A Guide to Visiting Australia’s Daintree Rainforest
Drawing crowds of up to 400,000 each year, Daintree Rainforest is quickly becoming one of Australia’s key natural sights. With hikes and tours, retreats and conservation all in arm’s reach, wayward wanderers come from near and far to relish in the sublime beauty of Daintree Rainforest – the oldest continuously surviving tropical rainforest in the world.
Located in Cape Tribulation on the North East Coast of Queensland, Australia is Daintree Rainforest, an approximately 1,200 square kilometre tropical rainforest which holds a UNESCO World Heritage status. In fact, this is the only place in the world where two UNESCO sites exist side-by-side – the other being the Great Barrier Reef.
Over 125 million years old, Daintree Rainforest boasts an extraordinarily complex ecosystem. The national park is home to a plethora of primitive plant species including the incredibly rare “Idiot Fruit” (Idiospermum Austrialense) – an ancient flowering plant that flourished when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. It is also home to a wealth of exotic birds (40% of Australia’s bird species, to be exact), native wildlife and over 1,200 types of insects.
Things to do
Hugging the coastline, Daintree Rainforest provides the luxury of both forest and sand side-by-side. Take a splash at one of the many beaches, creeks or waterholes. Cape Tribulation beaches are perfect for spotting sea life such as dolphins, reef sharks and giant turtles with crystal waters and white sand aplenty.
Dubuji-Myall Beach at Cape Tribulation, Daintree Rainforest | © Brian/Flickr https://flic.kr/p/791Tbd
Treks and trails are in abundance in this tropical rainforest. From beach walks to mountain climbs, every level of adventurer can be catered for.
A relaxing 20-minute stroll to Tranquility Falls allows visitors to enjoy the nature of Daintree Forest at leisure, ending at a stunning waterfall with swimming opportunities en route.
Try out the Dubuji Boardwalk – a one hour, 1.8 kilometre round-trip boardwalk trail through mangroves and lush forest – for a great all-round park experience.
White-lipped Tree Frog, Dubuji Boardwalk, Daintree Rainforest | © Bernard DUPONT/Flickr https://flic.kr/p/fSg2kL
The Mount Sorrow Ridge Walk (six hour round trip) is not for the faint of heart. Only highly experienced hiker’s need pursue this extremely challenging track. Promising spectacular views from the top, this is certainly a must-do for those in the know.
There are endless activities to pursue in Daintree Rainforest ranging from wilderness cruises, nature tours, kayaking and biking to zip-lining the tree top canopy, snorkelling, diving and more.
A wealth of tours are on offer in Daintree Rainforest, from two-hour relaxed forest trails to more challenging encounters, visitors will struggle to be anything but amused.
Top tours include a conservation tour hosted by environmental charity Earth Watch Institute; on this jungle mission (seven – 15 days duration) visitors will help discover and document the impact of climate change on Daintree Rainforest.
Spend some time in the treetops getting familiar with the forest’s exotic wildlife on this fun and adventure-filled day or overnight zipline tour. Perfect for all the family, the tour is jam-packed with activities and fun; it even includes both food and transfers.
Experience the inextricably interconnected relationship between Australia’s Kuku Yalanji indigenous people and Daintree Rainforest on this one-day cultural tour. Including lunch and hotel transfers, this experience offers insight into the aboriginal people in an educational and accessible way, with swimming and fishing opportunities, stunning scenery and an impressive local guide.
Although Daintree Rainforest is wildly untouched, getting to and from the tropical paradise is relatively easy. The nearest airport is situated 125 kilometres from the site in the city of Cairns (approximately two and a half hours drive time).
Both rental cars and tour buses are readily available from Cairns. Daintree Rainforest is also a major point of interest for road trippers who generally access the forest via the scenic Captain Cook Highway.
There is endless accommodation options to suit every sort of budget in Daintree Rainforest. From luxury treehouse resorts and eco lodges, to a wildlife bed and breakfast, backpacker hostels and even free accommodation for research volunteers.
