Daintree Rainforest National Park is an ancient rainforest which is part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. It is home to the Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal people who live between the tropical rainforest and the coral sea. A stay in the lush rainforest is a fascinating experience where you will find yourself all close to stunning tropical nature with its captivating wildlife.
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 01 JAN 2020
When travelling to Queensland, you probably have at least a dozen of locations on your bucket list. One of them may well be the ancient Daintree Rainforest, the oldest in Australia and in the world, geographically located just above the secrets of the coral reef. Daintree is definitely on our bucket list – and we are now off for our first rainforest adventure! We have for the occasion all brought lightweight rain ponchos – just to be prepared for any kind of weather in the rainforest!
On our way to Daintree we pass the sugar cane fields in the area between Atherton Tablelands and Daintree Rainforest. This is where 95% of entire Australia’s sugar is grown. June/July to November/December is harvesting season, and you will see the cane carriages waiting along the fields to be filled or already filled with freshly harvested sugar canes on their way to the Mossman Sugar Mill. The transport takes place on narrow gauge tracks which are ubiquitous in the area.
To reach Daintree Rainforest you will have to pass Daintree River. There is no bridge over it, so you will like everyone else need to take the small ferry with a single car deck. It operates all day, but if you come outside office hours you can only pay in cash. You can check the hours and fares of Daintree River Ferry. Do take into account that the wait here can be pretty long since absolutely everyone coming from or going to Daintree will have to use this crossing.
When arriving at the ferry, we are immediately notified of the danger of encountering a saltwater crocodile in case we happen to go near the river bank. So better stay in the car!
Anyway, no crocs within sight during the crossing today.
1. Stay in a rainforest lodge in Daintree
Without knowing what we precisely have expected, we are yet a bit surprised that we now have to ascend a winding road to get to our lodge in Cow Bay, the Daintree Rainforest Retreat.
It is an awesome place with both a rainforest swimming pool (although with a fence to keep crocodiles and other animals out!) and a small pond where you can study the Wet Tropics wildlife at micro level! In particular we get the chance to see the life there in the evening with a light spot on! We also detect a couple of spiders, melomys, lizards, and other reptiles on the walls outside.
What is very special about staying in the lodge surrounded by rainforest is that we can listen to all the animal sounds during the night. Anyway, we sleep extremely well – right until we are suddenly woken up by some unknown animal bumping into the relatively thin wall! We don’t have a clue what it is – but it must be big!
When we start listening we hear the croaking frogs, the flying foxes dropping fruits on our roof when passing…
2. Which animals can you experience in Daintree Rainforest?
Of course there are thousands of animals in the rainforest. A few of them are mentioned here – animals which you are either likely to spot in this part of Daintree Rainforest – or animals which are quite peculiar.
The Amethystine Python (also known as the Scrub Python or the Scrubbie) can be seen in the rainforest crossing the road at night. It can be up to 7 metres long and can be recognised from its diamond pattern. It feeds on warm-blooded animals like birds, but it is advisable not to approach an Amethystine Python.
The Brown or Green Tree Snake is often spotted at night. The Green Snake is a frequent visitor of the pond at the Daintree Rainforest Retreat. It is 1.4 metre long and is dangerous to small mammals, birds and lizards – but does not do any harm to humans. Other snakes can be seen too. In general, the snakes in the rainforest are not the most venomous snakes in Australia.
The Long Nosed Bandicoot is a carnivorous marsupial. It digs holes in the rainforest floor with its forefeet in search for food which it finds underground. It can reach 45 cm in size – and is quite harmless to humans.
The Musky Rat Kangaroo is a possum-ressembling marsupial which lives in the dampest parts of the rainforest near the river and creeks. It is only active during the day and mainly in the morning and in the afternoon.
The Red Legged Paddy Melon looks like a small kangaroo is most active in the evening, during the night and at dawn. It feeds on leaves, fruit and berries. It can be spotted outside the Retreat.
The Southern Cassowary is a large, flightless bird with a colourful head and solid legs which it will use in case of a fight or defending itself. They are quite common in the rainforest. If you encounter a cassowary, do not run as it will run after you – and may attack. Instead, make yourself ‘big’ and scary!
The White Lipped Tree Frog, the Green Tree Frog and the Cane Toad are some of the 54 species of frogs in the rainforest that can be found around the Retreat. The White Lipped Tree Frog is huge – it can reach over 13 cm!
The Bennett’s Tree Kangaroo also lives in Daintree Rainforest. It is a special kind of kangaroo adapted to the life in the tree tops. However, it is not so easy to get a glimpse of.
A Golden Orb Spider is worth mentioning too among all the various spider species. It can grow quite big in its web – but poses no danger to humans. So if you see a big spider, it may be this one.
The Salt Water Crocodile is one of reptiles you should really fear. There are warnings against it everywhere along rivers and on the beaches here. If you absolutely want to see it, you should instead go on one of the organised Daintree River cruises! The closest we come to crocodiles during our stay is to eat them in delicious burgers!
