Australia’s Daintree Rainforest may not be the largest, but many are surprised to learn that it is in fact the longest living (oldest), continuously growing rainforest in the world.
How old is the Daintree Rainforest? Well, it is estimated to be about 180 million years old, making it around 10 million years older than the Amazon! In addition to being the oldest forest, the Daintree is also one of the largest continuous areas of rainforest in Australia – it covers about 460 square miles (1,200 square kilometres).
The Daintree is a part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland. The Daintree region starts at Mossman Gorge, an hour’s drive north of Cairns, continues past Daintree Village, across the Daintree River, through the rainforest of Daintree National Park to Cape Tribulation and along the Bloomfield Track towards Cooktown.
Surrounding the Daintree Rainforest to the east is Coral Bay. Tucked into the canopy of the rainforest, the turquoise waters of Coral Bay provide a bright contrast to the deep greens of the forest surrounding it. The bay marks the edge of the Coral Sea, where the famous Great Barrier Reef is located.
Named after Richard Daintree, an Australian geologist and photographer (1832–1878) the Daintree Rainforest takes up an area of 0.12% of the landmass of Australia, with part of the forest protected by the Daintree National Park and drained by the Daintree River.
Climate in the Daintree Rainforest is tropical all year with maximum temp of 32 degrees C in the summer and 25 degrees C in the winter. Visitors should pack lightly – at 16 degrees south of the Equator, the weather in the Daintree is like Tahiti. Australia rainforest conditions can also prove to be extremely humid.
Daintree National Park
The Daintree National Park was founded in 1981. It is easily accessible from Cairns and is heavily promoted to tourists as a beautiful natural asset that visitors should see.
The Park is considered part of the Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land (CYPAL) and is comprised of two sections—Mossman Gorge and Cape Tribulation.
Both these areas are divided by the Daintree River and are equally beautiful in different ways which are covered in more detail below.
The traditional owners of Daintree National Park are the Eastern Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal people. Many of the natural features of the landscape hold spiritual significance for the traditional owners and this is another reason to preserve the environment and adopt the ‘leave no trace’ principles.
Daintree Rainforest facts
The Daintree is one of the best biologically diverse rainforests in the world. It is home to a huge percentage of the entire country’s animal population. Daintree Rainforest animals include 30% of Australia’s frog population, 65% of butterflies and bats, and around 12,000 different insect species. As well as being diverse, the animals are unique.
There are also 430 bird species and at least 23 species of reptiles and 13 species of amphibian. Animals of the Daintree Rainforest also include the tree kangaroo, swamp wallaby, platypus, echidna, musky rat-kangaroo, brown and long-nosed bandicoots, the striped and ringtail possums and the endangered cassowary. However, it is the Daintree Rainforest crocodile that everyone looks out for when they visit.
Plants in the Daintree Rainforest are many and ancient species are known as ‘Green Dinosaurs’. In fact, there are around 920 different types of trees in the Wet Tropics and in 1 hectare alone you can likely expect to find between 120 to 150 different types of trees.
Not surprisingly, the Daintree Rainforest in Australia was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988 under the broader title of Wet Tropics of Queensland.
Fabulous travel and exploration options
Things to do in Daintree are many and varied. For a start, there are quite a few travel possibilities to get you into the area which becomes part of the adventure. These options include:
One of the world’s most scenic rail journeys is right at the doorstep of the Daintree. The Kuranda Scenic Railway is even included within Lonely Planet’s book ‘Amazing Train Journeys’. This lovely train trip will take you from Cairns up to the mountainous Kuranda Village.
You will travel over 37 bridges and through 15 handmade tunnels forged by early pioneers while traversing through the rainforest.
It is a unique and special experience that is the subject of its own article within the Camping for Women’s natural beauty series.
Combining a trip on the Kuranda Scenic Railway going up to Kuranda with a trip on the Skyrail coming back down is just a wonderful introduction to the Wet Tropics of Queensland and the amazing Daintree Rainforest.
Also operating out of Kuranda village, providing a spectacular view of the rainforest, Skyrail allows you to travel over the forest via its rainforest cableway. This is truly a wonderful way to see the rainforest without causing any disruption or damage to any wildlife.
