Visiting an Ancient Rainforest

I love rainforests. For as long as I can remember, they have captured my heart in a way that deserts or oceans, although both very cool in their own ways, never have. Being in Queensland, Australia, I knew I couldn’t miss the UNESCO World Heritage Daintree rainforest.

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I signed up for a tour with Cape Trib Connections that allowed me to break one day’s worth of activities into two halves, separated by two nights at a jungle lodge. For the first part of the tour, we drove about 45 minutes from Cairns to Cape Tribulation, stopping for a quick nature walk along a jungle boardwalk trail, where our guide pointed out many different kinds of trees, lianas (vines), and epiphytes (plants that grow on trees). We saw evidence of recent visits by wild pigs, found seed pods that can be used to keep matches dry on jungle treks, and learned how to spot a tree kangaroo (look for their long, straight tails hanging down from high branches).

Responsible Wildlife Tip: Don’t destroy inhabited spider webs. During our hike, we came across a golden orb spider in what appeared (to us) to be a large web. Female golden orbs are approximately the size of an adult human’s hand (or a bit bigger) and, as you might expect, their webs are pretty sizeable. This one was maybe two and a half or three feet wide, but our guide advised that this was actually a small web for a spider of this size. He also told us that this indicates that she is low on energy and if this web were destroyed before she was able to eat enough to regain her strength, she would likely die. So, while we know it’s not nice to destroy an active spider web (one with a resident spider in it), it could actually be fatal. Don’t try to judge this on your own…what looks to you like a large web may not actually be and you won’t be around to see the consequences of your actions (and even if you were, it would be too late to do anything about it). Enjoy or avoid spiders as you choose, but leave them and their webs alone.

One of the most unique animals to live in this rainforest is the endangered cassowary, a large flightless bird related to the ostrich. There are many signs reminding drivers to watch out for these animals, as cars are one of the biggest dangers they face. Although sightings are not rare, they also are not guaranteed and, unfortunately, I didn’t see one. A tour group that came into the boardwalk area about ten minutes behind us saw one crossing the parking lot, but by the time we went to look he was nowhere to be found. Better luck next time.

The Daintree Rainforest is a remnant of the rainforest that covered the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana. This is one of the unique characteristics that led to the area being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Following our walk, we headed further north along the coast for a stop at the Cape Tribulation Beach. We received plenty of warnings about crocodiles, who inhabit the warm ocean waters and rivers in the area. Just a few months ago, a woman was killed in this area by a crocodile. She was checking all the boxes on the “How to Get Eaten by a Croc” checklist, but the threat is real and we didn’t want to become a headline, so out of the water we stayed.

This is the only place in the world where two World Heritage Sites (the Wet Tropics of Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef) touch.

Free Time in the Rainforest

At this point in the day, anyone who was staying overnight checked into their accommodations and was left to their own devices until their return day. I was staying at a place called PK’s Jungle Village in one of their bunk rooms. There wasn’t a whole lot to do in the immediate vicinity, but I visited another short boardwalk trail, walked along the beach, checked out a cool overlook, and ran along the road through the rainforest. I also did some yoga on the beach with Amber (from PK’s) and spent some time reading. I made a couple of attempts to do day trips, including another ocean rafting snorkel trip and a kayak trip, but both were fully booked during the time I was there.

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Eating in the Rainforest

When we arrived at PK’s, I was a little worried about the food situation. I had jumped on the tour straight off an overnight bus from Airlie Beach and hadn’t been to a grocery store. The full extent of my supplies included a half bag of almonds and one apple. In my quest for lunch, my first stop was the bar/restaurant in PK’s. A couple of (pricey) options were available, but nothing grabbed my attention, so I set off to see what else I could find. My second stop was the “grocery store” next door, which more closely resembled a 7-Eleven than Trader Joe’s. There were two small aisles of packaged food and some rough-looking produce, all listed at about three times normal price. No good.

They say the third time’s the charm and so it was. The cafe across the street was the only other place to eat visible from PK’s and was one of those order-at-the-window places, like a snack stand at a public pool. I had low expectations. As I got closer though, I realized the woman on the other side of the counter was wearing a Sea Shepherd shirt and things started to look up. It turned out there were several vegan items on the menu, including all of their desserts (!). I ate here for almost every meal, sampling the avocado toast, falafel salad, veggie burger with sweet potato mash, corn fritters, chocolate cupcake, and key lime pie. It was all pretty good, especially considering the location. The portions were a bit small for my taste but it definitely could have been way worse.

The Rest of the Tour

On my last day in the rainforest, I was picked back up by my tour company at noon for the second half of sightseeing. First up was an hour-long cruise up the river to see some of the crocodiles who live there. We ended up seeing several, including a baby croc and Scarface, the resident alpha male.

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We also stopped at Mossman Gorge, an area in the southern part of Daintree National Park with a several kilometer trail through the forest, a suspension bridge, and an opportunity to learn about the Aboriginal people who call the area home. Unfortunately, we did not have nearly enough time to explore everything here. You could easily spend a couple of hours on the trails; we had less than one, so the experience was pretty much a brisk walk along the main trail to snap a few pics and and then jumping back on the bus to Cairns.

Recommendations

Rent a camper van for your visit to Daintree. This will allow you the freedom to visit many trails, lookouts, and attractions that are either missed or only briefly experienced on an organized tour. Also, make sure you are well-stocked on food or you’ll pay a premium to eat.

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Someday I’ll be back to explore this beautiful rainforest more thoroughly, but these few days were a nice introduction to the area. Next stop: another volunteer project, this time taking care of kangaroos and wallabies!


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