Stand still and quiet in Queensland's ancient Daintree Rainforest and the essence of millennia past is all around you, glistening on leaves, shimmering through the canopy and echoing in melodic birdsong. If you ever wanted to come to a place and feel insignificant, this is it. Lose yourself among the trees on a river cruise as you explore the national park and the unique animals within.
Fifty thousand years is recent history up here and the Kuku Yalanji people, traditional custodians of this lush part of Far North Queensland, have been living in harmony with the environment for only a fraction of its 180-million-plus years.
A survivor of eras of climatic change, the Daintree Rainforest is one of the most naturally beautiful and diverse places on the planet. Its 1200 square kilometres are habitat to the largest range of flora and fauna found anywhere and it’s believed to be the oldest forest in the world.
Throughout its topography of gorges, rivers, waterfalls, mountains and forestfringed beaches is an intricate network of Aboriginal walking tracks, connecting places of cultural importance and practical use; many of these form the scenic trails used by visitors today. The southern border of the Daintree, a World Heritage site, lies near the small sugar-mill town of Mossman. Mossman Gorge (pictured top) is considered the gateway, where you can take a Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk among giant mahogany trees and past waterfalls on Kuku Yalanji land, hosted by local guides.
A 35-kilometre drive north-east is the laid-back township of Daintree Village. Board a Daintree River cruise and drift through densely populated mangroves that are home to huge saltwater crocodiles and unique birds, mammals and butterflies.
To cross the river and drive into Cape Tribulation, the northern part of Daintree National Park, take the cable ferry that links up with the only sealed road, Bloomfield Track. Here, the rainforest meets the reef; tree kangaroos, cassowaries, forest dragons and kingfishers move among the trees, while turtles, dolphins and sharks swim the brilliant-blue waters of the Coral Sea.
The Daintree’s wonders can’t be seen from a car so pull into a parking area and tackle one or more of the 25 walking trails. The Dubuji Boardwalk in Cape Tribulation (pictured above) takes you on an adventure among swampy mangroves and tropical plants, adjacent to Myall Beach, while the trail to Emmagen Creek meanders through the rainforest to a secluded freshwater swimming hole. You’ll likely find Cow Bay Beach deserted or, if you’re up for the challenge, the Mount Sorrow ridge trail is a six-hour hike on steep terrain that rewards you with views over Snapper Island to the Great Barrier Reef.
As they say around here, stick to the paths, obey the crocodile signs and allow time to explore at nature’s pace.