From the story book ‘Where the Forest meets the Sea’ the Daintree is the only place on earth where two world heritage sites collide. The mossy green ancient tribal lands are home to the oldest living prehistoric predator and giant bird from the Jurassic era. Where hidden danger lurks below paradise-blue pools fringed with lush tropical forest. Where large flightless birds eat the forest fruits, dispersing the rainforest that spreads out to sandy cays that look out to reefs. Where you can snorkel with an ocean survivor that too has been around since the beginning time. Walk through the rainforest, where fern fronds dance in the dappled light, primeval trees and towering fan palms stretch upwards drinking in the sunshine.
Crocodiles, over 400 species of birds, unique wildlife and flaming crimson sunsets make a cruise on the Daintree River a jewel in the crown of the Daintree. Meander the mighty river in search of crocodiles, other reptiles, birds, flying foxes, frogs and perhaps a cassowary or a tree kangaroo.With half the bird species of Australia found here, no wonder the Daintree is a dream bird watching destination.
Every season brings new inhabitants and visiting migrants attracted to the biggest species-rich mangroves in the world. The boat gives you great access while birds dine on the more than 150 fish species and 100 crustaceans found in the mangroves. Whatever time you visit there’s always different birds to see. It’s not only bird watching nerds that love this cruise.
Drift past the cathedral of green rainforest on a river that branches into different eco systems; like an ever-changing mosaic, tributary, streams and sandbars that move with the tide. Listen to the rainforest symphony; birds, frog chorus and incessant chatter of bats. Watch the gold and scarlet sunsets while thousands of egrets make their roost in the tree canopies on the river’s edge with the river in pink ethereal light. It’s like a treasure hunt of feathers and a kaleidoscope of colours. Alex from Wild River Watch and David from Solar Whisper spots the birds when we see nothing but a speck in the distance.
Most of Australia’s kingfisher species end up here on the Daintree river one time or another. The shy turquoise, blue and green Sacred kingfishers hunt for insects on the river bank and mangroves. Dazzling blue-violet and burnt orange Azure kingfishers dart down on the water for yabbies and insects. Australia’s smallest kingfisher, the second smallest in the world, the elusive Little kingfisher with its glorious indigo blue and snow-white feathers migrates here every year. Along with the Azure kingfisher they hunt from a branch above the water and can deep dive into the water for their prey.
A Rainbow bee-eater with its stunning chestnut, gold, green yellow, blue plumage and streaming tail devours its prized insect. An Australia darter dries its wings out after an afternoon of fishing, a Great-billed heron fishes in shallow water. Papuan frogmouths camouflage themselves on a branch with their chick and Sunbirds nest in a wild hibiscus tree. Spotted whistling ducks and a beautiful Great egret complete the afternoon.
Buff breasted paradise kingfishers migrate to the Daintree every year. Though not on the river often, they inhabit other parts of the Daintree and Mt Lewis. They migrate from Papua New Guinea in summer to nest in termite mounds in the rainforest. Once the chicks hatch, learn to fly and hunt, they make the arduous journey back home. You may spot and catch a glimpse of this stunning orange and royal blue bird with a long white streaming tail as it swoops down to rainforest leaf matter for caterpillars.
We did tours with Solar Whisper and Daintree River Wild Watch who we consider the best in the Daintree. They offer unique perspectives from different parts of the Daintree. Solar Whisper departs from the ferry, and River Wild Watch starts from Daintree Village which is 20 km upstream. As with all nature and wildlife, sightings rely on the season, rainfall, flooding, weather, migration and luck.
Solar Whisper Looks for all wildlife, birds, and crocodiles. The only solo assisted electric boat on the river. It doesn’t frighten the birds and wildlife and fits down the narrow creeks where most of the crocodiles live. The one-hour Crocodile and Wildlife Spotting tour runs throughout the day. Sometimes early morning and late afternoon two-hour tours operate. If you want to see the crocodiles, no one knows them like David. He has observed these crocodiles for years and is committed and passionate to their conservation.
