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Where The Rainforest Meets The Reef

Joanna Hall

It sounds like an impossible scenario: you step out of the world’s oldest tropical rainforest, onto a pristine beach, and you’re wading in warm water as colourful fish dart around your legs. Tropical birds call from the rainforest canopy and not far out to sea is the seventh Wonder of the World, the Great Barrier Reef. But this isn’t a script for a big budget television advertisement - this is the reality that is the Daintree region of North Queensland. It’s also the only place in the world where two of the most complex ecosystems - World Heritage listed rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef - meet in grand style. There’s no doubt that nature and wildlife are the star attractions, and for anyone who loves the outdoors in all its diversity, there are few places on earth which come close to what the Daintree has to offer. And thanks to improved roads, driving is the best way to experience the multitude of natural wonders.

Cairns to Mossman

After a stopover in Cairns, most visitors head north on the scenic one hour drive to Port Douglas - and from here, this is what all the fuss is about. The Daintree National Park is home to the world’s oldest rainforest which is thought to be more than 100 million years old. By way of comparison, the Amazon rainforest is a mere seven million. The Daintree rainforest experience can be done in a day trip, but this only allows for a brief “snapshot” of what it has to offer - at least two or even three days is really needed to gain a full appreciation of its serenity and tranquility. Mossman Gorge, which is about a half an hour’s drive north of Port Douglas, is the perfect introduction to the beauty of the rainforest. It has walking tracks which are well sign posted and it’s here that you can experience the deep gorges, and mountain water streaming over granite boulders through lush green forests. The original owners, the Mossman Gorge Aboriginal Community ( offer walking tours of the area. This is a great way to experience its sheer beauty, and learn the history and customs of the Kuku Yulangi people, and how they use the rainforest in their daily lives. And for a great place to stay, Silky Oaks Lodge is set right on the Mossman River in the heart of the rainforest, and has a terrific restaurant, the Treehouse ideal for a special lunch or dinner (  

Mossman To The Daintree  

A further 20 minute drive north, and a whole new rainforest magic presents itself. One of the last remaining car ferries in Australia crosses the Daintree River and into the Daintree-Cape Tribulation region. After the car ferry crossing, the road winds beneath the rainforest canopy, up over the Alexandra Range and into the heart of the Daintree. Along the way there are stunning lookouts, countless creeks, waterfalls and kilometres of rainforest set in among the mountain range fringing the beaches - there’s a photo op at almost every turn in the road. The Daintree Discovery Centre off Cape Tribulation Road ( is about 10kms north of the ferry, and is another rainforest experience which allows easy access to the wilderness. It has a system of boardwalks through the forest to protect the root systems, a 23-metre-high canopy tower, an aerial walkway, and an information display centre. You can literally walk through, and on top of, the rainforest without damaging the root systems. This area is a critical habitat for the endangered cassowary, and even though they’re rare, the flightless two-metre tall birds do cross the roads. We spotted one just before sunset one day, although we heeded warnings not to approach too closely; they are famous for being bad tempered, and have a formidable dagger-like claw on each foot. But the Daintree is not all about flora and fauna - a few kilometres past the Discovery Centre are other distractions including the Daintree Ice Cream Factory, Daintree Tea Plantation, and an insect museum. Add to that some pristine deserted beaches like Thornton and Coconut Beach, and it’s easy to see how a two day trip to this area can easily turn into a three or four day visit. And for a truly local rainforest experience, Daintree Crocodylus on Cow Bay ( is a great spot for an inexpensive breakfast, lunch or dinner, and also has a rainforest bar.

Daintree To Cape Tribulation  

To get “up close and personal” with crocodiles in their natural habitat, it’s hard to beat a cruise along Cooper Creek with Cape Tribulation Wilderness Cruises ( The local species, saltwater crocodiles or “salties”, can grow to a length of six or seven metres and are widely regarded as the most dangerous in the world. On the day we ventured down Cooper Creek the bright sunshine brought out five of the “locals” which ranged between two and a half to four metres. Mostly females, and nesting, they emerged from the mangroves and seemed to regard our tour boat with little fear or concern - our guide told us that they recognise the individual sound of an engine. And after years of plying Cooper Creek, the crocodiles are more than happy to sun themselves as we cruise past, and swim within metres of the boat. “Keep your hands inside the boat, and don’t stick your head over the side,” we’re warned. And as if anyone on board needed to be told, this is why swimming is not permitted in salt water rivers and creeks in this part of the world. Croc sightings are more common in the winter months of June, July and August when the reptiles need to sun themselves for warmth and in summer they can be difficult to spot. A few hundred metres north of Cooper Creek, the Marrdja Boardwalk is another great way to access the rainforest and its fauna without damaging the fragile environment. It’s a one kilometre loop through rainforest and mangroves with a viewing platform overlooking Noah Creek, and every stage in the evolution of the rainforest plants for the last 400 million years is represented here. Native birds such as the Little Kingfisher, Azure Kingfisher and the scrub turkey tend to be quite shy but can be spotted on a good day, and reptiles such as Boyds Forest Dragons literally hang amongst the trees. For a refreshing pit stop, Mason’s Café is located near a beautiful crocodile/stinger free swimming hole with a menu of local produce from tea and coffee to fruit and fish, and specialising in exotic meats including kangaroo, crocodile, emu, and more ( It’s also the location for a variety of additional touring options from walking to 4WD. 


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  1. Posted by on 9th Jan 2019 Verified Customer

    PARADISE FOUND 5 Star Review

    Stepping onto a 6 a.m. flight in frosty Sydney one August morning we were unprepared for the balmy welcome Cairns would give us as we alighted at 9 a.m., 3 hours later!
    A short cruise out to Green Island and we were snorkeling with turtles.
    Next, we took an hour's ride north to Port Douglas on a trike and then arrived at our spectacular accommodation at Silky Oaks Lodge, set in the heart of the stunning rainforest. The following day we took a 4WD tour into the forest. Crossing the Daintree River by ferry (we saw a croc!), our guide pointed out magnificent waterfalls, massive ancient trees and spectacular lookouts. The pristine beach met the forest at Cape Tribulation.
    All in all, a breath-taking experience!

  2. Posted by on 24th Sep 2018 Verified Customer

    Love This Place 5 Star Review

    Hubby and I travel up there at least once every couple of years and its still gorgeous and unpoiled even though there's a lot of talk about the Barrier Reef. I simply love it there.

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