A journey into the Daintree Rainforest
The World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest is located in Tropical North Queensland. One of the oldest rainforests in the world, the Daintree is home to unique plants and animals that are found nowhere else.
The Daintree Rainforest
The Daintree region stretches 95km, beginning at Mossman Gorge, an hour’s drive north of Cairns. It continues past the Daintree Village, across the Daintree River, through the Daintree National Park rainforest to Cape Tribulation, and then along the Bloomfield Track towards Cooktown. The Daintree region ends at the Bloomfield River.
Added to the World Heritage list in 1988, the Daintree is home to some incredibly rare animal and plant species. 30% of all Australian frog, marsupial and reptile species can be found here, as well as 65% of bats and butterflies species. Around 430 species of birds live in the Daintree, 13 species of which can be found nowhere else. The Daintree has the largest range of plant and animal species in the world that are classified as rare or threatened.
A journey through the Daintree is like a trip back in time. Walking through rainforest that is over a hundred million years old is a truly humbling experience.
It is one of the oldest continuous living tropical rainforests in the world – over a hundred million years old.
Great Barrier Reef
The Daintree Rainforest is bounded on one side by the Great Barrier Reef. It is the only place in the world where two World Heritage-listed sites meet. At Cape Tribulation, visitors can stand on the sand that connects the two incredible locations – where the rainforest meets the reef.
The mighty Daintree River flows through the heart of the rainforest, and is home to an incredibly diverse range of life including over 150 fish species, over 100 crustaceans and the prehistoric-looking Saltwater Crocodile. The river is possibly also the most species-rich mangrove estuary in the world, with 30 of Australia’s 38 mangrove species found here.
Both the Daintree River and, a bit further north, Coopers Creek, offer wildlife cruises with guides. We did a one-hour wildlife-spotting river cruise with the Solar Whisper.
The Daintree Ferry
The only way to get into the Daintree Rainforest National Park and up to cape Tribulation is by crossing the Daintree River on the vehicle ferry. The ferry operates daily from 6am to midnight and takes around 30 cars at a time. The crossing takes around 10 minutes however the wait to cross can be anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or even longer in peak season (July – Sept) and at peak times during the day (mid morning to lunchtime going north and mid afternoon to 5pm going south).
Leave as early as possible for your day trip into the rainforest and return early or have dinner and return late to avoid the long wait. When we visited in July, we lined up at 9:30am and crossed at 10am heading north. To get back over the river we lined up at 3:30pm and crossed at 4:30pm.
The Daintree Ferry costs $30 return per car. If you are staying for longer, a multi-day pass is available for $59, which allows for five return trips.
Things to do in the Daintree Rainforest
We spend one afternoon at Mossman Gorge, one day driving to Cape Tribulation and then back down again stopping at various points along the way, and then revisited Mossman Gorge the following morning.
The most southern part of the Daintree National Park, Mossman Gorge is part of the traditional homeland of the indigenous Kuku Yalanji people.
Mossman Gorge was the highlight of our entire trip. It was serene, blissful, a bit, dare I say it, magical.
The Gorge is located south of the Daintree River so no river crossing is needed to access it.
You can read about our experience at Mossman Gorge here.
Solar Whisper Daintree River Wildlife and Crocodile Cruise
Located on the south bank of the Daintree River, the Solar Whisper is easily located by car – no need to cross the Daintree River to get there.
The Solar Whisper is a solar-powered, electric boat that glides silently up the Daintree River emitting zero emissions (the only boat on the Daintree River to be so eco friendly).
Being so silent, the boat can glide up to crocodiles and other wildlife on the river without scaring them or damaging their habitat.
The Solar Whisper boasts a 99% success rate* for spotting crocodiles, as well as other wildlife such as birds, frogs, snakes, fish and crabs. The boat also has a “croc cam” which helps show up camouflaged wildlife.
We had an extremely knowledgable guide on our one-hour river tour, who pointed out various birds hidden in trees as well as many crocs resting on the river banks.
On the tour, we learned lots of fun facts, such as that you can tell the age of a crocodile by the number of teeth it has – when crocs lose their teeth they don’t grow back.
Get more information on the Solar Whisper.
Located on the south bank of the Daintree River, the Daintree Village is the regions original settlement, dating back to the 1870s when timber cutters set up here. The village is tiny and quaint, with restaurants, artists’ studios and souvenirs on offer. There are also free electric barbecues and picnic tables.
Daintree Village Hotel
We stopped for dinner at the Daintree Village Hotel. It has great pub food in a laid back setting, and a selection of souvenirs to shop for.
The hotel menu had lots of great food options, including healthy choices, a vege option (an excellent vegetarian burger) and a kids’ menu.
Daintree Discovery Centre
We ran out of time to visit the Daintree Discovery Centre. If you’re only spending one entire day in the Daintree National Park and want to drive up to Cape Tribulation and do a few other things, there is not much time left for the Discovery Centre unless you leave really early in the morning and get back to your hotel later.
The Daintree Discovery Centre is the first stop north of the river. It is a highly educational experience, featuring a 23 metre rainforest canopy tower, aerial walkways and boardwalks, audio guides in eight languages (including one for kids), rainforest reptiles and native fish displays, children’s displays, a mini theatre, interpretive centre with touch screens, access for prams, strollers and wheelchairs and a coffee shop.
Get more info about visiting the Daintree Discovery Centre.