Daintree River Wild Watch A good chance to spot wildlife, birds and crocodiles. They operate daily 2-hour trips at sunrise and sunset. A rewarding time with low light and a chance to spot the birds fishing first thing in the morning and hunting for their last meal at night. The sunset on the Daintree and thousands of egrets flying home to roost for the night completes the cruise.
As the moon reflects in the dark murky water, teeth of the most powerful jaws in the world delicately cracks each egg when she hears the babies crying from within the shells. She then guards them with her life for days, weeks or maybe months until with regret she loses control and watches her green-eyed babies float away with the tide…
We hope to see the new crocodile hatchlings during our cruise and David from Solar Whisper doesn’t disappoint. We have an introduction and encounters with the social media famous crocodiles and their babies. We meet the legendry King and Queen of the waterways, Scarface and Lizzie. The 70-year-old Scarface has only three teeth left. When you have the most powerful bite force on the planet this has no effect on your dominance or strength. Still to this day his opponents come off second best. Lizzie is 32 years old and since our trip we learn the couple are the proud parents of 30 royal babies!
Around the corner we spot the prominent Dusty Rose basking in the sun on the sandy bank. Dusty Rose and Scarface had clandestine meetings at night and it’s rumored that she may become a mother soon too. There’s no better ending to the cruise then seeing Bruce and Scuter with their first babies. (Both thought to be male until they had babies). Bruce is an attentive mother and Scuter’s creche for her newborns is in a difficult spot and sadly the current has already taken most of her babies away.
The trip gives you a new appreciation for the most fierce and misunderstood predator on the planet. Watching mothers guard their precious offspring and listening to David’s stories shows how the terrifying part of crocodiles is always talked about and reported, but not the fascinating side of this largest living reptile. Crocodiles are formidable with few natural threats and survived the dinosaur period but they are not immortal. Their eggs and babies have only 10% chance of survival, similar to sea turtles and like them, they make their nest on the bank which takes painstaking effort for cumbersome animals built for the water.
However, the crocodile guards the nest for months. Attentively listening for when the babies call from under the ground, digs gently for the egg and helps baby out of the egg and then carries it gently to the water and creche. Bruce watched her nest for 108 days, hardly eating during this time. Our lack of ability to relate to crocodiles makes them vulnerable to abuse, killed for meat, leather, game hunting and some countries even skinning them alive. The sentient beings deserve a life free of exploitation. Intriguing, complex and dangerous, they remind us of the quote from Steve Irwan. “We don’t own the planet Earth; we belong to it. And we must share it with our wildlife.”
The Daintree beaches resemble each other in many ways. Rugged, unspoilt beaches nestled between rainforest and reef. In the balmy heat the blue ocean looks enticing for a dip, but crocodiles may lie in wait below.
Emmagen Beach Not far from Emmagen Creek this pretty most northern and lesser-known sand cove is covered in shells. About 5 km north on a dirt track form Cape Tribulation you will come across a large Figtree on the right of the road. From here it’s a short path to the beach.
Cape Tribulation Beach The most famous beach of the Daintree where the rainforest meets the reef. From here you can go on the Kulki Boardwalk for sweeping views of Cape Tribulation and the Great Barrier Reef. You can walk from here to Emmagen beach but check the tide times!
Myall Beach The rainforest opens up to a long beach ideal for walks. Coconut palms, views to the cape and the blue sea where Captain Cook smashed the Endeavour into the reef in 1770. At the end of the beach Masons Creek and a walking trail from here will take you to Masons Café and the swimming hole. The Dubuji boardwalk also starts from Myall Beach.
Noah Beach Split in two by a creek inhabited with lots of crocodile and the only beach where you can camp. The camp sites sit amongst the rainforest with a short path to the beach.
Thorton Beach White sandy beaches with sandbar going out to Struck Rock Island make it different. The only beach with a café.
Cow Bay Palm trees, rope swings and views of the Alexandra Range, in the residential area of the Daintree.
