The cockatoos screeched their usual morning wail in the palm trees outside our apartment at sunrise in Palm Cove. The flying ticks didn't seem to be nearly as tired as I was. Didn't they look even a little hurt? Although I almost always set the alarm clock when we're on vacation, this pickup was the earliest. We love driving ourselves, but there are times when even we realize we've met our overlord. Our overlord this time was Australia's Daintree National Park and the road to Cape Tribulation. As the vast majority of rental cars have neither monster tires nor snorkels as standard and the insurance does not cover driving in rivers, we didn't want to take any chances. Queensland's rainforest is not to be trifled with. So here we were now waiting for our pickup from Billy Tea Safaris, a small local guide company that takes you where the big buses can't go. We were the last pick up and our custom built 4WD minibus now turned north with 10 expectant travelers.
We stopped at a restaurant/gas station/café in Mossman for the purchase of a take away coffee and a tea. The decision to go on an excursion and not drive yourself was quickly confirmed as a good choice. Here in Mossman, everyone (I really mean EVERYONE) drove around in XNUMXWD pickups with snorkels. (I can honestly say I never saw a car with a snorkel until I went to Queensland the first time, so if you guys don't know what a car snorkel is, I understand!)
Inside the restaurant/gas station, everything from fried squid to dim sums was served. However, it looked like the fried fish was the big seller. You can say a lot about Mossman, but the bar staff were really great at making flat whites and it's not every day I get a cup of locally grown tea. So thumbs up for the petrol station cafe and restaurant in Mossman – even though the rickety petrol pumps looked like they were from the 50s!
After this coffee break and leg stretcher, we continued north for half an hour to our next stop in the mangrove forest at daintree tear Daintree river is located in Daintree National Park, which is the world's oldest rainforest. For over 135 million years, the life-giving rainforest here in North Queensland has been home to birds, kangaroos, crocodiles, snakes and the unique ostrich-like bird, the cassowary. In fact, this rainforest is home to more plants and animals than that any other place on earth. It absolutely crawls and sounds and rustles everywhere. However, the mangrove river is not only home to fish and crocodiles, but also a nursery for some of Australia's least loved animals. The jellyfish.
Up to 30 centimeters in diameter and with tentacles several meters long. Box Jellyfish not only burn incredibly painfully, they can also cause large scars and, in the worst case, lead to death. The box jellyfish grow up here in the mangroves and slide out into the sea when it rains during the summer months. On almost all beaches along Queensland's north coast there are therefore areas with stinger nets (jellyfish nets). These nets prevent the box jellyfish from swimming near people bathing.
Before we jumped into the boats to meet the wildlife in the mangroves, we also got to see a small Irukanji jellyfish. Big as a seedless grape, but often even more dangerous than a box jellyfish. Lucky that we always go to northern Australia during their "winter", when the jellyfish think the sea is too cold.
Crocodile Safari on the Daintree River
The boat slipped out onto the river. The mangrove trees covered both sides of the wide river and the thick roots firmly stuck to the soft river bank. However, the Daintree river is not best known for its mangroves, but for its saltwater crocodiles. Crocodiles have been an important part of Australia's history and culture for thousands of years and there are numerous Aboriginal paintings that show crocodiles in various religious and everyday situations. Around 70 adult crocodiles live in the Daintree river today and every year the number increases. But it has not always been so. By the 70s, hunting and poaching had almost wiped out the crocodiles in the river, so laws and regulations had to be put in place to protect the animals.
It splashed to the side of the boat, it's not a jumping crocodile is it? Nah, it was just a bigger fish. I have to admit, venturing into crocodile territory was a little nerve wracking. The daughter had to sit in the middle between us adults and the guide was clear that here on the river you are ABSOLUTELY not allowed to feel the water and you have to keep your hands inside the railing during the entire journey - no exceptions!
Almost immediately we saw a couple of different birds, including a brown blue kingfisher (which was too fast to photograph) and an almost invisible one Tawny Frogmouth. "Frogmouths" are birds found only in Australia that have a curious little beak that almost looks like a frog's mouth. Good thing we had a guide with us on the river tour, because otherwise I definitely wouldn't have seen the strange bird!
