Take a road trip with your parents, a river crossing over crocodile-infested waters, meandering switchbacks over ocean cliffs and through dense rainforest, and add in a deadly bird for good measure- this is the stuff family vacations are made of- at least in the Daintree.
With my parents visiting from the states, I was determined to show them the best of Australia. As a trip to Queensland to visit the Great Barrier Reef was a given, we spent a few days up in beautiful Port Douglas, only a short drive from the entrance to the Daintree National Park and Cape Tribulation. The entry to the World Heritage site is by ferry- look for crocs sunning themselves on the banks. This part of the world has the unique distinction of being the only place where two World Heritage sites meet- the ancient Daintree Rainforest collides with the Great Barrier Reef.
The Daintree is a place like no other, and I mean that both in terms of awe-inspiring natural beauty, and in terms of the number of creatures who closely resemble dinosaurs.
The Daintree happens to be one of the only places on earth where one can see a cassowary, a bird which looks like it has just stepped out of the Jurassic era, and is none too happy about it. Increases in tourism to the Daintree haven’t always been favourable to the cassowary, as they’re frequently hit by cars and tour buses. As they live in dense rainforest, they often use well-worn paths through the forest to navigate, such as dry creek beds, and return to the same routes time after time. Unfortunately, these paths also often cross the roads, hence the danger.
This large, flightless bird is about the size of an emu, but their horny head crest, wrinkled face and strong clawed legs give them a very Jurassic Park-esqe look. Between these guys and the equally primordial looking saltwater crocodiles, who also call the Daintree home, how anyone can doubt the existence of evolution is beyond me.
Having visited a wildlife park outside Sydney a while back, which also has a few cassowaries, I’d heard that these guys could be pretty dangerous. A keeper was telling us how cassowaries could be quite aggressive, and have seriously injured other keepers with their powerhouse kicks and sharp claws. It’s certainly no doubt that these animals could do a lot of harm if they were so inclined- there’s enough to worry about in Australia, from sunburns to spiders to sharks, without having to add to the list getting kicked to death by a bird. This was exactly what was on the back of my mind when we set out on our Daintree adventure.
The drive through the rainforest up to Cape Tribulation (upon where the paved road abruptly ends- you’ll need a 4WD to go any further) has been modified for the influx of tourists visiting the region with a number of boardwalks and walking trails throughout the region, allowing visitors to explore the fauna and flora of the region without hacking through the terrain. Despite some slight trepidation about having a run-in with one, we didn’t manage to see any cassowaries throughout the day, although we did hear a juvenile running off into the woods as we approached, after having been spotted by some tourists. As most of the boardwalks through the forest are only slightly raised off the ground, and not protected by any sort of fence or guardrail, the chance of man v cassowary showdown was on the table, which left us feeling a bit exposed, to say the least.
In short, the Daintree has got to be one of the world’s most beautiful day trips- stunning views, the pristine clear waters of Cape Tribulation beach, and the diversity of flora and fauna make this a hard one to top. Everything is easily marked and free tourist driving maps are plentiful- the roads, up until Cape Tribulation, are paved and marked, so there’s no need to join in on an expensive day tour- if you have your own car, it’s easy to do the trip yourself. There’s not a lot of options for food, so you may want to bring along a picnic. That being said, the Daintree Ice Cream Factory is well worth a stop on the way home for its homemade ice creams made from native Australian ingredients – but don’t ask for a particular flavour- you get what you’re given.