“The Daintree” is semi-mythical to most Australians, signifying tropical wilderness, rainforest, relentless heat and humidity, crocodiles, torrential rain, swamps, leeches and feral hippies.
In reality, the Daintree is a river but “The Daintree” refers to a stretch of coast between the ferry and Cape Tribulation, a distance of some 35 km, somewhere north of Cairns. It’s a narrow strip of scattered settlements between the mountains and the sea, and it is an essential destination for overseas and southern visitors looking for the real Wet Tropics experience.
There is only the one main road through it – sealed, but narrow and winding. Just past Cape Trib that road becomes a 4WD track to Bloomfield and Wujal Wujal another 35 km north, and then a somewhat better road to Cooktown.
This road was at the heart of one of Australia’s significant early environmental protests, along with Terania Creek and the Franklin Dam. There’s a whole book about it but, briefly, better access would have brought more people and settlement to destroy a unique, irreplaceable, ecosystem. The current compromise seems pretty good: low-density settlement serving low-impact tourism, with most of the area under World Heritage and National Parks protection. However, conservationists are still struggling to buy back more private land and add it to the World Heritage Area.
There are plenty of places to stay and a lot of nature to explore so what follows is merely a somewhat random sample. It reads from south to north.
Mt Alexandra Lookout
Daintree Discovery Centre
The Discovery Centre is an eco-tourism park which claims, reasonably enough, that “the Daintree Rainforest is one of the most fascinating and diverse eco-systems on the Earth” and promises a full introduction to it, from forest floor up to a canopy observation tower. It’s well done and would be particularly good for people who don’t live in the tropics and therefore need some orientation to get the most out of the rest of their visit.
Jindalba is one of three National Parks boardwalks, and it’s the only one which goes more than a metre or two above sea level. It’s very close to the Discovery Centre so there’s little reason to see both and then (probably) not have time for something else.
One of the many beautiful beaches on the coast. The only camping ground in the National Park is at Noah Beach, further north. There are, of course, many private camping grounds in the region.
Cooper Creek crocodile cruise
The only operator (so far as I know) taking tourists up a mangrove creek in the Daintree, knows his Cooper Creek route and its intimidating residents really well. He stresses that he can’t guarantee a sighting, but the chances are good.
Maardja and Dubuji Boardwalks
Both of these run through paperbark and mangrove swamps down to the sea. Dubuji, the shorter of the two, is closer to Cape Trib and leads out on to Myall Beach.
Maardja has more to see and in fact there’s too much to take in on a single visit because the environment is such a densely interwoven network of plant communities. Not many animals, however: the walkways are protected by croc-proof railings but they seem redundant. Then again, we visited in the Dry season.
Myall Beach and Cape Trib lookout
A short walk up the beach from the Dubuji boardwalk, there is a constructed path over the neck of the Cape which connects, in turn, to a track up to the lookout on its northern side. Returning to the Dubuji car park is a little quicker via the road than back along the beach and is quite pleasant.
- Introduction and index to Cape York (Cooktown – Cape Trib – Chillagoe) blog posts late 2021.