My last trip to Australia was full of surprises.
Queensland is really one of the most diverse and universally beautiful regions of the world I’ve ever been to; of course this is no surprise given how ginormous it is. Once my time on the Gold Coast was over, I decided to stick around for a week and head as far north as I could. I bought a cheap flight to Cairns, rented a car and hit the highway.
To be honest, it’s nice now renting cars in this part of the world since I conquered my fear of driving on the left. I suppose it helps being in a brand spanking new rental car as oppose to my tin box from 1997 here in New Zealand that barely works at the best of times. But that’s a story for another day.
Zooming up the coast, I barely glanced at glitzy Cairns (pronounced Cans for all my American comrades) before hitting the Daintree Rainforest.
That’s right, the rainforest. I’ll go out on a limb here and admit my sheer ignorance – until I started reading up on Queensland, I had no idea there even WAS a rainforest in Australia. Wasn’t it just sandy white beaches and the Outback? Some kangaroos and koalas and a couple of sharks?
Imagine my surprise when I learned not only was there a sprawling rainforest in the tropical far north of Queensland, but it is also the oldest rainforest in the world!
And since I was there in February, “the wet” was in full swing, i.e., the rainy season. Apart from pesky mosquitos and the fact that I had to take a bath in deet every morning, as it turns out I didn’t mind the rain. In fact, I rather enjoyed it.
For the most part, instead of pissing down in a deluge of summer thunderstorms like back home in Virginia, the rain in the Daintree was more of a beautiful trickle. Barely there, heavier at times when you could just duck inside, it was more just present, and not an annoyance.
And of course it made everything so shiny and green! We all know how attuned I am to colors when traveling, especially in Queensland, and the Daintree was no exception. It was magnificent in all of its shades of green. Lime green trees, dark green plants I’ve never seen before, emerald vines, furry kelly green leaves the size of my face and chartreuse murky green waters that
probably definitely concealed giant salties wanting to eat me whole.
The air was so heavy and thick with the plants it almost smelled green to me. There is nothing so wonderful as traveling to a colorful place, don’t you agree?
Cruise the Daintree River
As soon as I arrived in the Daintree, I was eager to hop on a boat ride down the famous Daintree River, hoping to catch a glimpse of its most famous inhabitant – the saltwater crocodile.
Salties, as known by the locals, are the biggest reptiles in the world, and they are not nice. There are signs plastered everywhere to not get in the water, or even close to the water’s edge or they might grab you. While there are plenty of dangerous animals in Australia, most of them will leave you alone. Salties are a different matter.
Crocodiles are really really smart considering how tiny their brains are, and they watch, observe and learn. I don’t know about you guys but I don’t want to be observed by a crocodile. So when it Queensland, obey the croc warning signs.
After arriving I headed straight to the Daintree River Cruise Centre to hop onboard one of their boats for a cruise up and down the Daintree. Not just a croc tour, they are trained biologists, nature lovers and ecologists, eager to share their special area of the world with everyone, which they’ve been doing since I was born – the oldest tour operators on the Daintree!
Apart from being a famous ancient rainforest, the Daintree is special because it’s where freshwater and saltwater meet, making it home to many special animals in Australia, many of whom are dinner to the salties.
Just while we were there we saw tree snakes, frogs, pythons and of course crocs.
I loved getting up close and personal with the baby crocodiles sunning themselves on a log – but of course it had me thinking, where’s mom?
The beautiful mangroves that dripped down into the water reminded me of the south and back home a little bit, as well as the brackish water and humid skies.
It was the perfect introduction to the Daintree and northern Queensland.
Rest your head at the Daintree Eco Lodge and Spa
Now that I have spent a great deal of time on the road and living out of hotels, it takes a lot for me to walk into a hotel room now and say, “wow.”
Let’s just say, “wow” came out of my mouth at the Daintree Eco Lodge and Spa BEFORE I even walked into my room!
It’s pretty easy to see why.
