“I’ve never found time spent amongst nature to be a waste of time” – Unknown
The Daintree National Park, QLD, Australia
Road trips really are the best way to see anything in Australia outside of the cities. With an endless supply of National Parks on offer, there will always be something exciting to enjoy, a new route to try or a hidden gem to discover. Whether you’re a Cairns visitor or resident, there is one particular National Park that is simply unmissable from this east coast city; the world heritage listed Daintree National Park.
This diverse rainforest used to cover all of Australia and despite now covering a small percentage of land, it is home to species of wildlife not found anywhere else on earth. Don’t miss seeing where the rainforest meets the reef and marvelling at the residents of this strange place.
How far is the Daintree Rainforest from Cairns?
The Daintree National Park is located in North Queensland on Australia’s east coast and makes an excellent road trip from Cairns or a great last stop on an east coast road trip from the South. About a 2 and a half hour drive northwest of Cairns, The Daintree offers a choice of campgrounds, the opportunity to spot rare wildlife and a truly unique ecosystem. The roads are well maintained and accessible by 2WD vehicle up to Cape Tribulation.
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Read on to find information on where to camp, what there is to see and do in the Daintree and some fun facts about this pre-historic area.
Daintree Rainforest Camping
If you want to be based in the best camping locations for the activities on offer in the Daintree National Park, we encourage you to not base yourself in one place on this road trip from Cairns. Instead, spend a night within Cape Tribulation, and then a night south of the Daintree River as well.
Cape Tribulation Camping
The cheapest campsite in Cape Tribulation is PK’s Jungle Village. This location is very popular for this reason despite actually being a poorly managed site. PK’s Jungle Village is walking distance to the beach and home to a much needed outdoor swimming pool, something you will be super grateful for in Tropical North Queensland’s humidity. Sadly though, for the first and only time on our whole Australia road trip, we found this campsite extremely dirty. When we visited, the pool was not clean, the reception was understaffed and the showers and toilets looked like they hadn’t been even rinsed out, let alone cleaned, for weeks. Unlike most campsites along the east coast, this property also had a no BYO alcohol policy, meaning that all alcohol must be purchased from the bar on site.
Although we wouldn’t recommend PK’s Jungle Village as one of Australia’s great campsites, it is however in an ideal location to explore Cape Tribulation from, the most cost effective camping option currently and suitably located next-door to one of our recommended activities, Jungle Surfing.
For Cape Tribulation camping in early January, we paid 25 AUD for an unpowered site for 1 night for 2 adults at PK’s Jungle Village. If you don’t fancy camping, there are also a variety of Twin, Double, Dorm and Family rooms available at PK’s Jungle Village.
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Daintree River Camping
After a night in Cape Tribulation, head back across the Daintree river then westward for a stay at Daintree Riverview Caravan Park, an area better located for activities such as a Daintree River cruise or a visit to the local aboriginal centre. We were hosted by a friendly couple who run a very clean and welcoming campsite near the river’s edge. This location is ideal for a late afternoon river cruise looking for crocodiles because it avoids the need to drive too far afterwards during dusk hours. When driving in Australia’s National Parks, always try to avoid driving in the hours of darkness to minimise the risk of killing local wildlife.
For Daintree River camping in early January, we paid 24 AUD for an unpowered site for 1 night for 2 adults at Daintree Riverview Caravan Park. If you don’t fancy camping, there are also Lodges available at Daintree Riverview Caravan Park.
The Daintree Rainforest Things To Do
There are a number of fun activities to suit all types of travellers within the Daintree National Park. Whether you fancy a thrilling zip-line above the canopy of trees, wildlife spotting on the winding roads or a complete immersion in local Aboriginal culture, please drive carefully through this ancient rainforest and keep your eyes peeled at all times for the giant cassowary bird.
It would be rude to visit this area without heading to the place where the rainforest actually meets the reef, Cape Tribulation, named so by Captain Cook back in 1770. This is a vivid landscape of lush green plants and crystal blue water. The rainforest here actually comes right down to the beach to meet the sea, where the Great Barrier Reef hugs the coastline. We loved driving through this unique blend of habitats and advise you stop multiple times during your drive to take photos, to enjoy a drink or to tuck into a picnic lunch. For a lunch stop, we pulled into Thornton Beach to admire the views and listen to the sounds of the ocean.
If you enjoy an adrenalin rush and don’t mind heights, choose Jungle Surfing, an incredible tree top experience on the Daintree Rainforest zipline, where your guides will attend to all your safety ropes whilst also sharing local knowledge about the rainforest’s age and its inhabitants. From birds to spiders, butterflies to rare plants, you’ll be blown away by the age of the forest and the multitude of discoveries, medicinal and otherwise, still being made today.
Jungle Surfing costs 105 AUD per adult and is well worth the money. Ulysses butterflies flutter in between you as you fly from post to post high in the trees, their brilliant blue wings unmissable. You will definitely see the odd spider here so this is a great option for tackling any Australia spider fears. We are not the keenest, but we did it!
Adrenalin highlights for this fun activity include the last but one zip, where you are encouraged to complete the course upside down and the final zip, where you are encouraged to race a partner to the finish line.
If you would love to encounter crocodiles whilst in Australia, there is no better way to do so than with a Daintree River crocodile cruise. We urge you to avoid the Zoos and Wildlife parks that keep crocodiles captive for your viewing pleasure and instead get out in their habitat to see if you can spot them.
We booked Bruce Belcher’s Daintree River Cruise, a family-run business who were simply fantastic from the moment we called. They advised us of the best low tide viewing slots in order to give us the best chance of seeing wild crocodiles. We were welcomed aboard our cruise with a selection of beverages and snacks, a real bargain at just 27 AUD per adult. Our boat cruised the Daintree River for around an hour where we spotted not one, but two, fully grown crocodiles, as well as one small baby. As the sun lowers in the sky on your low tide cruise, relax into a different environment to the coastal waters; an inland river bank home to pre-historic predators and learn all about their breeding, feeding and territory habits.
