Daintree National Park
In the Daintree with Dain...
how the puns abound.
There's some contention over what claims the illustrious title of world's oldest rainforest. Some think it's the Amazon, and most people in Borneo tout Gunung Mulu national park as the oldest. In actuality, the honor goes to Daintree rainforest in Queensland, Australia. I'd like to tell you that's why I planned a visit, but let's face it: I wanted to see my uniquely-named boyfriend's happenstance namesake.
There's little public transit options around Cairns and, to be honest, we were tired of renting cars and driving on the left side of the road so we booked a tour. The tour included a little bit of everything and surprisingly kept a lot of the cheesy stuff to a minimum. Right at 7:30 in the morning, a tour bus ripped down our quiet street outside the hostel and skidded to a halt in the middle of the road in front of us. A hurried kiwi we'd later come to know as Stu ushered us into the bus and we were on our way. Stu's a friendly guy with a lot of great stories to share but he's also all over the place. In what seemed like an unending and perfectly timed stream of consciousness Stu rattled off facts about that hawk nest on top of a telephone pole, the rows and rows of sugarcane driving the main agricultural business in the region, and of course the crocodile attacks.
Growing up in Florida, my memories of alligators are centered around how casual interactions with them usually are. They'd sit lazily in the middle of the sidewalk and I'd just maneuver my bike around them, coming within a foot of them at times. Listening to Stu's stories, I quickly realized I could not be so cavalier with the saltwater crocodiles teeming in the oceans and rivers around the Daintree. We heard about crocs stalking children, taking two women into the water at once, and even eating bull sharks and giant pythons. These massive, conniving creatures, nor fate, are not to be tempted here.
Our first stop was Mossaman Gorge, a beautiful hiking area near a river in the southern part of the park. Dain and I hiked around a little bit through the surprisingly skinny trees and finished with a dip in the river- I just dipped my toes, but Dain plunged completely into that icy water.
We voyaged deeper into the Daintree via river cruise to see the mangrove forests up close and to spot some wildlife. On the checklist today: crocs, and big ones. We went out onto the river around noon low tide, which meant that the crocs were likely going to be resting on the riverbank. We were able to see an 8-foot long male, a female hiding in the bushes, and a one year old baby camouflaging on a fallen tree branch. Our captain did not skimp on the wild croc stories, one of which involved a hungry male destroying a boat in order to eat a fisherman. He assured us that our boat was much sturdier than his. During our time on the water, we also saw a huge python napping in a tree and some rare birds.
A very popular spot inside Daintree National Park is Cape Tribulation, a stunningly large white sand beach that's cradled by a steep cliff side. As you take in the warm sun, the gentle breeze, and feel the sand between your toes, you think that this is pretty much perfect. There's just one unsettling thing missing: the people. It's a gorgeous beach and there's not a soul in sight sunbathing or swimming. That's due to two simple facts: the deadly stinging blue box jellyfish and the deadly stealthy saltwater crocs teeming just underneath the surf. In fact, you have to stay at least 5 meters away from the water at all times to minimize risk of a crocodile stalking you as you walk along the beach. Not exactly a relaxing day at the beach, but it certainly adds an element of risk!
After all I've just told you about how everything in the Daintree just might kill you, you shouldn't be surprised when I tell you about our hike. Our guide Stu took us through a boardwalk trail, and I instantly groaned. I wanted to do some real hiking, not be taken through some antiseptic little path! But as soon as Stu started identifying some of the plants around us, I was glad to be within the safe embrace of the wooden path. Leaves and vines I wouldn't have thought twice about brushing up against were filled with painful poisons that would sting so bad it causes a second-degree burn, and other fronds and dangling appendages were riddled with hidden razors that could give you a good slash. The tree in the middle below is hollow because a lecherous fig tree surrounded the original tree, cut off its connection to the sun and its own nutrients, and suffocated him, taking over the original tree's root system. The lesson here is that the crocs are the least of your worries in the rainforest- at least they're easy to spot!
On the way back to Cairns, something magical happened. All day long, we'd heard about the Cassuary, an extremely rare bird indigenous to the Daintree rainforest. There are less than 900 of them left in their original environment due to very low reproduction rates (a female Cassuary may come across a male once every 5 years) and the fact that cars seem to hit them pretty frequently. We knew the chances of seeing one were low and didn't exactly get our hopes up, but as we're zooming down the only forest road suddenly Stu yells, "I've got one!" Everyone in the bus shoots up out of their seat and follows Stu's gaze to the right where we see a large blue spot disappear into the brush. The female Cassurary is a large bird about six or seven feet tall and similar to the emu or ostrich. She's black with a royal blue head and a big beak and said to be pretty aggressive when you encounter her face-to-face. She was an amazing sight to behold considering the huge size of the forest and her rarity.
Just as the sun was beginning to give its initial sighs of sleepiness, we hit Port Douglas, a wealthy resort town about an hour north of Cairns. It's a manicured and very manufactured place where one comes to relax. The vibe is much older than backpacker-friendly Cairns but I'm glad I got to visit, if only for the stunning views of the coast. Stu recklessly drove the tour bus up a steep residential hill where we legitimately almost backslid into the cars behind us, all the while yelling, "c'mon bus! C'mon bus! I swear I've only backslid once!"
So, I'm happy to report that I made it out of the Daintree Rainforest alive. All joking aside, it's a lovely place to visit and spend your time... if you dare.