Over here we have the King Ferns, or Angiopteris evecta, one of the oldest ferns in the world. ‘How old?’ one might ask. When Vikings were invading the coasts of Northern Europe this fern was but a sapling
Over the course of our travels we had visited a number of rainforests, from the jungles of Borneo to the foothills of Sapa. This time we would not only be adding another rainforest to our bucket list but visiting one of the most ancient in all the world. If that was not enough the Daintree Rainforest has the rare distinction of being the only UNESCO World Heritage Site that touches another World Heritage Site – namely the Great Barrier Reef. This occurs around the edges of Daintree where the mangrove trees and the coral jostle for territory.
We booked on a small tour with Daintree Safari and were pleasantly surprised when it would just be the two of us. We were greeted by a Sports Utility Vehicle and our guide for the day – Nicholas Fox. As we were to discover throughout the course of the day Nicholas was no ordinary guide. He had the presence of Alan Quatermain, the precise diction of Rex Harrison and the encyclopedic knowledge of Sherlock Holmes.
The only sealed road leading into the Daintree is the Cape Tribulation Road and to reach the ‘dark heart’ of the Rainforest one has to cross the Daintree River. Most of the time one would cross a bridge but in an effort to manage the ecosystem of the area the crossing is guarded by a cable ferry – one of only 28 in use in all Australia. (This also prohibits buses from getting into the area and manages tourist numbers!)
As we queued to get on the boat started noticing a lot of signs warning us of the locals (In English and German?)
Between many Ferns
Our first stop was to take a wander along a boardwalk right into the heart of this jungle and learn all about it…
The Daintree is the oldest continuously surviving tropical rainforest in the entire world.At 165 million years old it is x times older than the Amazon. 165 Million years ago would have been smack bang in the middle of the Jurassic Period – where dinosaurs roamed the land and their were only two continents – namely Laurasia and Gondwana.
This rainforest is made up of over 3000 different species of plants including 13 out of the 19 primitive flowering plant families. You want some Ferns? You got them and what is more, there are 40 species of ferns endemic to this region.
It’s also home to 28% of frogs, 65% of ferns, 40% of birds and 34% of mammals in Australia.
As we made our way back to the jeep we spotted yet another Boyd’s Forest Dragon hanging out on a tree.
The north point [was named] Cape Tribulation because here begun all our troubles – Captain Cook.
It was here off the coast of the cape that the navigator Captain James Cook (then only a mere Lieutenant) onboard the HMS Endeavour ran aground after striking the reef during the night of 10th June 1770. Cook had to take the risk of dumping his cannons overboard to lighten his ship so that the high tide would rescue him. At one point it seemed that the ship would sink and it is highly likely that Cook would have gone down with his ship as there were not enough rowboats for the crew and they were 24 miles from the coast. The exact point is today called Endeavour Reef to mark that fateful night.
But that footnote in history is not the only reason that we were taken to the Cape. It also has a pristine white-sand beach surrounded by encroaching mangrove trees. On this most beautiful of sunshiny days it was a struggle to look at the sand without squinting. We felt it was just like the beach in Wineglass Bay in Tasmania.
As Karen and I were exploring the beach and nearby boardwalks – Nicholas changed hats from guide to ‘batman’ as he prepared an amazing morning tea. apple and cinnamon scones, lychee fruits, tea and coffee from Daintree itself. As we felt the jealous stares of the other tour group, who were making the most of their orange slices, we knew we made the right choice!
A River Runs Through It
After swimming in a fresh water creek the day before in the Mossman Gorge, we had another bite of that cherry. Just north of Cape Tribulation is the Emmagen Creek. This body of water marks the end of the sealed road and the beginning of the Bloomfield Track – a controversial 30km stretch of dirt track that stretches up to Cooktown.
After a small trek off to a secluded part of the creek we had some time to go for a dip, just us and the fish. The water was cool and it was a great feeling to be completely isolated. Well almost isolated, we still had Nicholas nearby – hunting for things to show us, including a green tree frog.
Back to the Ferry
After reaching our zenith on the map it was time to make our way back down to the Daintree Ferry. To punctuate the journey we had a number of stops planned.Normally on a tour there’s the obligatory/mandatory stop. Convention and experience dictates that this is a jade factory or marble workshop. With a blazing hot sun and high humidity we welcomed the fact that we would get to visit the Daintree Ice Cream Company. Homemade tropical fruit ice cream, made with fruits from their very own orchard, so flavours vary according to the season. After sharing a tub, (a first for us 🙂 ) of some randomly favoured yet tasty ice cream we walked through the orchard.
After spending most of the day in the Daintree it was time to take a look at the bigger picture. To do this we stopped at the Alexandra Viewpoint. It’s indigenous name is Walu Wugirriga. A very apt name as it translates as ‘Look About’ We did just that. This high vantage point offers a great vista overlooking where the Reef meets the Rainforest.
As we took our panoramic photos, and cycled through our poses for the camera, Nicholas got really excited! Floating into view like a Disney creation was a majestic Birdwing Ulysses Butterfly.
As we got back into our jeep we felt some rumblings. After dismissing the notion that is was some tremor from some far away earthquake we realised that we were pretty hungry after 4 hours of touring. Luckily we had reached the lunch portion of our itinerary. Nicholas had a table booked for us at the Daintree Tea House Restaurant, a quaint little restaurant. When we arrived the place was buzzing – two bus loads of tourists out of Palm Cove and Cairns had swooped in at once.
The food was amazing, fish and steak alongside a fruit salad comprised of a who’s who of local fruits. As we ate our meal we were treated to a show and tell of what we were eating and little bits of food trivia.
With lunch slowly digesting within us we made our way to the last stop on our tour – a cruise upstream of the Daintree River in search of some Crocodiles. Unlike most tours, where the lure of seeing something turns out to be false or a case of bad timing – we actually did see something. We saw some bad-ass crocodiles trying to hide out near the reeds and riverbanks. The largest was around 4.7 metres long.
When we arrived back at the jetty, Nicholas treating us to a rare show – triggerish in action. These fish use a unique ability of shooting water out of their mouths to catch prey. Nicholas set up a biscuit trap to show off their special skill.
Our last hurrah was to try some ‘Miracle Fruit’ or Synsepalum dulcificum. This little red berry made anything that normally tasted sour, like some lemons and limes taste sweet to the tongue. And with that we were done. All that was left was the shuttle back to Port Douglas.
That night we headed to the Port part of Port Douglas and watched the sunset from the deck of The Tin Shed – the RSL club that had a pretty great view across the Dickson Inlet and the Mountain Ranges beyond. As the sun dipped below the rainforest horizon the sky grew very dark but not due to the sun’s demise. Every night without fail thousands of bats, flying foxes if you will, fly the short distance from their colonies in the town to the forest to the the north and it’s bounty of fruit. With wing spans of over 3 feet they were very impressive.