Where the backpacker route ends, our greyhound stops running, is cairns. Above that is the pointy nib of wild forest, surrounded by deadly waters and teaming with enough Crocodiles for even Aussies to admit it’s terrifying. Port Douglas sits between death-land and popular Cairns, and is home to some pretty cool natural wonders. It’s proud to be the only place in the world where two world heritage sites meet, and is home to ecosystems and wildlife that show the way of ancient Australia. We had a week or so to play with before our flight out of cairns, so took a trip up to Port Douglas, to see a little of the wild north.
The town is actually quite lovely. The main road in is lined with holiday homes, resorts, spas and our one little backpacker place. At the end, the road splits left and right. Left is a row of polished boutique shops, cafes and restaurants, at the end of which is a small marina and grassy lookout. Turn right however and you’re straight onto a perfect beach, of palm trees soft sand and clear sea. The sea air keeps the town cool-ish and the netted swimming area keeps locals from having a jellyfish induced seizure. Not having seen a beach in ages, we read books in the shade and watch miniature green parrots fly through the trees above. If you can muster up the effort to leave your spot in paradise, the food is town is pretty tasty. Try Lanterns, for a posh take on a chippy and the biggest portion of calamari you’ve ever seen.
Leave the perimeters of Port Douglas and you end up the zone of the Daintree Rainforest. I’m about to get a little nerdy with some facts…The forest is estimated to be 135-150 million years old and has the ancient complex ecosystem to go with it. Fifteen different types of tree that were once thought extinct were found living here in hidden bliss, spreading their poisonous fruit that only an equally niche bird can digest without keeling over. The Cassowary bird is one of those Aussie things that is unique, weird and really old. They’re a bit like an ostrich, evolved from velociraptors, with jugular ripping talons, hollow cones on their heads and can run up to 30mph. They are incredibly rare having only just recovered from near extinction, and have kept their prehistoric ways by living in the prehistoric forest.
At the edge of the Daintree rainforest is Cape Tribulation, and it’s idyllic beach. Here you can stand on hot white sand with boundless lushness behind and deep ocean in front. The water is a kaleidoscope of life, from the bright yellow Gobie fish, to the mesmerising Parrot fish, to the mammoth Groupers of the deep. This part of the Daintree trip is where the extraordinary rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef. The site is made even more special by the fact that of the four possible UNESCO criteria that a site must meet, these two both have the full house. They are amazing four times over! Tantalising and incredible as the beach is, don’t get too wrapped up in how nice that water looks. We’re in Australia, which now means that not only is the water full of sharks, cone shells, stone fish, trigger fish and our psychotic murderous jellyfish, the forest laden with spiders, snakes, razor plants and creatures of unnaturally huge proportions, but the area is also full of crocodiles. They love the murky rivers and shallows of the northern beaches. A big sign will tell you to keep at least 3 metres from the waters edge, and you’d be wise to stick to it, more than you would the yellow line on the underground. Here please mind the gap, turns into please mind the croc.
If you have time, (or it’s in your tour), Mossoman Gorge is not to be missed. The gorge sits inside another old forest and has been a vital part of aboriginal survival and heritage for many years. The gorge is wonderful, a bit nippy but great. Swim out to the boulder in the middle -if you can climb it-, and dive off into the green pools below, or climb up to the rapids and slide through the bubbles. Little nag from me… Be aware of boulders, and check the board for swimming conditions. It’s worth testing the current in a shallower bit first because it gets bloody strong.
Our tour led us onto a crocodile cruise, which was run by a croc enthusiast, who reeled off facts and seemed genuinely heartbroken when our trip saw none, a bush walk through the Daintree, which confirmed my fear of everything Aussie when I discovered that even nettles here leave poisonous tubes in your skin that take years to grow out, and a stunning view at Alexander Lookout via a local Daintree ice cream shop.