Where the forest meets the sea: Discovering the Daintree Rainforest

So we’ve agreed that the 1,565 kilometre journey from Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory to the Queensland coast is best not mentioned here. We’ve left the cuttings of that story on the editing room floor out of a deep concern for you. Because it was boring AF.

Gareth and Shelley will never get that time back, so why rehash it here? The only reason we would return to that long, straight road would be to see some of the megafauna fossils near Mount Isa, but we’ve had our fill of fossils on this roadtrip so without further ado…

Welcome to Queensland roadsign
Finally we made it!


 

Welcome to Queensland

Once we hit Townsville we decided to shoot straight up to Cape Tribulation, as north as it gets for a 2WD campervan.  Driving through the tourist town of Port Douglas we flew past the relative civilisation of tropical fruit farms and sugar cane plantations until we hit river. It’s here that things started to get a bit gnarly.

To cross the Daintree River have to float your campervan across on a small barge. The slow perambulation of the ferry gave us plenty of time to consider the croc-infested waters below and the tightly-knit network of rainforest ahead of us.

Daintree River ferry crossing
Welcome to the jungle

Far North Queensland, or ‘FNQ’ as the locals call it, was always going to be beautiful. Shelley had made short visits to FNQ before, admiring the tropical climate and clear waters of the Great Barrier Reef from the safety of resort towns like Port Douglas. Having the chance to properly explore and camp in the world’s oldest tropical rainforest was wet-your-pants exciting.

First stop was a lookout, followed by the Daintree Discovery Centre, where we learned more about the world heritage-listed national park. Up in the tree-top canopy walk we heard the calls of rainforest birds and watched the incredibly blue Ulysses butterfly float by. We also spotted a huge python curled around a tree, metres from the walkway. It was becoming clear that life was a bit more vivid and intense in these parts.

 

A walk on the wild side

After brushing up on all of the knowledge at the discovery centre, we agreed that we were now rainforest experts and duly accredited to undertake a solo rainforest hike. We set off on a tiny marked path into the jungle, assuming that it would sort itself out into a proper track as we went along. We were marvelling at the huge exposed buttress roots of the figs when we heard a rustling close by. As we stopped to listen we saw an actual cassowary (!) approach. The Daintree is a critical habitat for the Southern Cassowary, but they’re endangered so it’s never guaranteed that you’ll spot one. We were grinning our heads off when we saw this guy, and then realised he was being followed by two stripey chicks.

Male southern cassowary with chick
The most dangerous bird in the world

 

The good news was we had spotted a rare, beautiful bird and his family. The bad news was that male cassowaries are extremely dangerous, especially when they’re with chicks. The advice given is to slowly back away, to avoid being charged by the bird and disemboweled by a swift kick from its giant sharp claws. So of course Gareth followed the thing.

The cassowary let us know when he’d had enough of Gaz by making a guttural sound not dissimilar to the weird noises emus make.

Our camp that night was at Cow Bay, and we saw a couple more cassowaries on the road as we drove towards it. Everyone slows right down and gawps at them, so you have to be careful to avoid love tapping the car in front of you.

Camping in Cow Bay

Cow Bay was pretty rustic. Just a clear spot in the forest floor to park on and some of those sawdust toilets, which we are no strangers to. On the other side of the trees was the beach, with nary a soul on it, so we sat there with a beer until dark.

View of palm and reef from Daintree rainforest
Nice way to spend an afternoon

We’d already spotted a few huge lace monitors shlepping about the campsite but on our return to the van we rewarded with the sight of a small snake lunging for and capturing a lizard, which it then proceeded to strangle for a bit as we looked on.

Gaz upset a poor Dutch backpacker when he pointed our the murder scene, and Shelley had a compulsion to search the campervan for any unwelcome friends.

Snake killing lizard
Yikes

The next day, after a very peaceful night considering all the critters that surrounded us, we drove up to Cape Tribulation, stopping in at a few lookouts and walks along the way. We admiring the distinctive green fan palms and their evil knobbly step sisters the mangrove roots.

Looking up at fan palms
So dappled, so chic

We were lucky enough to meet up with friends from Melbourne that day, and together we walked the big stretch of beach at Cape Tribulation (although some steps were more tentative than others ahem-cough-Louise). After a great lunch the more croc-fearing pals departed and we went to find a swimming hole.

Cape Tribulation
Beautiful and deadly

It went swimmingly…

So obvs,  it’s very hot in the Wet Tropics, but there’s not many places you can safely swim. The beaches are a definite NOPE. We headed for one of the ‘safe’ swimming holes pointed out by a guide and hoped for the best. We met a band of young backpackers on the trail and silently decided that they could jump in first. Joy of joys, there was a rope swing. Like pretty little babies in a Pepsi commercial, they whooped and YOLO-ed as they swung out from the platform of nested tree roots and fell into the clear cold river. It was a beautiful spot and Shelley tried to not begrudge them their fun too much. But Shelley can be a sulky bitch sometimes, especially when her enjoyment of a particularly choice bit of nature is interrupted.

Mangrove tree Daintree Rainforest
Resting bitch face
Daintree river swimming hole
Calm before the kids

We had reached the end of the road, literally. We couldn’t drive any further north than Cape Tribulation ( so named because Captain Cook had a bad time of it on the nearby reef). Our specific tribulation was that we lacked a 4WD. To reach the next destination in Cooktown we would have to make a rather dramatic second river crossing, and despite his marine moniker we weren’t convinced Moby the campervan could swim.

Highs: Seeing so much blue in a forest, from the iridescent neck of the cassowary to the wings of the Ulysses butterfly, weird blue quandong fruits and clear aqua water of the reef

Lows: Feelings heaps blue when we missed out on the last of the quandong icecream from the Daintree Icecream Co. Who has four scoops each?!

Daintree Rainforest Cow Bay
Stay golden Daintree

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