Courtesy of Damon Ramsey
Courtesy of Damon Ramsey
The Daintree Region
The name 'Daintree' is used to refer to several different areas, including the Daintree River, a small town, a national park, and a general region. The latter is often used to describe much of the area from the Daintree River to just south of the Bloomfield Valley. The actual 'Daintree National Park' is slightly different to this general perception. It is divided into several sections, including two large and geographically distinct areas. The largest part (over 55,000 hectares), called the Mossman Gorge section, is located on the southern side of the Daintree River and includes the Mossman River, the gorge up the river, and some of the mountains, such as Mt.Demi. The second part is the 'Cape Tribulation section' on the northern side of the Daintree River is actually much smaller, at over 16,000 hectares in area. It includes Cape Tribulation and some of the coast, some of the Cape Tribulation road, many of the scenic mountains to the west of the road, such as Thornton Peak, and much of the forest along the coast towards the Bloomfield. And small parts of the Daintree River itself are protected by other sections of the National Park.
Much of the Daintree region, such as the mountain areas, remains inaccessible and rugged. In contrast, the coastal lowlands of much of the 'Daintree' are one of the more comfortable places to enjoy what would normally be inaccessible, dense tropical rainforest and mangrove. The road up to Cape Tribulation itself is now sealed and does not require a 4WD except during times of high rain and flooding. However, a visit does require time. As the Daintree is a large area, and Cape Tribulation is at least 3 hours drive from Cairns, to make the most of a trip it is recommended that you stay for a few days. If your time is limited, then an organised day tour from Cairns or Port Douglas is probably the best option. Because of the easy access and popularity of the area it can get crowded; another good reason to stay overnight, as you can then avoid the day-trippers. There is a range of accommodation in the Daintree region, including backpackers and more upmarket lodges. The heat and the rain make camping a fairly unpopular option, but there are still opportunities including a cheap National Parks campground at Noah beach. For the more energetic, there are only limited chances for hiking or bushwalking in the Daintree. The climate and the vegetation make such walks uncomfortable and difficult for National Parks to maintain. However, there is a good selection of well-made and maintained boardwalks.
The Daintree River
About 30 minutes drive north of the town of Mossman you will come to the turn off for Daintree. On the left, with a kingfisher sign is the 'Crossroads Café' This is operated by a local school teacher Dennis, and here they sell food and drinks, including their locally made ice cream, and some souvenirs like Daintree Tea.
The turn off to the left (or straight) goes to the village of Daintree. The winding road follows the river for about fifteen minutes with nice views of the river. It ends at the village of Daintree, a pleasant small town, once much more focal due to timber getting and other small industries. Today, there are some cafes and souvenir shops located here, and it is the base for many of the river cruises.
Back at the crossroads turn off, the road to the right leads to the ferry crossing, the only dry way to cross the Daintree river, and then onto Cape Tribulation. The river was named after Richard Daintree, a geologist who worked as a government surveyor, although he reportedly didn't explore the area. The ferry operates from about 6 in the morning to about midnight. Current costs for a return ticket for a car is about $14 and there are talks of an increase as well as an extra National Parks levy. Generally, no one is allowed off while on the ferry, due to an accident involving a local man a few years back. Sometimes the line up for the ferry can take up to an hour or so, but there's toilets, a cassowary display, and the 'crocodile head' souvenir store and boat booking agent. Every few years the idea of a bridge being built is brought up, and as sooner or later it is bound to happen, so enjoy the experience of the ferry while it lasts.
Most people who visit the region explore the Daintree River, usually by taking a river boast cruise. There are many different operators and most people do the standard 45 mins to 1hour cruises, mainly to catch a glimpse of the Saltwater Crocodile. Croc sightings are dependant on environmental conditions, and as no feeding is allowed in the state of Queensland, sightings are not guaranteed, thus be wary of boat operators that make such statements. For smaller, more specialized tours, local birdwatcher 'Chris Dahlberg Specialized River Tours' runs an early morning small boat looking for birds in the dry season from Daintree Village. Generally, the longer trips and more specialized operators appreciate that there any many more things besides crocodiles on the river, including waterbirds such as egrets and herons, and the smaller beautiful birds such as Little and Azure Kingfisher, and Satin Flycatcher. If you're in the Daintree region for a few days, there are also similar boat cruises on Cooper Creek, north of the Daintree River.
The Cape Tribulation Road
Once you have crossed the river, the 'Cape Tribulation road' is a pleasant drive on a sealed road through a 'tunnel of rainforest;' that the local council works to maintain. All the way along this Cape Tribulation road are side roads, usually leading to private properties, that are named after local plants (Palm, Silky Oak, Mangrove, etc). The road regularly winds in and out of the Cape Tribulation section of Daintree National Park. Along it's length it passes some nice views, great beaches and the boardwalks in the region, including Jindalba, Marrdja, Dubuji and Cape Tribulation.
The road initially passes a few clearings for cattle, then the Cape Kimberly turn off on the right, which follows a mainly dirt road to a pleasant area of Melaleuca woodland area just opposite Snapper Island. Past this tun off the road then begins to get steep and winding, but has beautiful Fan Palms and Tree Ferns on the side of the road, and in several of the steeper gullies on the right there are stands of 'King Ferns', amongst the biggest of ferns in the world. At the top of the range is the Queen Alexandra lookout and on a clear day has great views of the Daintree River as it enters the ocean, and Port Douglas in the distance.