Back in April, we spent a few days in the Daintree Rainforest of Queensland, Australia. I already previously blogged some about our drive there from Cairns and the awesome treehouse that we stayed in. Booking the trip, we had no idea about what we were getting ourselves into. We knew that it was an isolated part of Northern Queenland (at one point, this is where the paved road actually ends) and that it was close to the Great Barrier Reef. We made no concrete plans for how to spend our days in the Daintree until we got there. What we discovered is that it is a pretty magical place. Every morning we would wake up and set out on a new adventure, coming home around 4 or 5pm for a little swim at Cockatoo Hill Retreat before dinner time. Here’s what we ended up doing on those days.
I already wrote about our croc tour in my previous blog post. Crocs dominate a lot of what you can do in the Daintree. Meaning, you cannot swim at the pristine beaches or rivers because of them. Should you choose you, you risk becoming a meal. They are the boss of these parts so it’s best to do a croc tour while here to learn more about these great beasts.
Guided Rainforest Walk
Our host at the Cockatoo Hill Retreat had suggested that for our first full day in the Daintree area, we should do a guided walk through the rainforest. She said that it would help us understand the complexities of the forest and why this is such a unique and important part of the world. Carmen immediately booked us a tour the next morning with Angie of Cooper Creek Wilderness. We drove the next morning to Angie’s house where we immediately began the two hour walk into the forest. Angie and her family live on and own the surrounding rainforest and use the income from the tours to help preserve them. What they are doing is a great thing.
The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest rainforest in the world. THE oldest. All of the other rainforests in the world have been destroyed by volcanoes at one point or another. There is a large mountain range located behind the forest so the Daintree has been protected from these natural disasters. Because of this, you can see trees that are over 1,000’s of years old and you can see plants that grow nowhere else in the world. The amount of knowledge that Angie holds about this beautiful place was almost overwhelming. We learned so much about the complexities of the forest and how plants and trees working together in order to survive. We also learned that when walking in nature in Australia, do not touch anything. A vine could be a snake and that pretty shrub with the heart-shaped leaves is actually covered in spikes that feel like broken glass. I will no longer look at a forest the same again.
Daintree Discovery Centre
The Daintree Discovery Centre is the most touristy thing that you can do in this area. When you google “Daintree rainforest”, it’s pretty much the first thing that comes up (Awesome SEO, guys!). However, it is totally worth a visit. The Centre allows you to view the rainforest from all levels so that you can see, up close, how different the plants and birds/creatures. The aerial boardwalk takes you to the mid-level of the rainforest and from the canopy tower, you can see everything from the top. In terms of wildlife, we didn’t see a lot of actual birds or butterflies or any animals but it was still a pretty cool experience. According to a sign here, the Daintree Rainforest plays host to 60% of Australia’s butterflies, 40% of Australia’s birds and 34% of their mammals. For being such a small area (about 1200 km2), that is pretty awesome.
Self-guided Boardwalks & the Beaches
After our first day with the guided tour of the forest, we were ready to conquer the nature on our own. The Daintree area has a bunch of different walks that you can do. Most of them are boardwalks and they take you through the forest and mangroves. On one of these walks, we spotted a Cassowary. After seeing them daily in more open spaces, I had wondered how they could live in the rainforest since they are 6′ tall birds. The Cassowary that we saw moved so quietly through the forest. I’m talking quieter than a squirrel. It was also difficult to see as it’s black body camouflaged it into appearing like a shadow.
We also checked out some of the pristine beaches. They are big and beautiful and torturous knowing that you cannot enter that refreshing water because crocs may be there. On the beach, we saw Sand Bubbler Crabs. They are cute little guys who basically make art out of the sand. Wikipedia tells me: When the tide is out, they emerge on to the surface of the sand, and scour the sand for food, forming it into inflated pellets, which cover the sand. The crabs work radially from the entrance to their burrow, which they re-enter as the tide rises and disintegrates the pellets.
Snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef
It had rained for a couple of days before we arrived in the Daintree and as a result, the sea was rough. We had wanted to do a snorkelling tour while there and Carmen had suggested that we wait until the last possible day that we could to go. That way, the ocean would be more clear for optimal fish-spying. The coolest thing about the Daintree is that there is only ONE snorkelling company in the area. This is unlike when you go out from Port Douglas and Cairns where there are tons of different tour groups heading out. Also, because of it’s location, it is only a thirty minute boat ride to the reef whereas it’s about two hours from Cairns. Bonus: the boat holds about twenty people so it’s a small group which makes everything that much more enjoyable.
