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Romantic Getaway: The Daintree - Where The Rainforest Meets the Reef

By: Nicolette Mewing
Photography by Nicolette Mewing

For a fresh 6am start on a Sunday morning, I am strangely enthusiastic. The thought of touring through ancient rainforest to the only place on Earth where two World Heritage-listed sites meet side by side is enough to excite even the groggiest of morning haters. It's not the perfect start to a romantic getaway in a great holiday destination, but even when you travel in luxury sometimes you have to put in the hard yards.


A Tropic Wings shuttle bus collects us from the heart of Cairns for our tour north to a village in the Daintree Rainforest known as Cape Tribulation. We travel north along a scenic coastal Captain Cook highway winding through small patches of rainforest following the tropical shoreline of beaches and turquoise waters.


Arriving at our first stop, I am excited to get up close and personal with some of the native animals at Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas. Entering the first section of the park, I spot the most intriguing creature. A prehistoric bird as tall as a person, with large talons on its feet, a high helmet on its head, a vivid blue neck and long drooping red ‘wattles’ similar to a turkey.


The Southern Cassowary named ‘Cassie’ looked like it had stepped off the set of Jurassic Park. Amazed by this large bird (apparently Australia’s largest), I watch ‘Cassie’ feast on a buffet of tropical fruits while our guide explains the species is endangered and found only in the tropical rainforests of north-east Queensland, Papua New Guinea and some surrounding islands.

I continue my relaxing stroll along the elevated boardwalks throughout the rainforest section of the park, admiring koalas still snoozing in their perches, and guests enjoying breakfast with the lorikeets. Entering the ‘Grasslands’ section of the park, I am greeted by two large emus and a group of kangaroos. The emus wander alongside me, their bodies bobbing and rocking back and forth as their long legs extend with each step forward. Remembering the bag of animal food I was given by the staff, I hold out a handful of pellets and the emus peck away enjoying their breakfast. 


The kangaroos begin to mill around my feet and I suddenly feel like the marsupial pied piper. With my food bag emptied, I pat the emus wiry feathers. One of the kangaroos stretches its chest in front of me inviting me to scratch his softer fur. Leaving the ‘roos’ to laze under the shade of the gum trees and the emus to walk off their breakfast, I wander back to the educational talk where I have my photo taken with a koala, snake and a baby crocodile before boarding the bus. 



Next our shuttle bus detours to Port Douglas for a brief scenic ride through the seaside village. Port Douglas is just 70 km north of Cairns and is better known as the playground of presidents, celebrities and sporting heroes. The main street vibrantly hums with holiday makers exploring trendy galleries and boutiques. We pass a quaint chapel positioned on the waterfront known as St Mary’s By The Sea, where a wedding party is posing for photographs capturing the azure blue backdrop of the Coral Sea.


Our bus turns into a side street and begins to trudge up a steep hill, grinding through gears. Our bus driver explains the hill leads to a stunning lookout offering breathtaking views of the famous Four Mile Beach. After leaving the bus clutch behind in a cloud of smoke on the hill, we are greeted by sweeping sand stretching along the coastline dotted with palms, the true essence of a post card scene.


Moving from our entree onto the main course we drive further north towards the Daintree, situated approximately 80km north of Cairns. We approach the Daintree River, famous as a haven to many crocodiles. The Daintree River Ferry coasts our shuttle bus peacefully across the river granting us access to the southern end of the Daintree Rainforest.


Part of the oldest surviving tropical rainforest in the world, the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest is more than 135 million years old, and as the saying goes ‘with age comes beauty’. We gently journey through the ancient rainforest along the sealed road towards Cape Tribulation. I gaze out of my window looking for any wild cassowaries roaming through the dense rainforest. We pull into a small family owned cafe and enjoy a quick lunch.


The Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation region is home to a variety of insects, birds, and over seventy identified mammals, reptiles and amphibians. The region also boasts over 3,000 plant species including trees, vines, palms, ferns, epiphytes, as well as the world's largest and smallest tree ferns and cycads.



We journey deeper into the Daintree to the infamous Alexandra Lookout where visitors flock to view the only place in on Earth where two UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites meet side by side. Groups of visitors are huddled at the edge of the lookout snapping pictures of the Great Barrier Reef etching towards the Cape Tribulation coastline. I realise I am looking at a phenomenon, the rainforest meeting the reef.


A flitter of cobalt blue dances in front of my eyes, briefly interrupting my view of the reef. The Ulysses butterfly is searching for a partner and drifts along the breeze into the dense rainforest. Surrounded by ancient rainforest and spoilt with the breathtaking view of the Great Barrier Reef, I want to savour this once in a lifetime moment and mentally sketch the scene into my memory for recall when I am back at my office desk. I remind myself the best is yet to come. After taking a few pictures, we leave the awe-inspiring lookout to get a higher bird’s eye view with a dash of adrenalin pumping fun – Jungle Surfing!

We arrive at the harnessing centre to be fitted out with full body harnesses and helmets with ‘celebrity head’ style nicknames on the front. I opt for the legendary jungle name ‘King Kong’.  Fitted out like soldiers entering a battle field, we climb a gruelling walking track through the forest to the first platform.

Flying through the trees on flying fox zip lines, I can’t help but sing out the Tarzan call. Squeals of excitement and laughter echo through the rainforest as others also surf the canopy at high speed. Each platform offers a spectacular view of the Coral Sea over the treetops, as well as an educational insight to the rainforest. From one of the platforms our guide points where you can see the reef and rainforest meet.


Looking over the treetops I listen to the tropical sounds of birds and running water – I am overwhelmed by the extraordinary view of the Great Barrier Reef being framed by lush rainforest canopy. Nowhere else in the world do two amazing World Heritage-listed sites meet in this way, so I breathe in the smells, listen to the sounds, and capture the once in a lifetime view.



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More info on Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef


Tropic Wings charge approximately AU$155 per adult including lunch.


Jungle Tours charge around AU$199 per adult including lunch and Jungle Surfing.


When to go:


There are two seasons, the ‘Dry Season’ and the ‘Green Season’.


The Dry season (makes for gorgeous sunny days) is from June to October with average temperatures between 14-26 degrees Celsius, offering comfortable weather and is the desirable time to travel to the region. The Green season (makes for lush green rainforest) is from November to May with average temperatures between 24-33 degrees Celsius. Monsoonal rains are usually from November to February/March.




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