The Daintree Rainforest is the area in north Queensland encompassing approximately 1200 square kilometers (about 300,000 acres) from south of the Daintree River to Cooktown in the north and west to the Great Dividing Range. It is the largest block of tropical rainforest in Australia. It is also the oldest intact lowland tropical rainforest in the world. It is estimated that it is between 110 and 200 million years old compared to the Amazon at about 7 million years old.
In this region, the climate and topography are so ideal that it has become the last remaining refuge for many species that have changed little with time. Some of these ancient species, known as Green Dinosaurs, retain primitive characteristics dating back 110 million years. Of the 19 primitive flowering plant families on Earth, 12 are found in the Daintree.
“What about the fauna?” you ask. This region represents less than 0.1% of the Australian continent, but it contains 30% of Australia’s frog, marsupial and reptile species, 65% of Australia’s bat and butterfly species, and 20% of the bird species. Even more importantly, 70 animals and 700 plants are found only in northeast Queensland.
Enough statistics: Exploring geographically, rather than chronologically, from the south, Mossman Gorge is a section of the Daintree National Park along the Mossman River. The beautiful Mossman Gorge Centre was constructed and is operated by the Kuku Yalanji people, the local Aboriginal mob (tribe). We took a guided tour lead by an Indigenous man named Roy, the founder of the Centre. He also told us his native name which I can neither pronounce nor spell, but it translates to ‘Dingo.’ After a ritual “Cleansing of our spirits” ceremony in smoke and spoken words, we were lead through the forest and introduced to their culture, spirituality and traditions.
Moving north to the Daintree River, we took a river cruise where we were introduced to the mangroves lining the river bank and the forest and wildlife living there. As it turned out, the only animals we saw were crocodiles, of a wide range of sizes from tiny hatchlings to the alpha male, a 5-meter giant (about 16 feet). We almost saw a snake, but there was another tour boat inspecting it so we had to return in a few minutes. Unfortunately, the other boat frightened the snake away. This is the dry season in the rainforest, so many migratory birds have left for their winter quarters, but we were able to find a good number of resident, year-round birds. All-in-all, an enjoyable afternoon on the river.
Unless you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle and wish to drive the almost-road down from the north along the coast, the only way to get into the main areas of the rainforest is to take the Daintree River Ferry across the river. It holds about 40 cars and only takes 5 minutes to cross.
The Daintree Discovery Centre provides an excellent introduction to this ancient rainforest. They provide an audio guide for each person which gives a narration about specific points at numbered stops along the way. An Aerial Walkway moves through the forest at a mid-level and gives a view of the forest floor below and the forest canopy overhead. There are also two ground level boardwalks that introduce life in the deep shade and tell how the traditional owners, the Aboriginal people, made use of the plants, animals, and natural features of the rainforest. A view of the upper reaches of the canopy comes from the top of the 23 meter (76 foot) Canopy Tower. The area is maintained in as natural a state as possible and birds and native animals are free to come and go as they please. We finally got to see our first cassowary as it wandered along some 30 feet below our perch on the Aerial Walkway.
After having such a good experience zip lining in Hawaii, Jon jumped at the chance to go Jungle Surfing through the rainforest. It was a different experience than Hawaii, but it was fun and the guides provided educational information about the rainforest as well as assisting in a safe journey.
Cape Tribulation was named by Captain James Cook in 1770 after his ship scraped a reef and while attempting to find deeper water, ran aground and was badly damaged. Cook reported in his journal that “…the north point [was named] Cape Tribulation here begun all our troubles”.
Scattered along the coast from the Daintree River to Cape Tribulation are various boardwalks, walking tracks, and lookouts that are well documented with signs telling of the trees, plants, and animals and geographical features. There are also stretches of ocean beaches with pristine sand right up to the forest edge. We walked quite a few miles on trails with names like Jindalba Walking Track, Marrja and Dubuji Boardwalks; we walked Cape Tribulation Beach and Myall Beach; and we peered out from Kulki Lookout.
Now it is time to move on to other places. We will go next to Cooktown, the northern most place on the York Peninsula to which it is reasonable to drive a vehicle such as ours. Stay tuned.