The Wet Tropics are home to more than 4,000 species of plant life. Mosses, lichens, basket ferns and orchids together with strangler fig trees and Kauri Pine are some of the unique species.
In the rainforest you indeed can come across the most peculiar rainforest plants. If you touch a Stinging Tree, it is no good. It has large heart-shaped leaves with poisonous hairs which will affect the skin. It is extremely painful and may require medical attention. A possible way to relieve some of the pain if you are affected should be to apply adhesive tape to the area and then tear if off (with the poisonous hairs) – or to apply boiled cabbage water to the area!
Another special plant is Wait-A-While or the Lawyer Vine which is a climbing palm species that is present everywhere in the rainforest. It has a kind of small hooks that get snagged on hikers. Surprisingly, it takes a while to remove them. On one of our hikes I see for myself that this is really true – that I have to fight for a while before being ‘released’.
3. Daintree Rainforest walks
Being 135 million years old, Daintree Rainforest is the oldest rainforest in the world (once dinosaurs roamed Daintree)! Next in line is the Amazon Rainforest which is only 10 million years old – which is really no age in comparison! Unlike other rainforests Daintree has a dry season from June to October which makes is the most pleasant time of the year to visit.
Daintree Rainforest has the largest range of plant species and animal species on the planet, some endemic to the rainforest. In all there are more than 3,000 unique species. In particular, it is believed that there are 430 species of birds in Daintree. The rainforest is considered the birthplace of song birds, Australian kangaroos and some of the first flowering plants in the world. It is really a window back in time to be here and experience the sounds, the species and the beauty of the botanical diversity.
So how can you explore this amazing universe in a couple of days?
The most obvious way is to stay in one of the retreats or lodges and do some of the awesome hikes and boardwalks on you own in the oldest continually surviving rainforest on Earth. There are a number of trails you can do between Mossman and Cape Tribulation.
3.1 Wonga Beach
(grade: easy, 9 kilometres)
Walk along one of the longest beaches in Daintree. You will be passing mangroves and wetlands. Chances of viewing double-eyed fig-parrots, cassowaries and crocodiles (!). Several access roads from Captain Cook Highway.
3.2 Daintree Village
(grade: medium, 1 kilometre)
Walk along eucalyptus, paperbark, acacias and climbing fern creating a curtain. You may spot bottlebrush orchids as well. Access from Pioneers Park in Daintree Village and turn to the left at Pioneers Park.
3.3 Jindalba Boardwalk
(grade:easy, 650 metres)
Take the boardwalk through lush lowland rainforest. The boardwalk passes creeks and swampy areas. With a bit of luck you may even be able to spot the Bennett’s tree kangaroo or a cassowary. The world’s tallest cycad can also be seen here (20 metres high). The name Jindalba is the original Kuku Yalanji people’s name for the area (‘Foot of the Mountain’). Access from Daintree Discovery Centre – the end of Tulip Oak Road in Cow Bay.
3.4 Marrja Boardwalk
(grade: easy, 1.2 kilometre loop)
This walk has examples of every stage of the rainforest evolution over 400 million years, including ferns, cycads, ancient pines and flowers. The walk will pass a hollow strangler fig, paperbark and pandanus trees as well as mangroves. A multitude of orchids like the golden orchids, pencil orchids and bottlebrush orchids will also show. The start location is from Cape Tribulation Road south of Cape Tribulation.
3.5 Dubuji Boardwalk
(grade: easy, 1.2 kilometre)
The walk passes through lowland rainforest, mangrove swamps and sandy beach. You will be able to view fan palms, vines and strangler figs. There are chances to spot cassowaries here. From the beach you may also be lucky to spot at humpback whale during winter and enjoy the views of Cape Tribulation. You may even walk to Cape Tribulation at low tide and reach Kulki lookout. This is where the rainforest meets the reef!
For more trails, see the Daintree Discovery Guide and check as well park alerts and other details. The best time to visit the rainforest is in May – September where it is not as hot and humid as in summer.
4. Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
You may also experience the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway from Cairns which gives you a unique tour gliding over another rainforest canopy (at Kuranda) before descending to the forest floor at the Red Peak and Barron Falls Stations just before Kuranda. It is a different rainforest experience from what Daintree offers. From here you can take the ranger-guided boardwalk tours in the tropical landscape and view Barron Gorge with its impressive Barron Falls.
5. Mossman Gorge
Yet another experience is the Mossman Gorge located in the southern part of Daintree Rainforest – and at a short distance from Port Douglas. Here you will also get an absolutely unique rainforest experience where you will gain insight into the culture of Australia’s aboriginal people and their harmony with nature! You may join a guided ‘Dreamtime Walk tour’ where you will learn about the plants used by the Kuku Yalanji indigenous people.
You may also do a self-guided walk where you can enjoy the breathtaking rainforest views. Reserve at least half a day for the visit – and maybe even all day! Check out the Mossman Gorge experience.
6. Rainforest hotels
Check also our 10 Days Itinerary Queensland in Australia out!
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