Just a 20 minute drive away from my Port Douglas home on a pokey one-lane road is the beginning of the Daintree rainforest, a handsome wilderness that I’m pretty darn privileged to have in eyeshot.
Filled with Gondwanan era flora and fauna that kisses the Great Barrier Reef, the most saucy beaches I’ve seen North of Cairns, friendly & remote communities and beautiful adventures, it’s literally the only place in the world where two incredible World Heritage Sites collide and which both were awarded this UNESCO title by meeting all four criteria – another rare honour.
Welcome to my special part of the world.
While virtually all forests are majestic in their own way, without exaggerating to any degree, there’s a special enchanted vibe in the Daintree that I’ve never felt anywhere else which I’m pretty sure has something to do with it’s age and diversity.
There’s a shedload of old and rare stuff in this 180-million year old rainforest, like ancient plant species that date back to the dinosaurs and the prehistoric dino-bird that wanders under it’s canopy. Nowhere in Oz has an ecosystem so complex and it rivals any other across the planet. It’s featured in countless doccos, like legend David Attenborough’s ‘Seven Worlds – One Planet’ and a few years ago he even declared North Queensland as his favourite place on Earth:
It has for a naturalist everything. It has an amazing rainforest which is quite unlike any other rainforest in the world [and] down on the coast it has the Great Barrier Reef.
Six years ago the Sailor and I spent our honeymoon exploring the region and stayed in a hilltop cabin which was somehow dreamy even in the wet season. There’s a smuggish satisfaction about keeping dry next to a tropical downpour and listening to the wildlife coming alive, particularly if there’s a massage or spa bath on offer. 🙌🏼
More recently we visited for my birthday and stayed at an eco-resort in Cape Tribulation which is the last settlement at the end of the paved road. My favourite adventure was wandering deep under the canopy to spot the elusive Southern Cassowary and finding the prettiest beaches to lay a while, completely switched off from civilisation. Zero phone reception also helps with the digital detox.
If you need proof of why Australia is ‘The Lucky Country’ then this Jungle Book will help explain things. Enjoy! ✣
9 Amazing Reasons to Visit The Daintree & Cape Tribulation
There are two sections of this rainforest: from Mossman Gorge until the ferry crossing (where you’ll need to pay $30 to cross the croc-inhabited Daintree River) and after where you’ll reach Cape Tribulation.
Continuing on requires a 4×4 and will take you as far as Bloomfield where the Daintree ends, although most haven’t been that far, including me.
So this post will include activities and experiences that most of us can get to in our little tin cans, from Mossman to Cape Trib.
And I start here, at one of the smallest and cutest rainforest village centres you’re likely to see in your life. I mean you can literally walk, slowly, from one end to the other in less than a minute!
We first drove through Daintree Village during our honeymoon hoping to pick up a few supplies for the evening but quickly realised that we should have done our homework first. It was past 5 o’clock and a public holiday so everywhere was closed, including the one general store that was attached to the Village Hotel.
If you’re not staying at one of the local BNB’s then you’ll probably struggle to spend more than half hour here, which is just enough time to stop at the pub, sit outside with a schooner and soak up the small-village vibes. Or head across the road to grab a quick toasted sandwich and imagine this place back in the day.
Aside from a couple of information plaques, there wasn’t much local history available so I’ll briefly entertain you for your visit.
For tens of thousands of years, the Daintree was home to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji who are the region’s traditional owners. Known as ‘Bama’ meaning rainforest people, they lived in camps around rivers and creeks and were so advanced in their knowledge of the land that they could skilfully prepare a number of toxic plants to make them edible.
Much later during white settlement, the Daintree Village was established by timber-cutters who logged red cedar extensively for about a decade until the 1880s. Those that remained were cattle rearers and farmers, and some descendants of the early pioneers still live in the neighbourhood today, although the population only reaches a little over 100 people.
To give you an idea of how small and remote it is, a highlight of this town’s history was a butter factory that opened in 1924 but later closed in 1964 as it was no longer profitable to make there. That’s about as gripping as it gets.
Whilst it’s small, I’m sure you’ll find this laid-back village curiously fascinating and scenic. There’s a handful of businesses operating, most of which cater for the occasional tourists who wanders by looking a little confused as they try to work out whether they’ve reached the village centre or been misguided to a sleepy square.
Just so that’s not you, here’s a map of the village centre (from A to B is about 95 metres).
Australia’s Wet Tropics is home to over 40% of the countries entire bird species, which alone is incredible. However I must admit that I have a major soft spot for the Southern Cassowary.
