The Daintree in North Queensland is an icon that you simply cannot miss. Daintree’s Cape Tribulation section is famed as the place where rainforest meets the reef, and two World Heritage areas collide—the Wet Tropics and Great Barrier Reef. How could it get more special than that?
Well, it’s also the oldest living rainforest on Earth—ancient, wild and seemingly untouched. And, you can see it in a day trip from Cairns, although, if you can spend longer, you won’t be disappointed!
Whether you’re travelling as a family, couple or with a group of friends, it’s the perfect place to disconnect from the modern world and immerse yourself in a tropical adventure like no other.
Here are our 9 ‘must dos’ when adventuring to the Daintree.
1. Mount Alexandra lookout
View from Mount Alexandra lookout | © Queensland Government
Cross the Daintree River via the car ferry and you’re on your way! First stop is Walu Wugirriga (Mount Alexandra lookout), about 8km north of the river. Pull into the car park and gaze over the stunning scene laid out below. The mighty Daintree River winds across the coastal lowlands and, fringed by mangrove forests, spills into the Coral Sea, where Snapper Island and Low Isles float in the distance. Capture your best picture postcard views here. Allow 10min.
Jindalba boardwalk | © Greg Watson
Get set for your first taste of lush Daintree rainforest! Jindalba (‘foot of the mountain’) is 8km along the road from the lookout. Take your time to wander along this 650m return low-level boardwalk winding through rainforest that cloaks the foothills of Mount Alexandra. Gaze up into the canopy and peer into the leaf litter on the forest floor. What will you see? A buff-breasted paradise kingfisher flitting through the forest or a lizard basking in the sun? Rest a while in the pleasantly-shady picnic area before continuing your adventure. Allow 45min.
3. Discovery Centre
Daintree Discovery Centre | © Tourism and Events Queensland
Nearby you’ll also find the Daintree Discovery Centre where you can explore elevated walkways through the forest canopy, enjoy guided tours or self-guided audio-tours, and view informative displays to learn more about the Daintree rainforest and how you can help in its conservation. You need at least an hour here to make the most of your visit.
Madja boardwalk | © Queensland Government
Experience the merging of rainforest and mangroves at Madja (meaning rainforest or jungle), 26km further along from Jindalba. Follow the 1.2km return boardwalk through lowland tropical rainforest and out along the creek edge into the mangrove forest. Soak up the sights, sounds and smells (!) of muddy mangrove habitat as you peer over the handrail to spot some of the fascinating critters that call mangroves home. Look for fish and possibly eels in the creek. If the tide is low, pause to listen to the scrabbling of crabs and other crustaceans on the muddy banks.
Look closely at the different mangroves—can you tell a buttress root from a prop root, or even a knee root? Can you spot any ‘cannonball’ seeds or flower-spiked seedlings? Find out how these features help mangroves survive and thrive in this muddy salty habitat, inundated by every high tide! This peaceful walk allows you to explore a lesser-known side of the Daintree. Allow 45min.
Madja boardwalk | Robert Ashdown © Queensland Government
Ah, Dubuji! Meaning ‘place of spirits’, you’ll fall in love with this peaceful haven! This is the perfect place to break your journey (7km along from Marrja). Relax on luxurious green grass, picnic under shady trees or in secluded shelters and listen to the sounds of the rainforest that surrounds you. When you’re ready, follow the 1.2km return boardwalk as it meanders through lush rainforest. Sense the change in habitats as you cross a spring-fed creek and wind through pandanus and mangrove wetlands. Hear the popping and squelching sounds of mud-dwelling critters such as crabs and mudskippers.
Myall Beach | Robert Ashdown © Queensland Government
Then let your feet lead you towards the beach—the shining golden sands and sparkling blue waters acting like a beacon on your senses. Myall Beach stretches to your north and south, fringed by swaying palm trees that seem to hold back the rainforest. Will you walk for hours or simply lie back in the shade? In winter, look for tell-tale spouts of migrating whales, and in summer watch pied imperial-pigeons flying to and from the rainforest. Allow 1 hour ... or maybe 3!
View from Kulki (Cape Tribulation) lookout | Mike Prociv © Queensland Government
Walk or drive a further 2km north and you’ve reached the fabled Cape Tribulation! Named as such by Lt. James Cook in 1770 because ‘here began all our troubles’ during his exploration of the east coast, when the Endeavour was trapped and damaged in the maze of reefs. Here the rainforest-clad rocky headland slopes steeply down to the beach so that ‘rainforest meets reef’.
Stroll out to a viewing platform overlooking the ocean. Keep an eye out for dugongs, turtles, dolphins and whales on the horizon. In the rainforest look for buff-breasted paradise kingfishers and listen to pied imperial-pigeons cooing and rustling about in the canopy.
Kulki headland | © Queensland Government
Then walk onto the beach a little way north and gaze back at the headland—the iconic place where two World Heritage areas meet. Muse on the fact that the scene before you cannot be very different from when Cook passed this way about 250 years ago!
7. Cultural Connection
Aboriginal cultural tour | © Tourism and Events Queensland
The Daintree is Yalanji country. Eastern Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal people have lived in this area for countless generations. The landscape and its features hold spiritual significance for the Yalanji—places such as Wundu (Thornton Peak), Wurrmbu (The Bluff) and Kulki (Cape Tribulation).
Traditionally, this rainforest country provided a rich and reliable source of food and materials for the Yalanji, with their detailed knowledge of weather patterns and seasonal cycles. While you’re in the area, it’s a great chance to learn more about Yalanji culture and connect with Yalanji people on cultural tours and experiences. Spear a crab, paint a boomerang, learn about toxic rainforest fruit, taste a green ant and dig into tea and damper. See the Daintree through the eyes of the true ‘locals’ and experience authentic Aboriginal culture.
Check out these cultural experiences:
- Mossman Gorge Tour and Dreamtime walk
- Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tours
- Janbal Aboriginal Gallery experience
8. Wildlife Spotting
Cassowary | © Tourism and Events Queensland
Wildlife is a major feature of the Daintree—its incredible biodiversity is one reason for its World Heritage status—so getting a few wildlife ‘ticks’ while you’re here should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Book a croc spotting cruise on the Daintree River, where you’ll glide on calm water deep into dense rainforest, and look for estuarine crocodiles basking on muddy banks or see their tails slicing sinuously through the water’s surface. You’ll also see snakes, frogs, crabs, fish and of course many birds.
If you’re a keen birdwatcher, you can book into specialist birding tours, safaris and cruises throughout the Daintree area to get your fill of new ‘ticks’. And, of course, the big ‘tick’ for many—the cassowary—can be spotted in the Daintree rainforest. You have to be lucky though—these endangered large flightless birds blend into their forest backdrops and can be hard to see. Remember to be cass-o-wary!
9. Stay overnight
Noah Beach camping area | Richard Koch © Queensland Government
By now you’re thinking this is too much for just one day! If you have the time, consider extending your Daintree adventure into several days. Your accommodation choices are many!
Pitch a tent beneath the forest canopy at Noah Beach, Cape Tribulation's only national park camping area (44km north of the ferry). Or, if sleeping under canvas isn’t your cup of tea, check out other options, ranging from backpackers and beach houses to upmarket lodges and tree houses. Find out more about visiting and staying in the Daintree.
You’re now ready to ‘do the Daintree’!
Strangler fig, Madja | © Queensland Government
With these 9 ‘must dos’ up your sleeve, you’re ready to hit the long and winding Daintree Road past the river and explore the most ancient, most beautiful, and most biodiverse rainforest in the world.