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Mossman Gorge Dreamtime Walk
Our Daintree Rainforest road trip highlight has to be a visit to the Mossman Gorge Centre in the south of the Daintree National Park. This centre is run purely by local aboriginal people who are direct descendants of the aboriginal clans who have always lived in this place. For more years than can be counted, the Kuku Yalanji people looked after this rainforest, utilised its plants and medicines and knew all the tricks of how to survive here. The visitor centre is locally owned and home to a food and drink cafe, information about the area, regular buses to Mossman Gorge itself and an incredible gift shop, home to a multitude of original aboriginal art work.
For a real Mossman Gorge experience, book a Dreamtime Walk and learn firsthand about aboriginal interaction with the rainforest and how tribes survived here for so long independent of the modernising world. Watch how ochre paint is made, learn about natural soaps, treatments and remedies and get swept away in aboriginal dreaming. We found this to be one of the most valuable things we enjoyed in Australia. Our guide, Skip, was engaging and humble, honest and inspiring.
After your walk, you can either stop off for a swim at Mossman Gorge or head back to the centre to pick out something memorable from the gift shop. From t-shirts to notebooks, canvases or real life story books capturing local history, this place is an unforgettable cultural experience and a fantastic example of conscious tourism. The work being done at Mossman Gorge helps to sustain the natural beauty and heritage of the area whilst also encouraging local employment and empowerment.
Daintree Rainforest Facts
- It is argued that the greater Daintree Rainforest has existed for more than 110 million years, making it the oldest known rainforest in the world
- The Mossman Gorge Centre is shaped like something found naturally in the local area – can you work out what it is on your visit?
- Some tree species previously thought to be extinct have been recently found in the Daintree Rainforest
- The Daintree is home to the endangered cassowary, a flightless, large bird that can be up to 1.8 metres tall
- The crocodiles found in the Daintree have existed for 200 million years making them the oldest surviving reptile on earth – they have outlived the dinosaurs by 65 million years!
- The Kuku Yalanji people are the original residents of the Daintree Rainforest
- Salt water crocodiles like the ones found in the Daintree are the largest crocodile – they can reach up to 1000kg in weight and 6 metres in length
- There are around 3000 species of plant in the Daintree Rainforest
- Crocodiles have the strongest jaw of any animal on earth
- The Ulysses butterfly is endemic to the Daintree Rainforest meaning it is found nowhere else on earth
- Crocodiles can regulate their heart beat to just 2-3 beats a minute allowing them to stay underwater for up to an hour
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The Daintree Rainforest – Know Before You Go
Bear in mind that everything in the Daintree National Park is slightly elevated in cost, from drinks to activities, due to the logistics of getting both people and produce to this location.
Many businesses within Cape Tribulation shared stories with us of the work they are doing to offset their negative affects on the rainforest as much as possible. During your visit, please bear this in mind. Remove your litter, drive with endangered wildlife in mind and be respectful of local habitats and species.
Please remember, it is very important not to swim or go near the water’s edge in the Daintree Rainforest, home to many estuarine crocodiles.
Crocodile Cruises in Queensland v Northern Territory
Queensland law forbids the use of bait hung over the side of a boat to lure crocodiles out of the water. In the Northern Territory of Australia, it is currently still legal to hang large chunks of raw meat off the side of boats in order to get a jumping crocodile for tourists keen to see these creatures more clearly. This form of entertainment has led to many accidents involving fisherman in crocodile habitats. We thoroughly recommend you avoid a crocodile cruise that hangs bait out for its local crocodiles. Pick a Queensland crocodile cruise like Bruce Belcher’s where wild crocodiles are not enticed in this way.
Accessing the Daintree National Park and Beyond
To reach Cape Tribulation within the Daintree Rainforest, you will need to cross the Daintree River, where an old fashioned cable ferry service runs regularly and costs 24 AUD return.
Whilst in the Daintree National Park, especially as far north as Cape Tribulation, you may find there is no phone signal. We recommend you plan your routes and overnight stays before you set off, especially during the holiday season.
If you intend to drive further north than Cape Tribulation to Cooktown or beyond, you will need to be in a 4WD vehicle. Please bear in mind that for this reason, once you reach Cape Tribulation in a 2WD vehicle, you will need to turn back the way you came in order to exist the Daintree National Park.
It is possible to reach Cooktown in a 2WD vehicle, however, you will have to drive around the Daintree National Park heading inland on sealed roads. Cooktown is currently the most northerly point accessible on the east coast for travellers in 2WD vehicles. If you plan to visit Cape York, the most northerly point in Australia, consider hiring a 4WD vehicle or if you are inexperienced on such roads, opt for a 4WD Group Tour.
A Daintree Rainforest Road Trip
The Daintree National Park is a must see for anyone who loves the outdoors, learning about history and wants a real connection with Australia’s wildlife and aboriginal culture. We highly recommend a 2 night road trip from popular Cairns. We recommend staying at least this amount of time, or longer if you have it, as there are so many excursions and habitats to enjoy. If you have limited time or don’t feel confident driving, take a Daintree Rainforest Tour. Fly through the trees with the Ulysses butterfly, cruise the river with a 450kg crocodile floating nearby and be spellbound by Aboriginal dreaming at Mossman Gorge.
Thank you so much to our wonderful hosts, in particular, Griffith Belcher, son of Bruce Belcher, and Skip our fantastic walking guide from the Mossman Gorge Centre. Please be sure to only take memories with you from the Daintree National Park to preserve this natural wonder and its many inhabitants.
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