Often described as a ‘badass bird’, ‘dino bird’ or ‘a giant prehistoric turkey’, they’re hugely synonymous with the Daintree. Their poop alone plants up to 100 different tree species here which means they’re one of the most important animals to roam this rainforest.
Last October I walked the Jindalba Circuit Track specifically to find my first Southern Cassowary in the wild that wasn’t spotted from inside the car. It’s one of the only hiking trails in the Daintree that doesn’t come on a boardwalk or require a guide, which suits my exploration style perfectly.
For about 2 hours I walked around, in my head thinking of myself as some sort of Jane Goodall, and was so stoked to find a beautiful cassowary deep in rainforest. By far, it was my favourite b-day present.
According to a hiking book I read, cassowaries are found more abundantly around this area called Cow Bay, but that doesn’t mean they’re everywhere. These birds are notoriously shy and hard to spot as they prefer to live in dense rainforest. Plus they’re also an endangered species.
For a few tips, I wrote about the experience in a recent post, and if you’re ever here then remember to be cass-o-wary too. I forgot to mention that they’re also the most [potentially] deadly birds on Earth.
Cape Tribulation was famously named by Captain James Cook in 1770 because ‘here began all our troubles’, after he crashed his ship on the nearby Great Barrier Reef. It sounds like it must have been a really shitty day.
But since then, Cape Trib has been rebranded as the place where the rainforest meets the reef as only a short trip from here are awesome coral gardens along the Outer GBR. In fact, visiting from the Cape takes much less time compared to Port Douglas and Cairns, which is a good option for people who get easily sea sick…a fun fact I discovered about myself recently.
Ocean Safari are the only reef tour operator in the Daintree and have been really highly rated by locals and visitors. They visit Mackay Coral Cay and Undine Cay which are those saucepot sandy islands with surrounding reef systems.
I haven’t personally been with them but I can attest to Mackay Cay being a great spot to snorkel after visiting with a Port Douglas based operator. The experience sparked a love and obsession with the reef, alongside a realisation that the underwater world is completely nuts. And by nuts I mean otherworldly and a bit bonkers.
It’s official, I’ve found my future home!
We stayed at Wildwood when we visited Cape Tribulation for my birthday last year and it’ll easily be a place we return to. With rustic-luxe cabins, acres of World Heritage rainforest and an exotic fruit orchard on site, it was a great way to enjoy the best of the Daintree whilst still basking in creature comforts. Life’s all about balance.
There are many wonderful rainforest stays in the Daintree which all have their own perks, but no other can boast having their own exotic fruit farm. Each morning here, after being progressively woken up by a chorus of birdsong, I’d go and check the chicken coup for eggs before wandering around the orchard to gather a few ripe ones.
There were rare fruits here I’ve never heard of before! Read all about it in my latest post.
We all know that Australia isn’t short of front page travel magazine beaches and Queensland’s eye-popping shoreline frequently pops-up in any top 10. I live on one of them and frequently tease my sister who is well overdue a visit.
But truth be told, I find that the further north you go from Cairns, the better the beaches get. And so far the most stunning ones I’ve seen up here have all been around Cape Tribulation.
The first time I visited Cape Trib Beach on one hot and sticky October day, my jaw almost hit the ground. It has a long strip of powder-soft that was framed by towering green rainforest and it was practically deserted. It still amazes me how many beaches there are in Australia but not enough people to fill them. What a nice thought- it’s not quite the same in many other places I’ve visited.
Then last year, just when I thought I’d seen the best of Cape Trib’s coastline I visited Thornton Beach and had to roll up my tongue before picking up my chin from the floor. It went on as far as the eye can see and had a sand bar that stretched onto a rocky isle. Big drools.
But there’s something you should know about beaches in the Daintree…they’re quite a tease.
You see, as much as that shallow turquoise water beckons you to cool off and take a swim, particularly on a muggy hot Queensland day, the higher risk of crocodiles means it’s advised not to. Sadly there was a case of a tourist called Cindy Waldron who got snapped up one balmy night in 2017 after taking a dip here, so don’t risk it for the biscuit.
Luckily there’s a few ripper freshwater creeks nearby if you need to cool off, that are all croc-free and jellyfish-free.
Good to know
✣ Mason’s Swimming Hole: A bit of an institution in the Cape, also with a cafe and handy shop on site. The Mason family were the first white settlers in the area in 1929.
✣ Emmagen Creek: Said to be the most scenic swimming hole in the area.