We took a small tributary upstream towards an area where the guides knew there was a crocodile nest. In some sections the boat goes right next to the trees of the rainforest and we passed very close by two green tree snakes that were sunbathing at the far end of a branch. The guide didn't look too worried though, so I guess they were relatively harmless snakes.
Bessie, the mother crocodile, turned out not to be at home, but her two little cubs were right at the water's edge, spying on us. There was also an older cub hanging a bit from the nest, which the guide seemed to think was a bit strange. While we were spying on the (relatively) cute cubs, we suddenly saw the mother come swimming at full speed towards us and towards the nest. As she approached the boat she quickly dove under the water and we were reminded to keep our hands inside the railing. One of the many ways a crocodile effectively hunts its prey is to jump its entire length straight out of the water at a tremendous speed. And as the adult males can grow up to 6 meters long, this means that a crocodile can jump really high!
Bessie, however, did not jump up, but carefully reappeared a short distance from the boat, when she had realized that we were standing still and were no threat. But the speed with which Bessie came swimming towards us in the water, basically making no waves, was certainly not something I would want to encounter when I'm out swimming. In the same way that jellyfish head for the beaches during the summer, younger saltwater crocodiles also head out to sea during the summer to seek out new estuaries and new territories. It is not unusual for the beaches here in the north to be closed sometimes during the summer, when a crocodile decides to take a transport route past the sunbathing tourists.
We continued along the river and saw two more large crocodiles during the roughly 1,5 hours that we glided around on the river. We also saw a large heron that stood completely fearless and caught fish after fish on a large branch. I hope for the bird's sake that the large branches acted as a crocodile stop, because otherwise that bird would not have lived long.
We were not let off the boat at the same place we got on, but we were now let off on the other side of the river for further travel north. During the time we had been watching the crocodiles, our guide had simply taken the car over to the other side of the car ferry.
We continued north along the coast, deeper into the Daintree National Park. We stopped for a short stop at Alexandra Lookout – a vantage point with mile-long views of the coral reefs and rainforest. Alexandra lookout is named after the Danish princess Alexandra, who in the late 19th century was married to one of England's princes. Whether she was ever here or not, however, history does not tell.
Hiking in the Daintree National Park
We got off the bus at one of the rainforest visitor centers, where there was a walking trail on a boardwalk. It is not easy to walk here in the rainforest without a boardwalk, the ground is covered with thick roots and plants with both thorns and sharp leaves and poisonous animals.
Our guide now took us on a kilometer-long walk into the rainforest, where he told us about all the plants we passed and their uses.
We didn't have to go far before we saw the first reptile – one Boyd's forest dragon - who sat and watched from a tree. Boyd's forest dragon is only found here in the rainforests of North Queensland and is actually a nocturnal animal, so we were really lucky to meet this little lizard.
We also saw another exciting thing. Cassowary poo. The cassowary is a type of ostrich that is only found here in the Daintree rainforest. It is about 2 meters tall and has a colorful blue and red neck and a hard pointed "helmet" on its head. The endangered Cassowary is absolutely necessary for the survival of the rainforest, as the seeds/nuts of some 40 trees have such a hard shell that the only way they can start germinating is if a Cassowary has eaten, processed and pooped them out. So seeing cassowary poo is a hopeful sign that the rainforest will continue to thrive and live on for many millions of years to come.
It was an amazing experience to see the dense rainforest, hear all its sounds and be fed knowledge by our knowledgeable guide. Little E listened as carefully as she could, although she found them to be a bit difficult to understand at times when the guide threw in Aussie words and expressions.
After this hike, our stomachs rumbled and we now went to a restaurant in the middle of nowhere, where our two guides grilled big, fat, pink steaks and sausages for us. Totally delicious!!! Next to the restaurant was a wildlife center, where they rehabilitated animals that had been injured in traffic. On this day we were met by a couple of large kangaroos and a couple of small wallabies who had all been injured in traffic and were now being cared for here. Elly was quickly inside and petted them all and fed them sandwiches and carrots.