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The Daintree Rainforest is a landscape with striking diversity. From the dense rainforest and mountain ranges to fast flowing streams, waterfalls and gorges. With such a rich array of flora and fauna set amongst stunning scenery, there is a rich and colourful world here waiting to be discovered.
The region referred to as ‘The Daintree Rainforest’ encompasses an area of approximately 1,200 square kilometres, from the Daintree River north to Cooktown and west to the Great Divide, representing the single largest block of tropical rainforest in Australia. North of the Daintree River, the coastline is also lined with tropical rainforest that grows right down to the sea’s edge.
The Daintree Rainforest was added to the world heritage list in 1988. The area protected under World Heritage listing covers an area of approximately 12,000 square kilometres and stretches from Townsville to Cooktown. 75 per cent of which is tropical rainforest, an area equivalent to about the size of Sydney. It is known as the Wet Tropics. This area that has been World Heritage Listed also has the highest number of plant and animal species in the world that are rare, or threatened with extinction.
The 9th December 2018 marked 25 years since the listing of the Wet Tropics World Heritage. Find out more in this short film Celebrating 30 Years of the listing of the Wet Tropics World Heritage. On October 5, 2021, The Daintree National Park was handed back to traditional owners.
The Daintree Rainforest is estimated to be 130 million years old which is tens of millions of years older than the Amazon Rainforest. This natural wonder is home to thousands of species of birds and other wildlife including 30% of Australia’s frog, reptile and marsupial species in Australia, 65% of the country’s bat and butterfly species as well as 18% of all bird species. 12,000 insect species can also be found right here in the Daintree Rainforest.
This tropical rainforest ecosystem is one of the most complex on earth. Its plant diversity and structural complexity is unrivalled on the Australian continent and represents the origins of our more familiar ‘Australian’ flora.
There are many natural and often unique features to be explored. The landscape is one of striking diversity including magnificent scenery, mountain ranges, fast flowing streams and waterfalls, deep gorges and dense rainforest.
From a total of 19 primitive flowering plant families on Earth, 12 families are represented in the Daintree region making the highest concentration of these plants worldwide. These ancient plant families ma well hold the secret to a number of unanswered questions regarding the origins of the flowering plants – plants on which the human race depends for food and medicines.
130 MILLION YEARS IN THE MAKING
There is a lot of fascinating history to be explored when it comes to the Daintree Rainforest. From the rainforest’s origins right up to the modern natural and scientific discoveries of today.
Many millions of years ago Australia was warm and humid and rainfall was plentiful. During this time, rainforest thrived in places such as the Uluru region. It is hard to believe this would be possible as anyone who has visited our red centre will tell you not much rain falls there now.
However, this is a good example of how old our continent is and just how much change has occurred. As Australia became more arid, there were fewer and fewer places rainforests were able to survive. In the Daintree region however, the climate and topography were ideal, so the area became a last remaining refuge for rainforest.
Daintree Rainforest: The Complete Guide
Molly McLaughlin is an Australian travel and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Lonely Planet, Fodor’s Travel, Fashionista, and Refinery29.
Coral_Brunner / Getty Images
Just north of Cairns in Far North Queensland, the Daintree Rainforest is the most well-known part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. A lush wonderland that served as the inspiration for James Cameron’s Avatar, the Daintree sprawls over 750 square miles.
Although it might not get as much attention as the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest should be on your bucket list. Read on for our complete guide to visiting the ancient natural wonder that is the Daintree Rainforest.
The Daintree Rainforest is estimated to have existed for around 180 million years, even longer than the Amazon. There are 18 Rainforest Aboriginal groups with connections to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. The Traditional Owners of the Daintree are the Eastern Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal people. British colonizers arrived in the area in the 1800s, but the rainforest remained relatively unknown to tourists until the 1950s.
In 1970, the discovery of the Idiospermum australiense, also known as ribbonwood, catapulted the Daintree onto the international stage. Scientists realized the fruit was a rare and ancient tree, with links to the Earth’s first flowering plants, and this helped highlight the Daintree’s unique flora and fauna.
In fact, of the 19 primitive flowering plant families in existence, 12 can be found in the Daintree. The Daintree Rainforest was added to the world heritage list in 1988 and has since become a very popular destination in the Aussie tropics.
