We are in the land of the Kuku Yalanji people. For more than 50.000 years they have lived here in northern Queensland, between rainforest and reef. Here they have nurtured and taken care of nature and in return nature has taken care of them. Every waterfall, river, beach and tree has been cared for for future generations.
Daintree National Park is one of the world's most unique ecosystems. Not only is there a large area of pristine rainforest here, it is actually the world's oldest rainforest. For 135 million years, the rainforest has thrived here in the Australian tropics. So long, that here there are many plants and animals that are not found anywhere else on our planet. We set off on a hike in the Mossman Gorge area, hoping to see tracks of cassowaries and echidnas.
It can be difficult to perceive the drama, but in front of us there is a quiet struggle between the trees to reach the life-giving light. Even though the sun is shining today, they let go of leafy treeskronordo not bring down many rays of the sun to the ground. The rainforest is a hard place for a small plant. It is actually quite dark to hike here in Mossman Gorge. Dark and damp, even though it's the dry season and it hasn't rained today.
The hiking trail goes on a well-trodden red dirt path, between lianas and inhospitable bushes. I have probably never seen so many unpleasant plants in one place. It feels like every plant hates me. Thorns, sharp leaves and hard branches line the path. There are signs to stay on the path. I don't see that there is any other choice. How the Kuku Yalanji people made it through the rainforest unscathed for thousands of years feels like a well-kept secret.
Despite the inhospitable plants at our feet, it teems with life. In an Australian rainforest there are neither monkeys nor felines, but an abundance of birds, butterflies and small marsupials. It's never quiet in a rainforest. Everywhere in the forest we see beautiful blue Ulysses butterflies and colorful parakeets. Everyone please keep their distance. A sign that the animals here in the rainforest haven't gotten used to humans yet. A sign of health, quite simply.
A plant that we scout a little extra for, is Gympie Gympie (nettle tree). We look for it out of pure self-preservation. Gympie Gympie is one of the world's most poisonous plants. This plant with heart-shaped leaves may look quite harmless, but it is a stinging nettle with a very potent nerve poison. If you come near a Gympie Gympie, you can look forward to weeks of severe pain and hospital visits. "Everything in Australia wants to kill you” appears quite often in my Facebook feed. Well, maybe not ALL of it, but Gympie Gympie seems to be doing its best to thin out the shells.
There aren't many of us hiking at Mossman Gorge on this winter's day, but those we meet are of mixed ages and of mixed nationalities. The vast majority, however, are Australians who like to sit down for a bit by themselves with a packed lunch and enjoy the tranquility of the rainforest. Here in Mossman River's crocodile-free waters you can get a cooling breeze and a safe swim. Because even though it is winter, the temperature is rarely below 25 degrees.
Everywhere along the path you have to step over roots and duck for vines hanging over the path. The vines are hard and thick and not at all as soft and flexible as Tarzan gave the impression of. I feel a little on one of the lianas. If I had been good at climbing, it wouldn't have been too difficult to climb up into the treetops.
One of the most distinctive trees in the rainforest is the strangler fig. A type of fig tree that, unlike a normal tree, begins its life at the top of a tree canopy. When a seed from a fig tree takes hold at the top of a sunny canopy, it begins to send down roots to the ground. The roots wind around the host tree and become more and more numerous. Finally, the fig tree kills its host tree. All that remains is a giant fig tree.
We pass small streams with fish and small waterfalls. Now during the winter season it is not dangerous to hike and swim here in Mossman River, but during the summer rainy season you have to be careful. Sometimes so much rain falls in one place. that the river overflows without warning. It happens that careless bathers are swept away by the currents.
We look for platypus, but the water we pass is too fast. The cute little marsupials last longer upstream, at calmer and deeper waterholes.
We don't see any cassowaries or echidnas. I don't know if I would really like to meet a wild cassowary here in the rainforest. The two meter tall bird is not known to be either affectionate or fearful and their dinosaur clawed feet are potent weapons. At least we see lots of the cassowary's favorite food. Large blue and red fruits lie on the ground just waiting to be eaten. The blue fruits are so-called "cassowary plums", a poisonous fruit that only the cassowary can eat. Hence the name.
We are nearing the end of the trail and coming back to the Mossman Gorge Visitor Centre. The river has a small beach here and there are plenty of people cooling off in the calm water. We sit down on a stone we brought and rest our legs. Just as the Kuku Yalanji people probably also did for thousands of years before us.
How do I get to Mossman Gorge?
Mossman Gorge is part of the World Heritage Daintree National Park in northern Queensland, Australia. The area is 8 miles north of Cairns. From the Mossman Gorge Center parking lot, a shuttle bus takes you into the National Park ($11.80 adult / $5.90 child 5-15).
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