Daintree National Park
The Daintree is a river, a rainforest national park, a village and home to Kuku Yalnaji people, named after British born geologist Richard Daintree. We are lucky enough to be staying on the edge of the forest for two nights.
On waking Mark and I sit with coffee on the veranda, just listening and watching the jungle. Birds are chirping and there are noises we cannot even hazard a guess at which creatures are making. What a pleasant way to pass a few hours except for the pesky black flies that actually bite. Out comes the highest strength insect repellent.
After breakfast we travel north, passing Mossman and field after field of sugar cane until we reach sleepy Daintree village. This is a tiny hamlet which has built up around the wide Daintree river. At one time a bustling boat stop for timber from the logging factory and butter from the dairy factory. There are still herds of cows in the fields but the dairy has disappeared along with the logging industry which once threatened the fragile ecosystem of the area.
The village is now more famous for river boat tours, cattle (bred now for beef) and tropical fruit farming and camping. We follow the self-guided historical walk around the village which is very informative to the village jetty. There are yet again warnings about crocodiles, but we’ve yet to see one.
Driving out of the village we pass the local school which is advertising the opening of its new pizza oven which has been constructed by the students, how novel! The students are able to learn about building and cooking and in this climate, it will certainly get some use.
We stop at Bruce Belchers Daintree River Cruises as we have decided a cruise on the river might be one way of catching sight of these elusive estuarine crocs. First up we have slush puppies and coffee while we wait for the 11 a.m. trip. The walk down to the river is through lush tropical gardens and our guide appears to be an old dog. As we reach the dock Bruce the owner introduces himself, he will be our guide for the 1-hour trip. We are the only three booked for this time slot so it will be a personalised tour on the flat-bottomed boat.
Bruce has been offering these tours since 1987 and is very knowledgeable about the area and the river in particular. We hope to see crocodiles alongside other animals and birds. Bruce informs us that this time of year the females are well hidden, nesting away from the banks, but that we may be lucky enough to see males or young females in the water.
We are provided with the most powerful Pentax binoculars to scan the water and the river banks. ‘look is that a croc?’ ‘oh no, just a knobbly log’. We may not see a croc so I decide to sit back and enjoy the scenery. Mark suddenly sees something move in the water to the left of the boat. We all look and it is confirmed it is a 3 – 4 metre male crocodile floating on the river. It keeps coming up and then disappearing back under the water, using its strong tail to move through the water. These are powerful creatures which look like something from the Jurassic era and I wouldn’t want to get too close up.
The river bank is crowded with Mangroves and as the river is at low tide, we are able to see the roots pointing high up into the air. During the cruise we are lucky enough to see three more crocs, one in the water and two on the bank as well as birds and their nests and a tree frog which lands on the boat. We may have seen more crocs in a zoo but it is so much more enjoyable seeing them in their natural habitat. We thank Bruce and make our way back through the gardens to the car park.
Next stop for the day is Mossman Gorge in the rainforest which has been carved by the Mossman River into the Granite rocks. Parking at the car park we catch the shuttle bus, which passes by the village of Kuku Yalanji Indigenous people, up to the gorge. Once there we are informed that the Rex Creek suspension bridge is closed for repairs but we are able to follow the walking tracks which loop along the river to the swimming hole. There are information boards along the boardwalk so we take the self-guided route which tells us about the history of the gorge.
The site is reminiscent of the strid at Bolton Abbey, a boulder-strewn valley with water washing over the massive rocks. However, the river is a trickle at the moment as the rains will arrive in the next month. Although less dramatic than the strid it does mean that Mark and Marcus are able to take the risk and swim in the swimming hole where the currents can be dangerous during the wet season.
The water comes down from the mountains and is beautifully clear. There are lots of fish, large and small that can be seen swimming around. They do not appear to be bothered by the people jumping into the deep pool. As I am not the strongest of swimmers, I give the experience a miss but enjoy watching the other two. We have to run to catch the return shuttle.
Some shopping is required so we stop at the nearby town of Mossman, a pretty cane town with working sugar mill. There are rail tracks alongside the road which ferry the cane to this mill for processing. Unfortunately, the sugar harvest has finished so we are unable to visit the sugar mill, which offers tours during crushing season.
Driving back home we pass children walking home from high school. This is a steep route up into the rainforest at the end of the school day.
Into the evening we relax on the veranda watching the forest and listening to it’s sounds. Mark goes for a wander around the grounds and I hear a shout to come look. There is the biggest spider I have ever seen just outside our door. Luckily these are one thing I’m not really scared of, but we’re not sure what it is or if it is poisonous. Our host comes out of his house through the trees and informs us that it is not dangerous saying, ‘All the dangerous ones are found on the floor’. We’d better watch where we walk then!
Settling in bed I look towards one of the windows and notice a lizard crawling across the screen, reminding me that I am actually in the middle of the rainforest. Thank goodness for the insect screens as all the windows are open. I can sleep easy.