The Daintree Rainforest
Inside the worlds oldest rainforest
It was a hot day. So hot that the sweat trickled down your forehead standing in the shade. The heat reflecting off the hood of the truck cast a mirage of wavy lines blurring the view from the grassy pad we were parked on. Laden down with 80 litres of water, full diesel tanks and a stock of food we were ready to hit the road on our fifteen day journey from Cairns to the Sunshine Coast. The camping spot at the Globetrotters Hostel in Cairns was sweltering as we said goodbye to our newly made friends. The prospect of the oncoming adventure was exciting, although the hints of non-functioning air conditioning made us slightly hesitant to be on the road in 40 degree (100 degree F) heat.
We climbed into our packed Nissan, cranked the engine to life and quickly rolled down the windows to vent the built up heat. We trundled out of the gated yard and pointed Matilda north towards the Daintree Rainforest. We weaved out of the Cairns city center and were soon on the Captain Cook Highway, curving sharply around steep climbs and precarious corners while being tailed by locals who tend to drive slightly faster than us. Flanked by steep cliffs on the land side and aqua blue water on the drivers side the beautiful scenery flashed by us out of the window. We passed by Port Douglas and soon found ourselves in sugar cane country surrounded by small mountains coated in dense rainforest vegetation.
Two hours into our drive we pulled down the Daintree Highway Scenic Drive that would lead us into the heart of the ancient rainforest. We were funneled into a toll booth lane where we discovered that we had to take a ferry to the Daintree! Little did we know that the only way in was a ferry ride of 150 meters across a river that cost $30! The coolness of the ferry being slightly lost on us we had to spend a decent amount of money we weren't planning for, the cable controlled platform landed on the opposite side, officially bringing us into the Daintree Rainforest.
Our frustrations quickly dissipated as we drove further into the jungle on the narrow winding road. We were soon engulfed in towering trees and ancient mega-flora not unlike the set of Jurassic Park. Navigating the winding roads soon became somewhat interesting as the lanes seemed to gradually shrink to the point of being too narrow for our truck. Utes and Land Cruisers blew by us going full tilt around corners that seemed to threaten tipping us and our laden truck. Soon we found ourselves pulling into a small sandy track where our campsite was hidden. Nestled next to Noah Beach we set up our camp to the sound of waves crashing on the beach. Camp made, we trekked to the beach passing numerous crocodile and marine stinger warning signs.
If you ever want to find some natural irony travel to the tropics of Australia. The weather is hot, the water is beautiful and beaches gorgeous...but you can't swim in the oceans, or most streams, or just about anywhere. The inviting beach was postcard perfect, golden amber hues flooded the sky as the sun waned and the waves lapped gently at the white sand. Yet beneath the waters surface lurked certain predator creatures such as box jellyfish, blue bottles and saltwater crocodiles. Staying well away from the waters edge and being crocwise we surveyed our campsite and took in the scenery of our ancient campsite.
We woke to the usual serenade of tropical birds and the rays of golden morning light poking through the gumtree leaves. As we were waiting for the billy kettle to boil a pair of Queensland Parks rangers were making their rounds. They informed us that some other campers had seen a 2.5 meter long croc on the beach not more than 200 meters from our campsite. Just a friendly beach goer I suppose!
We broke camp for the day and made our way out to begin exploring the park. Being the land of ancients, one ancient critter that calls the Daintree home is the cassowary. A very large prehistoric velociraptor lookalike the cassowary also has very sharp talons on their long legs, of which have been known to disembowel humans. Trekking down the board walk of our first little hike, we were warned at the entry point by warning signs about the dangers of cassowaries. Our footsteps were perhaps a bit lighter and quieter as we strolled down the path taking in the tropical rainforest sites. Ancient mega-flora and fern trees blocked the sunlights and the sharp edges of razor grass fenced in the boardwalk.
Engrossed in our conversation about the plants and scenery, we soon had a start as I glanced up and spotted a very large cassowary strolling down the path towards us. The giant bird unaffected by our presence continued walking towards us, guiding her three large chicks beside her legs. Remembering the warning signs at the trailhead we began to back away somewhat hurriedly as the signs clearly stated not to turn your back and run. Now one cassowary on its own may be fine, but a mama with three chicks may be problematic. Not two to cause a scene we made quick time backwards and soon turned a corner that provided some shelter. After giving it a few minutes we peered around the bend expecting to be face to face with the giant bird but found the boardwalk abandoned with no trace of our ancient friend. Adrenaline calmed down, the rest of our walk was uneventful and finished with a quick stop at yet another un-swimmable but picture perfect beach.