After the super delicious lunch, we said goodbye to the friendly kangaroos. We rode deeper into the rainforest on the red muddy roads of the Bloomfield track to the crystal clear waters at Emmagen Creek. This is guaranteed crocodile-free water with neither dangerous parasites nor fish. Crocodiles do not like clear water, preferring to live in cloudy water where they can surprise their prey. Most of our fellow travelers jumped in and splashed around, but we preferred to do a little hike and just sit down and enjoy the silence and all the sounds of the jungle.
This was the tricky part of driving in the Daintree. The part that made me glad we took an excursion and didn't drive a rental car. We crossed waterways with the car. In the summer during the rainy season, the water in this part of the river can be several feet deep, effectively isolating anyone living north of Emerson Creek for a couple of weeks at a time. The fact that the road is only a dirt road and that the water can be quite fast doesn't help either. This requires a little more than our usual driving on the Essingeleden. However, our driver was extremely used to driving in bodies of water, so we made it across with flying colors - even though there was almost 50 centimeters of water at the deepest point.
Arrived at Cape Tribulation
We were approaching the turning point of the journey – Cape Tribulation. Cape Tribulation is a remote beach, far from mass tourism and charter hotels. The beach got its name from James Cook, who during one of his adventures passed by here on a mission to map the entire coast of Australia. On June 10, 1770, Cook ran aground on the reef out here and after this began a long period of tribulations for the captain. The rest of the journey north was constantly beset by problems and you can feel the desperation of Cook's expedition when mountains and places along his route were given the not so flattering names Mount Misery and Cape Weary.
The area here at the Daintree is the only place in the world where the coral reef meets (and lives in symbiosis with) the rainforest. Here, the greenery and energy of the rainforest practically flows straight into the sea. The air is clean and clear, the only noise you hear is from waves and cockatoos and there are no buildings. This is Australia at its best. Sparsely populated, scenic and absolutely wonderful.
We stayed here for a good while and wandered along the beach. During the summer months, there can be both jellyfish and crocodiles lurking in the waves, but during the winter months, all you have to do is kick off your shoes and walk along the shore. It was "winter cold" in the sea, only around 24-25 degrees. It is moments like this that I feel in my whole body that I am not made to live in Sweden. This is a winter that suits me.
All over the beach, nature's own little artists painted patterns of stars and flowers in the sand. The beach crabs' eternal shoveling of sand creates the most imaginative patterns. If you stop and stand still for a little while, the crabs often look out of their hole to see if the coast is ready for continued shoveling.
After the beach walk we went back to our lunch restaurant for afternoon tea, but ran out of gas. There was simply no tea. Such is life here in the bush. Adapt and improvise. It had to be an ice cream instead.
We pass an area where a sign warns us that cassowaries often pass here. In true Aussie spirit, the sign had been supplemented with another sign. The message is both incredibly relevant and tragic, but with a twinkle in the eye at the same time. The cassowary's biggest enemy is cars. For these magnificent birds to survive, we humans need to stop running over them. A pickup truck driving here in the pitch black night in the rain in the rainforest, however, does not have too easy to see a big black bird in time.
The 12 hour excursion was coming to an end and we were all stuffed with facts, stories and experiences. I don't usually enjoy going on organized tours, but Billy Tea Safaris made the day an experience to remember. No forced shopping, but only relevant and interesting stops. We have been back in the Daintree with a rental car ourselves after this excursion, but we have not yet ventured to drive the Bloomsfield Track with our own car. Maybe put it on the list of life goals, so I can someday feel as cool as a "real" outback Aussie.
Do you want to read more about Australia and Queensland? Look into my Australia page!
Have you been here? What did you think of the destination?
Travel blogger, gastronaut, photographer and family adventurer with over 55 countries in his luggage. Eva loves trips that include beautiful nature, hiking boots and well-cooked food. On the travel blog Rucksack she takes you to all corners of the world with the help of her inspiring pictures and texts.