Departing from Kuranda Cable Car station, Skyrail takes you all the way down to sea level at Smithfield, which is only around a 25-minute drive north of Cairns.
On the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway there are 2 stops you can make to see more of the rainforest.
The first stop on the way down is at Barron Falls. Here you are able to walk out to Edge Lookout to view not just Barron Falls but also Barron Gorge and the National Park more broadly. It really is such a beautiful spot and from this area, you can also see the viewing platform that the Kuranda Scenic Train stops at some distance away.
The second stop is Red Peak where you can descend through the forest canopy to explore a portion of the rainforest. Here is where there are also fabulous displays of fascinating information on this ancient tropical rainforest, a great way to engage and educate visitors.
As you make the final descent to Smithfield, the Coral Sea comes into view where you can see Double Island and the picturesque area covering part of the Great Barrier Reef drive that hugs the shoreline.
Whether you are exploring up at Kuranda or down in the Daintree River, there are options to travel by boat as part of tours on offer in the region.
Do have a look at the article on the Kuranda Scenic Railway Journey to discover our experience on the Kuranda River after the rail journey concluded. That was a worthwhile little adventure that provides another perspective while up in that area.
For a longer river cruise within the Daintree Rainforest, I include information about the Daintree River cruise further below.
Whether wanting to head up to explore the rainforest all around Kuranda village or heading further north to base yourself from Daintree village, this is all easily done by car. However, bear in mind that if you intend to travel north from Cape Tribulation and as far as Cooktown, you will really need a 4WD vehicle. The roads via the coast north of Cape Tribulation are not sealed and smaller vehicles are just not advised.
Kuranda is about a 35-minute drive from Cairns traveling over the Barron River to Smithfield where you ascend the beautiful Kuranda Range Road section of the Kennedy Highway. Driving here, you wind through the world heritage rainforest, seeing parts of the Coral Sea and Skyrail cableway through the forest. Kuranda is also another gateway to exploring the Atherton Tablelands.
Daintree Village is easy to find using maps that are provided by tourist information centres and car rental companies. The village is located on the southern bank of the Daintree River and is halfway between Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation. The village itself has a general store, information and booking office, artist’s studio, timber gallery, cafes, and the Daintree Village Hotel. Surprisingly, there is quite a wide range of accommodation including B&Bs, budget cabins, and a camping and caravan park.
When visiting this part of Australia there is so much to see and hiring a car is a great way to do it. We were able to explore and discover so much from our base in Cairns with a number of great drives in Tropical North Queensland.
Daintree Rainforest Tours
Cairns is really the place to be to book tours of the Daintree Rainforest. Most tour operators include pick up and drop off to virtually all of the main hotels in the city. Even if you aren’t staying at a hotel, you are able to request pick up at one of the hotels so long as you are there on time.
Tours that include the Daintree Rainforest really don’t include much else because of the travel time if there are to cover most of the area, usually over the course of a single day. If you have more time though, I would suggest taking tours AND driving yourself on different days to get much more of the experience that the average tourist would miss.
A few people are a bit reluctant to go camping in the Daintree simply because of the reputation of the big crocodiles that live there.
However, there are a number of established campsites that are very safe and that are situated out of Cairns city to provide a more immersive experience with nature in that region.
If you are interested in information on Daintree camping, then you can check out information published online by the Queensland Government.
The Daintree Rainforest top 3 attractions
Below are the top 3 areas that are the most popular sites of the Daintree Rainforest. A sort of ‘must-see’ places while you are here:
The starting gateway to the Daintree Rainforest for most, Mossman Gorge lies 77 kilometers north of Cairns, 20 kilometers north of Port Douglas, and approximately 2 kilometers from the township of Mossman.
You can drive directly there via the Great Barrier Reef Drive section of the Captain Cook Highway or take one of many tour options available from Cairns or Port Douglas.
This area of some 56,000 hectares is known for crystal-clear water cascades over large granite boulders in the Mossman River. Lush rainforests cloak steep mountainsides from the riverbanks up to the rugged eastern slopes of the Main Coast Range of the Daintree Rainforest Park.