Our next stop was the famed Cape Tribulation. Known for the beach Captain Cook became trapped on Cape Tribulation appeared unchanged, giving one the feeling that Captain Cook and his crew looked upon the exact same landscape about 250 years ago. Remaining relatively unchanged for centuries, the Daintree and Cape Tribulation were like a snapshot of a long gone era of what the first explorers may have seen when they landed on Terra Australis. A bit nerdy I know, but hey I'll be the first to admit I'm a geek for classic exploration history!
Loading up again into Matilda we continued north along the Daintree road to a small swimming hole called Emagen Creek. Recommended as one of the few croc safe swimming holes, we were excited to cool down and get a reprieve from our faulty air con. Right where the pavement ends and the gravel begins a small parking lot signaled the trailhead to the swimming hole. With swim suits on and towels around our necks we walked down the narrow trail passing large bushes of bamboo and towering gumtrees. The forest broke and we found crystal clear water glinting at us from below the rock ledge. Filled with small fish the water was so clear and inviting and just begged to be swam in. We wasted no time in dropping our stuff at the rivers edge and plunging into the aquamarine reservoir. We had the little oasis in the rainforest to ourselves, one other family and all the curious little fish that swam right up to our legs.
Relaxing on the waters edge we soaked in the golden sunshine and listened to the relaxing chorus of tropical birds and wind in the leaves. But alas, not all good things last forever as a tour group burst through the shrubbery shattering the peaceful surroundings as one by one they cannonballed into the clear waters. Taking that as our cue to leave, we packed up our stuff and made the short walk back to the truck. Feeling that we hadn't quite had enough adventure yet, we decided to explore the gravel road that weaved into the dark rainforest. Jostled and bounced over water crossings and corrugations the flat road soon transformed into a 25% grade. Locked into 4x4 and low range Matilda slowly climbed the gravel road, engine whining and our speed gradually slowing we urged her along until we finally crested the top and began our decent. Smooth sailing from here, until we hit a 33% grade.
You know it's steep when the road is paved for a hill climb, so we braced ourselves for the long slow climb to the summit. I'm all for a bit of excitement, but there is something hair raising about being pulled backwards into your seat by the force of gravity and the hill being so steep. In what seemed like a hill that continued along forever we finally crested the insane hill climb, pushing out of our minds the fact that we would have to drive the hill again when we turn back to camp. Further along the dusty road until we decided it was time to turn back and head to get some ice cream. Back up the insane hill and down we went.
Pointing out the amazing view of the sea to Anna, she asked where it was. Being on such a steep downgrade I told her to look up to see the ocean poking through holes in the vegetation. Nosing down the hill in low gear everything in the rear slid forward including ourselves in our seats. Bracing against the oh shit handles we finally made it down to the bottom, relieved that we didn't slip or stall out. Hills climbed and explored we set our sights on the Daintree Rainforest Ice Cream Company ready to enjoy some refreshing frozen treats.
Made from fruits grown on site, the Daintree Ice Cream Co. offered a meagre selection of some unique flavors. I do have to say while the premise was cool, neither of us were really a big fan of the flavors as some of the fruits had slightly off aftertastes. Maybe not quite worth the visit, but at least we can say we tried it! With the sun beginning to wane, it was time to return to our camp and make some real tucker (Aussie for food). Full from our feast of burritos, we sat in the lantern light mapping out our route for the next day which would take us south again past Cairns to Wooroonooran National Park.
While Daintree was amazing to see and full of ancient mega-flora for all those plant and tree buffs, it did fall short on some expectations. Being built up so much, Daintree seemed crowded and overly touristy, lacking some of the primal remoteness we had expected to see while visiting the worlds oldest living rainforest. I guess that's what we get for going to a major tourist destination though. It was definitely worth a visit, but perhaps if you find yourself there bypass the ice cream and spend more time searching for cassowaries!
On to our next adventure though into one of our favorite spots that we have visited so far, at least for me personally! Stay tuned for the next installment of our journey south through Wooroonooran National Park to find out what spot had us totally mesmerized!