How to spend a day in the world’s oldest rainforest
Five unforgettable things to do in Queensland’s 150 million-year-old Daintree Rainforest.
The Great Barrier Reef and silica sand beaches have long lured tourists to the Whitsunday Islands and Airlie Beach. But Aussie travellers are starting to wake up to one of tropical north Queensland’s other wonders: the Daintree Rainforest.
The Daintree Coast is a small part of the Kuku Yalanji tribal area and, according to figures from Tourism Research Australia, domestic tourism to this ancient, UNESCO-listed nature park – the oldest continually surviving tropical rainforest in the world, which has an estimated age of 150 million years – increased by 17 per cent in 2018. And the trend is set to continue, with visitation to the region projected to surge another 26 per cent by 2027.
From left: Aerial view of Cape Tribulation beach, Mount Alexandra Lookout, Mason's Swimming Hole, rainforest boardwalks, Daintree Ice Cream Company, Cape Tribulation Beach at low tide.
This influx of local tourists is, at least partly, due to a rise in wellness tourism, which is seeing increasing numbers of eco-tourists swapping the reef for rainforests and shopping strips for unsullied swimming holes, as well as an emerging Indigenous tourism market. (The rest is clearly because it is so breathtakingly beautiful that it’s worth the trip just for the Instagram cred.)
To nature seekers, far north Queensland’s Wet Tropics is a wonderland of cascading waterfalls, pristine plunge pools and ancient gorges; a picturesque paradise that is yet to be destroyed by development, deforestation, smog or selfie sticks.
The lush, nature-blanketed hinterland is home to some of the most densely populated rainforest in the world and, thanks to its remote location, some of the most unspoiled. It also has unrivalled diversity of flora and fauna, with the Daintree’s botanical landscape teeming with more tree species in two hectares than the entire flora of Europe or North America. If you’re lucky, you might spot a bush turkey, exotic butterfly, feral pig or even Daintree Tree Frog. But keep your eyes peeled for cassowaries and crocodiles – this coastal jungle is literally crawling with them.
The drive to the Daintree Rainforest, which is accessible only via a single ferry that lugs cars across the crocodile-infested Daintree River, is one to remember. So, if you’re planning an unforgettable jungle road trip, these are five of the best things to do while you’re there.
Five of the best things to do in the Daintree
Mount Alexandra Lookout
If breathtaking vistas are what you’re after, Mount Alexandra Lookout, or Walu Wugirriga, offers picture-perfect panoramas as far as the eye can see. From this elevated vantage point, you can trace the rugged, rainforest-carpeted coastline as it collides with the azure waters of the Great Barrier Reef, or peek through overhanging palm trees to find the glistening Daintree River as it snakes its way to the sea. Weather permitting, you can even spot Snapper Island, Cape Kimberley and Port Douglas in the distance.
Immerse yourself in tropical wilderness with a wander along one of the myriad rainforest boardwalks, easily accessible from the serpentine Cape Tribulation Road. The 700-metre Jindalba Boardwalk, located between Cape Kimberley and Cow Bay roads, is one of the most popular, but it is the boardwalks less travelled where the botanical beauty really takes your breath away. Dubuji Boardwalk is off Cape Tribulation Road and abuts Myall Beach. The sun-dappled 1.2-kilometre track, which is framed by fan palms, king ferns and vines, meanders through coastal mangroves and lush rainforest. For something a little more challenging, Myall Beach Walk (1.5 kilometres one way) runs between Dubuji and connecting track, Kulki. The track begins with a steep climb as it ascends the ridge, then makes its way down to the beach through a small wet coastal forest. With Cape Tribulation behind you and brilliant, fern-fringed beaches ahead, it doesn’t get much more idyllic than this.
Mason’s Swimming Hole
A cafe carpark might seem a strange place for the entrance to a watering hole, but Mason’s Cafe is custodian of the pebbled pathway that leads to this whimsical watering hole. A donation bucket – for swimmers only – hangs on a wire fence, marking the entrance to the secluded swimming spot, which is hidden in a thicket of dewy rainforest a short walk from the cafe’s back veranda. Plunge into the crisp, glistening waters of this aquamarine bath, where palm fronds and millennia-old strangler fig hang like fairy lights across the canopy, and revel in the refreshing serenity.
Clear waters in the Daintree’s myriad plunge pools.
No picture can do this wild, deserted coastline justice. The sheltered stretch of sandy wilderness is like stepping into a real-life Jurassic Park meets Castaway movie scene. Cape Tribulation is a clash of the UNESCO World Heritage titans, where the rainforest seemingly cascades into the clear blue Great Barrier Reef, separated only by a thin stretch of white, sandy beach. Despite its breathtaking beauty, Cape Tribulation is so named because when Captain James Cook was trying to navigate what he described as an “insane labyrinth”, his ship ran afoul of the reef. This remote headland, which marks the end of the sealed road, is the ideal spot to enjoy a picturesque beach picnic so be sure to bring a packed lunch.
Daintree Ice Cream Company
No trip to Cape Tribulation would be complete without a visit to the Daintree Ice Cream Company. Here, organic and sustainably farmed exotic fruit (which is grown on the nine-hectare property) is used to make seasonal, small-batch ice-creams and sorbets that showcase the flavours of the rainforest. This is ice-cream like you’ve never had it before. Flavours change daily and include everything from black sapote (a fruit closely related to the persimmon that tastes like chocolate) to wattle, which has a hazelnut coffee profile.
Cape Tribulation is an easy – not to mention magnificent – drive from Port Douglas. It takes about two hours, including the ferry crossing, to get to the cape, which is the northernmost point accessible by car or motorhome. Beyond this is four-wheel-drive territory only.
Stop in at the Daintree Discovery Centre and explore the stunning aerial walkways and canopy tower, or go on an interactive journey back in time to understand the history of the heritage jungle and learn about the creatures that call it home.
If you want to try some of the local fare, head to the Cow Bay Hotel for lunch among the palm trees. Grab a bucket of prawns or some crispy crocodile spring rolls then sit back and enjoy the serenity.