We woke up early that morning and drove to the Ocean Safari office. It was dark and looked as though it would rain at any moment so I had little hope for snorkelling. We got suited up in our stinger-suits (to protect us from jellyfish), walked across the road and down a boardwalk to the beach where our boat was waiting for us. This is to say that we walked from one World Heritage Site (the Daintree Rainforest) into another (the Great Barrier Reef). I believe that this is the only place in the world where two World Heritage Sites sit side by side. It’s a special thing.
As we began the ride out, the clouds began to clear and the sun came out. Thus, we had the most perfect snorkelling conditions, basically ever. The ocean was calm and the sun allowed us to see everything. I almost never want to snorkel ever again because I think that any other time from this point will be a disappointment.
We visited two reefs on this trip. The first was Mackay Reef where we saw a ridiculously awesome amount of every fish imaginable but the highlight was seeing a sea turtle laying amongst the coral. It was my first time seeing a sea turtle like this. I loved it. The second reef that we visited was along the GBR’s edge so you could see the drop into the open deep ocean (and small sharks swimming down below). We also saw a sea turtle here. Our guides told us that this was the first time in about a year that they had visited this particular reef. Since the conditions that day were so clear, they had made the decision to go there and I am so happy for it. In our group of tourists was a couple in their seventies visiting from Scotland. This was their first time snorkelling and they had a blast. I loved seeing their faces when they came off the boat, completely mesmerized by what they had just experienced. Seriously, you may never see me in a snorkel again ever because it was so good that day.
There are a couple other small things that we did while in the Daintree. One was a visit to Jungle Bugs & Butterflies. Josh really wanted to check this out. It ended up being a huge collection of dead insects which was both kind of cool and also kind of horrifying. They also had a couple live insects that live in the Daintree including the (creepy!) Macley’s Spectre.
We saw signs for the Daintree Tea Company while driving and it was the tea that was available at our treehouse so one day we decided to stop. It is basically on the side of the road and surrounded by fields of tea is a shelter that has some old farm equipment that is used for harvesting tea. You can also buy some there – they have a box full of it and a container to put your money in. Got to love the honour system! (And yes, we did pick some up!)
One of the only spots that you can go “swimming” in the Daintree that is not a pool is the Mason’s swimming hole. It’s a spot in a river that is upstream so the crocs don’t go there. To get to it, you go to Mason’s Cafe and follow the signs. It takes a bit of manoeuvring to get to the water but once you are there, it’s worth the trek.
Food & Drink
There is a great variety of places for food and drink in the Daintree. Our accommodations included just breakfast, we were on our own for lunch and dinner. Since the Daintree is such a small area (and I am going to also assume that since we were visiting in low tourist season), most of the actual restaurants had set times for when they served lunch and dinner. It is always best to check the hours before you head out to them since you can often find yourself on a windy side road trying to find your destination.
We ate the most at Lync-Haven. It was the closest restaurant to where we were staying the everything here was great. Our first dinner while in the Daintree was here and I was happy to have a tofu stir-fry which was the first tofu that I had had after spending over two weeks in Australia.
The bonus of Lync-Haven is that they have a number of native birds, snakes, reptiles, wallabies and kangaroos that you can see. They also have wifi here that you can pay to use. Since we didn’t have any internet at Cockatoo Hill, we took advantage of this by posting photos on Instagram to show our families that we were still alive.
We had lunch one day at the Heritage Lodge. It seemed like an adventure through the forest to get there but once we did, it was great. I had the barramundi which is a fish that is local to the area. The restaurant overlooks a beautiful river so it is quite nice.
While we didn’t eat there, we did stop by Mason’s Cafe as mentioned to hit the swimming hole. Mason’s is known for it’s burgers – they make them from all sorts of meats including croc, wild boar and emu. Since I don’t eat meat, I wasn’t really into it and I think that Josh was too
scared full to try any of them.
One night we headed to Cape Tribulation Camping for dinner. While it’s a campground, they also have a pizza oven. I had a classic Margherita and probably could have ate two because it was so good.
One afternoon we headed to the Daintree Ice Cream Company. There are two ice cream places in the Cape Tribulation area and we were told that this one was the best. As we pulled into it, a Cassowary crossed the road so we took this as a good sign. There is an orchard surrounding the Daintree Ice Cream Company and their ice cream is made from these fruits that they grow. Every day they have four different flavours and for $6.50, you get a scoop of each. On the day that we were there, they were serving Coconut, Black Sapote, Banana and Wattleseed.
All in all, if you ever have a chance to visit the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation, do it. If you are thinking of visiting, do it. Do not hesitate. I feel so blessed that we were able to visit such a special little part of this incredible earth.