How often do you get to sleep in a treehouse in the rainforest?
Not often enough, that’s what I say.
In my opinion if you are going to travel all the way up to such a spectacular setting – take advantage. Why sleep along side the river when you could sleep in the trees?
Oh, and did I mention my treehouse had a jacuzzi on the balcony? Does it get much better than that? I don’t think so.
There’s no denying it, the Daintree Ecolodge is a cut above the rest.
In addition to having an incredible room with a treetop balcony and tub, a princess canopy bed, original aboriginal art on the walls and green leaves for my view, there is an amazing buzz about the property.
You can’t help but feel one with nature here, especially once you’ve turned off your lights at night and fall asleep listening to the sound of the soft rain on the tress and the occasional hoot of a local bird.
Knowing that they support ecotourism and run the property ethically makes all the difference.
The property is extensive, with little walks and trails crisscrossing into the rainforest leading you to spectacular water holes and hidden thundering waterfalls.
This area was home to the Kuku Yalanji people, and if you’re lucky, one of the local women pop in in the afternoons to take you on a walk around the land, explaining the local flora and fauna and the rich and diverse history surrounding it.
My few days in the Daintree barely even began to scratch the surface of the deep and profound culture and history to be found there, but any chance I had to speak with people from the area and who had studied it, I took it.
And I can’t stop there, the menu at the Julaymba Restaurant on the property was equally smashing.
A fusion of local flavors and more cosmopolitan tastes, the food is served up absolutely delicious, and I voluntarily ate there 3 times in the few days I was in town.
For me, a mark of a good place to sleep is somewhere you don’t want to leave when the time is right, which was definitely true for the Daintree Ecolodge.
Here you begin to realize that you are in a special place, an area respected and loved by the people who work there and who are committed to making sure it stays special.
Explore the Mossman Gorge
Apart from exploring and getting to know the rainforest itself in Queensland, I had a secondary goal of learning what little I could about the local aboriginal culture in the area too – do we even say “aboriginal” nowadays?
Now I know this is a hot and controversial topic, and I am not going to delve in and make any assumptions, declarations or even really have an opinion about it, since I am far too uneducated to do so.
Located in the southern part of the World Heritage Listed, Daintree National Park, Mossman Gorge is one of the few places in the country that visitors can gain an insight into the lives, culture and beliefs of Australia’s Indigenous population and their connection to the natural environment.
Throughout my time in the Daintree, this is what impressed me the most and what has stuck with me until even now. The relationship that the Kuku Yalanji people of the area have with the rainforest is astonishing and beyond comprehension by someone like me.
They survived here off the land for thousands and thousands of years, sharing that knowledge through storytelling and verbal histories, a tradition lost by most of us in the west.
Considering the dangerous animals roaming the lands in Oz, it comes as no surprise that there are plenty of poisonous and painful plants out there too. Of course the Kuku Yalanji know every rock, stick, plant and animal in the area better than we could ever imagine.
Everything they do and say is precise and has a complex reasoning behind it that is hard for someone like me to begin to understand. But we scratched the surface and learned a few basic things like what leaves can function as soap, what plants to avoid touching at all costs and how to forage.
It’s here where there is such fundamental knowledge of the land you know you could survive out here alone.
I am glad I decided to skip out on the more urban and easier adventures in Sydney or Melbourne in exchange for the chance to explore more of diverse Queensland.
My time in the magical area of the Daintree Rainforest in northern Queensland was too short and too beautiful for words. The raw green beauty that engulfs the land sucks us the visitor in and makes us not want to leave, even though the threat of crocodiles is always present.
Now that tells you something, doesn’t it?
Have you ever been to the Daintree? Heard of it? Do you know much about aboriginal culture in Australia? Hands up if you want to sleep in a treehouse too!
Many thanks to the Daintree Ecolodge, Daintree River Cruises Centre and the Mossman Gorge for hosting me in Tropical North Queensland – like always I’m keeping it real, all opinions are my own – like you could expect less from me.