A date with adventure in the Daintree

Hike, helicopter, boat, jungle surf (or even sleep) your way to true discovery in a rainforest more ancient than the Amazon.

Woman on treetop walk
  • Penny Watson.
  • May 2018

Are you more like a cassowary or a crocodile? It could be a searching line of questioning on a Tropical North Queensland (TNQ) dating website.

The male crocodile eats its own young up until the age of about two. The male cassowary, on the other hand, looks after its offspring single-handedly until they leave the nest. Parenting styles aside, these two exotic animals with prehistoric ancestry get a lot of airtime in TNQ’s Daintree Rainforest.

Visitors have either seen one “just yesterday”, or are on the lookout for one today. Happily, they’re not the only natural-world intrigue found up this way. The Daintree World Heritage Site, listed by UNESCO last year, is not only older than the Amazon (by a mere 80 million years – 55 million verses 135 million), it has a unique combination of ecosystems that from rainforest to white sandy beaches and coral reef.

The result is flora and fauna so ancient, diverse and rare that a fair portion of your holiday time could be spent looking through binoculars, a camera lens, or even a microscope. Twenty per cent of Australia’s bird species live here, 35 per cent of Australia’s frogs, marsupials and reptiles call it home and 65 per cent of Australia’s Bay and butterfly species are native to the area. To make the most of it, full immersion is imperative.

Cassowary sign
Cassowary sign

1. Hiking

The road that winds from the Daintree River ferry crossing to Cooktown reveals pristine beaches, overhanging rainforest and cassowary crossings. It also leads to some of the rainforest’s great hikes and walks. Six signed walks with rainforest access include the Dubuji 1.2km boardwalk with beach access, the 350m Kulki lookout walk, and the steep Mount Sorrow six-hour hike. For a Daintree 101, head to the Discovery Centre, which has an 11m aerial walkway designed to take visitors through the mid-level rainforest; a 23m canopy tower with five viewing platforms; a circuit that runs through a cassowary corridor; and a bushtucker trail. All options have an audio guide accompaniment.

2. Sleeping

With more than 12,000 insect species in the Daintree, the prospect of sleeping in the open might not appeal to everyone. Cue the canopy suites at Daintree Eco Lodge and Spa. The newly renovated ‘bayan’ rooms sit on stilts over lush, green ferns, foliage and epiphytes. Tree trunks tower above, with roots firmly planted in the banks of a crystal-clear creek below. Micro-gauze screens around the balcony ensure guests have a bug-free experience with an unfettered view. And you can keep doors and windows open for the full rainforest symphony of cicadas, frogs, birdsong and burbling waters. The lodge also has a waterfall – the perfect spot for a massage, and a dining room that sits by a small lagoon, home to a family of turtles.

Rocks and creek in Daintree
Lush scenery in the Daintree

3. Ziplining

The taipan, eastern brown, death adder and red-bellied black – if the thought of encountering any of these deadly snakes doesn’t get your heart rate up, ziplining (or jungle surfing) will. At Cape Tribulation, the Daintree Rainforest engulfs everything in a stranglehold of green, making it the ideal place to play Tarzan or Jane on a zipline. Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours offer a guided ziplining tour between six magnificent hardwood tree canopy platforms. It’s a safe and secure immersion beginning on a jungle hilltop and following the ziplines down and around the hillside. Professional and passionate guides make sure you’re harnessed correctly, and they’ll happily share anecdotes along the way. One of them sticks to mind: “The view you can see from here (the third platform) has more animal and plant species than the whole of Europe and North America”. By the fourth zipline you’re hanging upside down, and the last – such is your confidence by then – is a speed race to the end.

4. Boating

There’s a lot of talk about crocodiles up north, but does one actually see any? In short, yes. Tour guide for Daintree River Cruise Centre, Nick has a keen eye for a freshly slicked mud bank (from where a croc has just departed) and the tiny 10cm square of water where just the croc’s ears, eyes and nostrils can be seen. “He can see, hear and smell us, but it’s hard for us to see, hear or smell him,” he says ominously. Boat tours along the Daintree River also reveal an “insane amount of plant life”. There are 31 species of mangroves alone in the Daintree, and their snorkel roots provide habitats for hundreds of frogs, snakes and fish species. Towering above them, bird’s nest, elkhorn and basket ferns entangled with climbing plants and twisted vines create another level of foliage for hundreds of bird species. Don’t lean overboard! The archerfish, another quirky Daintree creature, might squirt you with water.

5. Helicoptering

You’ve been in it, under it, on it and through it, and now it’s time to see the Daintree from above. With the rainforest covering an area of approximately 1200 square kilometres, there’s a reason scenic helicopter rides are popular up north. Flights ranging from 15 minutes to one hour take up to three passengers on a 200km/h cruise over the only place worldwide where two heritage-listed wilderness sites sit side-by-side – the pristine Daintree Rainforest wilderness and the opalesque coral cays of the Great Barrier Reef. See cavernous gorges, rushing rivers and waterfalls, and a rich rainforest green morphing into a turquoise blue ocean. Departures are from Port Douglas, Cairns and Mossman, or create your own bespoke itinerary.