✣ Cooper Creek: Another convenient creek next to the Heritage Lodge. We ate at their restaurant On The Turps which had a lovely view of it (I believe this eatery is temporarily closed until 2021).
When colonials first started settling along the Daintree River 150 years ago, apparently there were sightings of saltwater crocodiles that were as big as 10 metres. Just take a second to imagine how big that is!
Since then, however, salties almost became extinct in Australia as they were heavily hunted for almost 3 decades until the 1970s and so were consequently made a protected species. I think it’s rare to see ones that big around this area anymore, but there’s still some pretty impressive hench ones about.
Either way, spotting salties in the wild is totally fascinating (from a safe distance of course) in addition to the other wildlife found along this river. For me it actually took some of the fear away. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be stroking them anytime soon! But they’re nothing like the hobo crocs you see in the movies.
There’s a few companies offering croc tours here, but to help you out I’d recommend:
✣ Daintree River Wild Watch : If you’re here at sunrise or sunset then this highly rated operator offer Tours with groups no larger than 10, and local naturalist Ian “Sauce” Worcester is passionate about all things wildlife along the Daintree River.
✣ Solar Whisper : If you just have an hour to spare during the day then this eco-operator is the only zero emission boat which is a great way to minimise your impact. Groups are also 10 max.
Gotta say, there’s something about indulging in ice-cream surrounded by lush rolling ranges that makes it taste even better. I’d be surprised if you’ve seen a more scenic ice-creamery with the goods to back it up- black sapote, native wattleseed and coconut were mega yummo.
If it’s not too hot, then I love picking up a map and venturing around their tropical fruit orchard to see where the ingredients are harvested. They even thoughtfully put your seasonal scoops in a cup so you won’t have it dripping down your arm along the way.
Not long after Captain James Cook crashed his boast on the Great Barrier Reef, he took a few hikes in the surrounding ranges and then named them. I’m still not quite sure which mountain he found harder, Mount Sorrow, Mount Misery or Mount Unbelievable. What do you think?!
Either way, I don’t suspect they were easy.
Last year I wrote about a gruelling hike that I did which was (by far) the hardest one I’ve ever completed, and it’s technically in the Daintree Rainforest. I suspect that The Devil’s Thumb beats the lot when it comes to a challenge, but still, if you’re after something more than an easy peasy stroll on a boardwalk then this is your place.
I really wanted to climb Mount Sorrow last October but the Sailor and I were still a bit traumatised from climbing the Thumb a few weeks prior to our visit! Lol.
However if you’re keen to give it a crack then the start of the track is really close to Wildwood in Cape Tribulation. One way it’s a steep 3.5k uphill trek to the lookout, reaching 650 metres and has ripper views of the Cape coastline and Snapper Island. A return walk should take about 5hrs.
To get here: park up at the Kulki day-use area and walk 5 minutes on Rykers Road to the start of the trail (use the map below as a guide). The trail is signed in orange triangular markers.
Tip: To prepare, follow the same guidance I give in the Devil’s Thumb hike. It’s best completed in the dry season (May to October), set out before 10am and carry at least 2 litres of water per person.
And I finish here, semi-naked, laying face down on a massage bed amidst nature whilst listening to the rain outside. Now try to imagine that’s you.
After all that walking and adventure, I couldn’t think of a better way to relax than pamper with a massage in the rainforest. The Kuku Yalanji named the rainforest ‘Wawu-karrba’, meaning healing of the spirit for a good reason. I’ve had quite a few massages in my time whilst living in Thailand and Malaysia, yet the one I had at the Daintree Eco-Lodge was one of the most idyllic settings.
I guess there’s something even more zen-busting about getting pampered in this timeless rainforest.
* * *
I hope you enjoyed my article and discovered a few reasons why the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation should firmly be on your Aussie bucket list. I mean, even if you don’t believe me, we can’t argue with Sir David Attenborough. 😉
If you’re after some other cracking things to do in the region, stick around a while longer and check out some of my other articles:
✣ 10 Awesome things to do in Port Douglas
✣ The Best Hikes In & Around Port Douglas
✣ 12 Cracking Things To Do In Cairns
✣ Where to Spot Unique Wildlife in the Atherton Tablelands
✣ 15 Things To See & Do in the Atherton Tablelands
Like it? Pin it for later!
Disclosure: In this article I’ve included some useful links of which some are affiliates and support the running of this site, of no cost to you. I only recommend products & services I use personally or trust. Thank you for supporting Travel Mermaid.