Plants and Wildlife
The Daintree is known for its incredible biodiversity. There are around 920 different types of trees, from towering red tulip oaks and mahoganies to enormous king ferns and pandanus trees.
The most iconic rainforest animal is the cassowary, a large flightless bird which Guinness World Records has called the world’s most dangerous bird. They can run up to 30 mph and have a strong legs with large claws. In 2019, a man in Florida was killed by a cassowary, but attacks in the Daintree are rare. (Read the Queensland Government’s advice on how to stay cass-o-wary before your trip.)
The Daintree is also home to hundreds of species of not-so-deadly birds, including kingfishers and owls, as well as an incredible variety of butterflies. The rainforest’s cutest resident is the Bennett’s tree kangaroo, a nocturnal marsupial that has adapted to life in the canopy.
You may also spot the white-lipped tree frog, which can grow to over five inches long and is the largest tree frog in the world. The Daintree River supports around 60 species of freshwater fish, but visitors should also watch out for tics, leeches, snakes and crocodiles around the waterways.
Best Time to Visit
The Daintree has two distinct seasons: wet and dry. The dry season from April to November is the best time to visit, especially if you can avoid the crowds by visiting outside of the July and August school vacation period. Prices and crowd levels may be higher during the dry season, but you will have much more flexibility in terms of activities and travel plans. Lower humidity and cooler temperatures make for a pleasant climate overall.
Some travelers enjoy visiting the rainforest during the wet season (December to March), when the rivers and waterfalls are flowing freely and the trees and ferns are at their brightest. There are also some great deals available on tours and lodging. However, at this time you do run the risk of frequent downpours and even road closures due to flooding. The climate is hot and humid and some activities and accommodation providers shut down during the off-season.
What to Do
There are two main sections of the Daintree, Mossman Gorge and Cape Tribulation, which offer different attractions. Both can be visited in one day, but you’ll need at least two to see all the highlights. From rock formations to waterfalls and beaches, the Daintree has many things to see and do amidst the dense rainforest.
- Hike at Mossman Gorge: There are four marked trails around the gorge, ranging up to 1.5 miles.
- Take a river cruise: Encounter crocodiles from a safe distance and marvel at the many birds and tree snakes in the mangroves. Most boat tours leave from Lower Daintree, not far from the river crossing. Booking ahead is recommended, especially for early morning tours.
- Explore Cape Tribulation on horseback: A horseback tour will allow you to see the best of the rainforest and the beach in a couple of hours, as a guide explains the unique flora and fauna of the region.
Before heading out into the wilderness, stop by the Daintree Discovery Centre and the Mossman Gorge Centre to check the conditions or book a guided walk and river cruise. A shuttle bus runs every 15 minutes to transport visitors the last mile from the Mossman Gorge Centre to the trailhead and tickets cost AU$11.80 for unlimited rides. If you’re traveling on a budget you can explore the National Park unguided, but make sure to download a map beforehand and advise staff of your plans.
Where to Stay
If you have time, an overnight stay in Mossman or Cape Tribulation will allow you to explore the Daintree’s many facets. Silky Oaks Lodge is a luxury retreat in Mossman, while Thornton Beach Bungalows are a more budget friendly option.
Cape Trib Beach House is a popular choice for young people and families, but adventurous souls should book a spot at Noah Beach in Daintree National Park. If you do choose to camp, make sure to stay away from the water as crocodiles are known to live in the area.
Public transport options are limited in Far North Queensland, so you will likely need to rent a car or take a tour to see all the amazing sights of the Daintree.
It takes just over an hour to drive from Cairns to Mossman Gorge and another half an hour to reach the Daintree River crossing. From there, you can take the ferry across and continue your journey for another 45 minutes to Cape Tribulation. Exercise caution and check for flooding if you are visiting during the wet season and intend to drive yourself.
Tours leaving from Port Douglas, a resort town north of Cairns, are often a little more affordable than those from Cairns. Daintree Tours and Tony’s Tropical Tours are two great options. To learn more about the Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal culture, try Adventure North Australia or Walkabout Cultural Adventures.