Ten million years older than the Amazon, Daintree is the most ancient rainforest in the world. And if being 180 million years old wasn’t awesome enough, it grows along some of Australia’s finest beaches. Rainforest plus reef? Count us in! Now the question was how to to get there from Cairns. Bus, tour, rental car, or find some adventurous friends?
Our Road Trip Crew
Meet Cam and Marije, two Dutch students wrapping up their semester in Australia, looking to take one last road trip before they sold their 1994 Toyota Camry. This is the beauty of backpacking…we were randomly paired with them in a hostel, became friends overnight, and were on a epic journey together the next day.
First Stop: Port Douglas
Our plan was to drive from Cairns to Cape Tribulation, the heart of the Daintree Rainforest, and stretch this 140-kilometer drive into a three-day trip, stopping for hikes, swims, and pit stops wherever we pleased. First up, the cute beach town of Port Douglas!
The beaches on the way to Cape Trib were lovely and surprisingly quiet. We had miles of coast to ourselves (maybe due to the deadly jellyfish warnings) and strolled the white sand, climbed palm tree-covered mountains, ate fallen coconuts, and caught some waves with an abandoned skim-board.
Car Camping & Haircuts
Thankfully Marije and Cam were equipped with a tent, stove, and everything we needed to car camp. This was our home, faithful steed, and Mike’s barbershop for the day in Cape Tribulation.
Right near Myall Beach there’s a fantastic 45-minute walk along the Dubjui Boardwalk. These planks take you through three different habitats: rainforest, freshwater swamp, and mangroves. Check that magical canopy of fan palms!
You usually see mangroves from a boat, just getting a glimpse at their salty leaves and web of roots. At the end of the Dubjui Boardwalk, was a lovely mangrove beach…just watch for crabs and don’t trip!
An Unbelievably Diverse Ecosystem
It’s hard to wrap your head around one of the most complex tropical rainforest ecosystems, especially when some its greatest accolades are in the tiny things like bugs (12,000 species live in Daintree) or in endangered species like the Cassowary—a rarely seen but deadly flightless bird. While the forest didn’t seem overtly exotic, being in the presence of an environment that has hardly changed since the days of the Gondwanaland supercontinent is definitely humbling.
Swimming hole behind Mason’s Store
We got a tip from a local about a great swimming hole. Box jellyfish and crocodile-free, this spot on the river had a rope swing that entertained us for hours.
A Slightly Haunted Hotel
Darkness was fast approaching so we turned to the trusty old (aka. outdated) guidebook for lodging options. Koala Beach Resort was the only choice in Cape Kimberley but it sounded great so we followed a long road through the forest to this camp…which was apparently abandoned. Hmmm. We parked in front of a chained-off entrance, not quite sure what to do. Then a scrawny guy appeared through the trees. “Hey mates, we aren’t open…been closed goin on a few years now.” We started chatting about other nearby sleeping options but he really couldn’t come up with anywhere else so he said, “Okay, you can stay here…if you want.” At first we felt super grateful but as we walked through what looked like Camp Apocalypse, being led by Backwoods Bobby to a dilapidated cabin, we felt we were staring in a cliché horror film. The groundskeeper was a little nutty, but nice enough to help us start a fire and not kill us. We chatted until we couldn’t stay up any longer and slept in a tight formation for protection from zombie boy scouts.
This was Koala Beach Resort by day. It looked like it was glorious in in its heyday, with cabanas, swimming pools, game rooms, and a great beach, but supposedly they had to close due to a cranky neighbor.
At the southern end of Daintree National Park is Mossman Gorge, a beautiful swath of forest and home to the aboriginal Kuku Yalanji people. We hiked along the river with its massive boulders and lush surrounds, and contemplated swimming in the fast waters but were smart enough to leave it to the locals.
Awesome road trip accomplished! I suppose it was a leap of faith hopping in a ’94 Camry with two strangers and motoring into the far reaches of Queensland…but like most things in travel, the unexpected is the half the fun.