Sponsor a Flying Fox
The Spectacled Flying Fox is a special rainforest pollinator, essential for rainforest growth and natural regeneration. Currently listed as endangered, but still under threat from climate change and loss of habitat. Extreme heat waves make their populations plummet even more. During a single heat wave a couple of years ago, 23000 flying foxes lost their lives and thousands of babies left orphaned. That’s a lot of babies for dedicated wildlife carers to look after! They need to duplicate the care and love that mum gives them and in the wild mum nurses the babies for 5-6 months before weaning. Once weaned off milk, they consume 300 grams of fruit per night mixed with a high protein supplement. The babies need to be fully prepared for release to survive in the wild. Their release coincides with wild juveniles starting to fly free so they can join them. You can help, donate and sponsor these beautiful and intelligent bats through Daintree Life.
Escape the tropical heat with a dip in the fresh waters of Mossman Gorge. Nestled under the canopy of the Daintree’s rainforest, the river flows around giant boulders into lagoons and secret pools. Giant fig trees, palms and tree trunks covered in thick moss reflect a luminous green in the water. If you feel energetic you can do the small walking trails in the rainforest or a walk with the local traditional owners the Kuku Yalanji people and learn about the Dreamtime legends. Access to the gorge is from the Mossman Gorge Centre where a return shuttle bus runs every 15 minutes and currently costs about $12 for adults and $6 for children. Though the gorge is a natural attraction of the Daintree many consider the centre touristy. It’s possible to walk the 2 km to the gorge from the centre, but it’s not recommended because the road goes through a local community. There are amenities and picnic tables at the gorge so it’s suitable to spend some time and bring lunch for a picnic. Be aware that you cannot swim here at times due to floods and dangerous currents.
Spot a Cassowary
Catch sight of the prehistoric flightless bird who roamed the rainforest way back in Gondwana. This rare and endangered bird with glossy black plumage, purple, blue and orange neck, vibrant pink wattle, helmet like casque and feet with claws will sometimes surprise and appear out of nowhere. Known as Kurranji by the traditional owners, cassowaries are essential for the life of the rainforest. They love their fruit so much, they swallow it whole, dispersing and spreading the seeds of blue quandongs, cassowary plums, bush cherries, banana figs and up to 155 other trees and plants! In the same rainforest Dad builds a basic nest and the female lays the eggs. Dad guards the chicks until they hatch and raises them until they have to make it on their own at about 18 months old. When the female returns at next breeding season the chicks have to leave and find their own territory. They don’t want to leave and make a “Weeeeee” crying sound. The scared chicks want to stay with Dad. Finding their own territory in the rainforest is difficult and once they leave, they only have a 10% chance of survival. If you spot a cassowary count yourself lucky. Sadly, the estimates are only 4000 left in the wild and the population still declines. Loss of habitat, fragmentation, vehicles, wild dogs and cyclones makes them endangered and vulnerable.
Daintree Rainforest Creeks
Crocodiles don’t inhabit all fresh water creeks in the Daintree. However, there’s no guarantee that’s always the case, or the safety while swimming in any freshwater creek due to change of circumstances and flash flooding. Always be crocwise in croc country and obey crocodile signs and never swim in water where crocodiles may live even if there’s no signs. If in doubt, visit an information centre or ask a local.
Syndicate Road Swimming Hole North of Mossman turn left onto Syndicate Road (You will see a sign for Silky Oaks Lodge) keep going for 500 metres, turn on Finlayvale Rd for 1.5 km and you will come across a bridge and the waterhole.
Emmagen Creek A cool crystal-clear mountain water swimming hole further north where you need to drive on an unsealed road for about 5 km from Cape Tribulation. Just before Emmagen creek park on the right side of the road and from here it’s about a 1 km walk upstream.
Masons Swimming Hole A rainforest creek on private land the belongs to Mason’s Cafe. For a gold coin donation, you can swim here.
Coopers Creek The Blue Hole is an Aboriginal sacred site with cultural significance. It’s disrespectful to ignore the signs and swim here. You can access Coopers Creek if you stay at Heritage Lodge. The cabins are a little rustic and dated but in a great rainforest location, affordable and the creek winds through the lodge. If not staying you can book in for breakfast or lunch and have access to the private aqua green swimming holes.
