@example.org