The waters of the Mossman River tumble their way past the huge granite boulders that line the gorge to create freshwater swimming holes. Caution still needs to be exercised however, to ensure you only swim in safe areas as currents are strong and there have been some drowning accidents in the past.
This beautiful area includes a number of walking tracks that are elevated above the ground to reduce environmental impact. There are several lookouts from the walkways including the Rex Creek Suspension Bridge. In all, you have a choice of 4 walking tracks ranging from short, easy walks to the moderate 45-minute Rainforest Circuit Track.
The Daintree River is one of the longest rivers on the Australian East Coast, going for some 140 kilometers. It contains 35 mangrove species and its lush swamp forest attracts rare and locally prolific birdlife, frogs, and insect species.
Of greatest interest to visitors is ‘croc spotting’ and you certainly don’t have to go far at all to see them. Boat operators know where to find them and point them out for everyone to take photos.
The main departure point for river cruises is from points that are situated alongside the Daintree Village. Once you enter the boat, you realize how wide the Daintree River really is and I wouldn’t like your chances of making a swim to the closest bank if the boat were to sink in the middle! Crocodiles can certainly move faster in the water than most people think.
Aside from cruising down the main river, our boat captain and tour guide also took us down narrow offshoots of the river which had areas of thick mangrove swamp. It was here we were able to observe bird and wildlife species including crocodiles in their natural habitat.
A lot of tourists that explore by car end up crossing the Daintree River to explore the northern section of the Daintree Rainforest by cable ferry. It is the only way to cross the river as there is no bridge and the ferry provides the only sealed road access to the northern part of the park leading to Cape Tribulation.
The ferry carries a maximum of 27 vehicles and takes 5 minutes to cross. We took some photos of the process during the day as well as the evening when we were heading back toward Cairns.
There is only one place on the planet where 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites meet and Cape Tribulation is that place.
Cape Tribulation is the location where the Daintree Rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef. Known and promoted throughout Tropical North Queensland as the place where the Rainforest meets the Reef, Cape Tribulation is indeed a beautiful spot.
Prior to heading into the forested area of Cape Tribulation, our group stopped for some lunch at the Cape Tribulation Safari Lodge where we ate at the Ocean Safari. The cuisine was ok and it was enjoyable to meet fellow tourists who were likewise taken with the natural beauty of the area.
Before reaching the shore area, you travel through the rainforest section. We did so with a tour where we enjoyed walking through bushwalking areas while our guide pointed out various flora and fauna as we went. It is impossible to remember everything we were shown or learned but it really was an eye-opening trip and provided a huge appreciation of the rainforest.
From walking through the tracks in the Daintree Rainforest, we then emerged suddenly onto Myall Beach, right near Cape Tribulation beach. What a beautiful sight. The beach and water of the Coral Sea were glorious. The backdrop of the rainforest and Cape Tribulation made for such a lovely aspect and is ideal for taking some photos.
Highlights in the area
In the course of traveling through and exploring the Daintree, we enjoyed stopping at a couple of places along the way.
Mount Alexander Lookout
This was a lovely spot high up, overlooking much of the coastline out to the Coral Sea as well as the mouth of the Daintree River.
It is a fabulous stop to get your bearings of where you have explored and where you are headed.
A great place to grab another photo.
One stop that we made while with the group tour was to the Daintree Ice Cream Company & Tropical Orchard. Here we all enjoyed some of the best ice creams ever. The ice cream was made fresh from dairy products produced in the area and the café also sold so many other locally made produce including chai and Daintree tea.
It was a nice and refreshing way to end the day, following the walks we had done within Cape Tribulation.
Driving in and out
No matter where you are staying in this entire region, your approach to (and return from) the Daintree Rainforest provides some pretty gorgeous scenery.
You are ‘wowed’ well before you even reach the rainforest simply due to the beautiful landscapes or sea views that greet you along the way.
Your thoughts on the Daintree Rainforest?
I hope you have gained some enjoyment and knowledge from what I have shared above and that perhaps this article may help in your decision as to whether this location appeals to you.
Perhaps you have also visited and had some experiences you would like to share.
Either way, I would love to hear from you, and thank you for reading.