Snorkel with Turtles
Like crocodiles, turtles have ancient origins and been around for millions of years. Today marine turtles are under threat worldwide due to climate change, pollution, unsafe fishing practices and illegal trade and harvesting. As a result, all species of sea turtles are now considered endangered, threatened or vulnerable. Humans threaten them more than anything and recovery plans are critical to save them from the brink of extinctions. Hopefully these listings, education and conservation will help their survival and increase sightings of them.
For a good chance of a turtle encounter and be a part of their underwater world, take a trip with Ocean Safari to the Coral Cays of Mackay and Undine Reefs. Snorkel over pristine corals with tropical fish, giant clams and sea turtles. The half day eco tour leaves from Cape Tribulation for the 25-minute boat ride to the reef, where you have views of the Daintree Coast. With a small group atmosphere and a chance of being the only boat out there it’s a great snorkeling adventure from the Daintree. From Port Douglas you can do this trip with Sailaway. A full day experience snorkeling and sailing on a luxury catamaran with expert and passionate guides.
Taste the fruit wine at another award-winning tropical fruit winery in Shannonvale outside of Mossman. Trudie and Tony create fortified wines from the organic fruit grown on their property. It’s rustic and not exactly the Barossa Valley but has all the character you would expect from a North Queensland winery. Between the intense flavour of the Kaffir Lime and the rich Chocolate made from cocoa beans the wines are interesting and unique. After tasting you won’t want to leave empty handed! From the winery continue following Shannonvale Road for about 1 km until you reach a causeway and you will come across a pretty rainforest creek to cool down in.
Plant a Rainforest Tree
Make a difference helping the oldest rainforest in the world and join this unique Rainforest Revegetation project. Donate and have a tree planted on your behalf. The gift of a rainforest tree makes a lifelong and meaningful gift for birthdays, special occasion or in the memory of a loved one. You can also plant a tree yourself and get involved in community planting, meet new people and make an environmental impact on the Daintree rainforest. The goal of the project is to regenerate land cleared in the past, increase the habitat of precious flora, birds and wildlife by adding another 60 hectares of rainforest and planting 500000 trees!
Daintree Ice cream
Beat the heat with an ice-cold fruity treat from the Daintree Ice Cream Company. The natural ice cream is handmade on site from tropical fruits grown here. Davidson’s plum, banana, mango, macadamia, lychee, dragon fruit, and passionfruit to name a few. Yum! Take a walk around the tropical fruit orchid that’s irrigated naturally by rainfall. The organically grown fruit reduces the impact, protect and preserve the environment of the Daintree Rainforest. While enjoying your ice-cream you may spot a cassowary walking around the orchards.
Walks in the Daintree
While staying in the Daintree at least one walk through the World Heritage rainforest is recommended. Short and longer hiking trails take you through wooden boardwalks, towering fan palms, swamplands, mangroves, beaches, rainforest pools and waterfalls. Keep your eye out for cassowaries, kingfishers, other birds and wildlife such as, Musky rat-kangaroos, wallabies, tree kangaroos, possums and flying fox colonies.
Marrdja Boardwalk A short walk a little over 1 km loop through a cluster of giant fan palms, mangroves, colossal basket ferns, primitive flowering plants and golden orchards from the beginning of time make this a botanist’s dream.
Dabuji Boardwalk Another short walk through lush rainforest, mangrove swamps and sandy beaches. On this walk we spotted a cassowary and orange-footed scrub fowls building their nest.
Cape Tribulation Lookout Walk along Kulki Boardwalk through rainforest to a viewing platform for the iconic views of Cape Tribulation.
Jindalba Circuit Track A moderate 3 km trek that starts at Cow Bay and crosses rainforest creeks. You may spot a Boyd’s Forest dragon sunning itself and a White-lipped tree frog lying in wait for insects.
Myall Beach to Mason’s Shop The two-hour round trip starts at Cape Tribulation and winds over the ridge of Cape Tribulation across Myall Beach to Masons creek. Finish with a refreshing swim and a cold drink.
Mount Sorrow Ridge Trail A 7 km hike for experienced hikers only. It’s steep and difficult through heavy rainforest to the lookout with sweeping views of the Daintree rainforest to the reef.