The Original Daintree Ice Cream Company
This sweet spot is a must-stop in the Daintree! The Daintree Ice Cream Company is a tiny little shopfront located in an orchard where visitors can do a scavenger hunt around the trees to locate various fruits – many of which they may not have ever heard of before.
The Daintree Ice Cream Company makes unusual flavours such as black sapote ice cream and roasted wattleseed. They make four different flavours every day and visitors are served a bowl containing all the flavours on offer.
On the day we visited the flavours were yellow sapote, davidson plum, coconut and wattleseed. We adored the two fruit flavours in particular and wished we’d bought another bowl.
Get more information about The Original Daintree Ice Cream Company
35km north of the Daintree River crossing is Cape Tribulation and the end of the sealed road thought the Daintree National Park. You can take any regular car across the Daintree River and up to Cape Tribulation – but not beyond this point. It is 4WD only beyond Cape Tribulation.
We drove directly from the Daintree River crossing up to Cape Tribulation and slowly made our way back down again. This was an excellent strategy as it allowed us to avoid most of the traffic on the single road through the rainforest as we were going in the opposite direction to most people.
Cape Tribulation Activities
There’s lots to do in Cape Tribulation, making it an excellent place to spend a fair chunk of your time in the Daintree. Horseback riding with Cape Trib Horse Rides, ziplining with Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours and a half-day reef trip with Ocean Safari are some of the more adventurous options. You can also take guided walks or rent a sea kayak from Cape Trib.
Cape Trib Horse Rides takes riders from novice to expert on a ride that culminates at Myall Beach.
Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours is a guided tour through six tree platforms and seven ziplines, with platforms ranging from 5m to 19.5m above groundEven kids can zip!
We were keen to try a half-day tour with Ocean Safari however we ran out of time. The tours visit two destinations on the Great Barrier Reef.
Cape Tribulation Beach
The main attraction at Cape Tribulation is the beach! Stepping out from the rainforest directly onto the beach is a remarkable experience, and the beach at Cape Trib is breathtakingly beautiful.
We spent a long time walking up and down the beach, marvelling at the tiny sand balls made by crabs and exploring the mangroves. This is truly a special spot.
We took a short walk past the entrance to Cape Tribulation Beach and found a stunning lookout at the end.
There is a large carpark right next to the beach, with accessible restrooms.
Myall Beach is accessed from the same car park as Cape Tribulation Beach, so you can park in the one spot and visit both beaches via short walks. It’s a bit longer walk from the car park to Myall Beach than Cape Trib Beach, however it is not a challenging walk.
The beach itself is absolutely beautiful. Take a stroll up and down it but don’t go for a swim – there are crocs in these waters!
Boardwalks at Cape Tribulation
There are two self-guided interpretive walks at the Cape Tribulation. Dubuji Boardwalk (a 1.8km boardwalk through the forest and mangroves) and Maardja Botanical Walk (a shorter boardwalk and pathway through the coastal rainforest).
Dubuji is 10 minutes south of the town of Cape Tribulation while Maardja located a further 10 mins drive south again . When we visited, Maardja Botanical Walk was closed.
Follow the signs to the Dubuji car park and boardwalk from the main road. The Dubuji Boardwalk is an easy 1.8km stroll through the rainforest and mangroves. We loved the fan palms that towered high over us.
There is the option here to exit onto Myall Beach or return to the car park. There are several signs along the boardwalk with fascinating information about the rainforest, making it a slower trip than if it was a straight walk.
There are accessible restrooms in the car park.
Maardja Botanical Walk
Maardja Botanical Walk is a boardwalk and concrete path through the rainforest, featuring informative signs along the way to Oliver Creek, where crocodiles may be spotted. Maardja Botanical Walk was closed when we visited.
Whet Cafe Bar
We stopped for lunch at Whet after a recommendation from our accomodation. We thought the service was average and food decent.
Get more info about Whet Cafe Bar
Mason’s Swimming Hole
Mason’s Swimming Hole is on the property of Mason’s Cafe. The swimming hole is a freshwater waterhole free of crocs and full of fish. Entry is $1. Note that there are no restrooms or showers available.
The swimming hole has some shallow sections and a rope swing. With no current it is a nice, safe spot for kids to swim.
Get more info about Mason’s Cafe
Driving Times in the Daintree
From Cairns to Port Douglas – 60 minutes
From Port Douglas to Mossman – 15 minutes
From Mossman to Wonga Beach – 20 minutes
From Wonga Beach to either South of Daintree Ferry or Daintree Village – 15-20 min
From North of Ferry to Cow Bay/Diwan – 15-20 min
From Cow Bay/Diwan to Cape Tribulation – 20-25 min
Information for visiting the Daintree National Park
EFTPOS is available at the ferry between 8am-4:30pm seven days a week. At all other times users of the ferry need to pay cash unless they have a concessional card.
There is extremely limited mobile phone (cell phone) coverage throughout the Daintree. Telstra is meant to have the best coverage, however we have Telstra and had zero service the entire day. The Daintree Village has good mobile phone coverage however it is limited in the ferry area and north of the Daintree River.
There are various options to stay in the Daintree Rainforest, both north and south of the river, with pros and cons for each. We stayed south of the river at the Daintree Ecolodge and loved our time at the boutique hotel.
Read more about our stay at the Daintree Ecolodge here.
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby!