This post shows you the best things to do in Daintree Rainforest in the tropical north of Australia. We made a self drive trip to Daintree Rainforest from Cairns and noticed that there is so much to see in the Daintree National Park, the oldest surviving tropical rainforest in the world.
Daintree is a lush, green rainforest that has both ancient plants and animals – and of course all those superb beaches.
The Daintree is one of the few places in the whole world where a tropical rainforest meets the ocean. No wonder it has been listed by UNESCO as a Wet Tropics World Heritage Site.
To explore the Daintree Rainforest we travelled a long way from Europe to Australia, bought flights to Cairns and rented a campervan for a self drive trip to Daintree Rainforest.
And we saw the Australian Wet Tropics! We enjoyed the Great Barrier Reef, the white Coral Sea beaches – but maybe most of all the thick rainforests. Our base in Daintree Rainforest was the coastal village of Cape Tribulation. You can see on the map where Daintree is and where Cape Tribulation is located.
Since I’m a nature lover all this became a huge experience that I want to tell you about. Maybe you want to do the same thing – make a self drive trip to Daintree Rainforest?
Self Drive Trip to Daintree Rainforest: the Itinerary
This was our self drive itinerary in Daintree. The roads in Daintree National Park are on the coast only and practically no roads exist in the mountains. So we had to return along the same road we used on the way up.
This post shows you Daintree Rainforest from Daintree Drive on. If you want to know the itinerary from Cairns to Daintree you can read about it here:
Driving in Daintree Rainforest
The Daintree Wet Tropics National Park begins after you have crossed the Daintree River with a ferry.
After you have crossed the Daintree River you will dive in a deep jungle. The Daintree National Park is so amazing, and it is so old. It is the oldest surviving rainforest in the world and home to the highest number of rare plants and animals anywhere in the world.
The road narrows and winds north towards Cape Tribulation. Driving gets slow since there are curves and speed bumps all the way.
There are dips where you are forced to slow down your speed. The dips are there for the rainy season. They let flood water run down from the mountains to the ocean.
All this made driving far slower than we had counted with. Yet the road was good and we had absolutely no problem driving with our large vehicle to Cape Tribulation.
The road is sealed up to Cape Tribulation Beach. Beyond Cape Tribulation the road is clay based and a 4WD vehicle is needed as there are deep creek crossings and other obstacles that prevent driving.
Watch up for Cassowaries
After the river crossing it didn’t take long at all before we got the first sample of Daintree wildlife.
The Southern cassowary is a prehistoric fruit-eating bird that only lives in the wet tropics. It’s the third-tallest living bird after ostrich and emu. Cassowary numbers have declined and they are endangered animals, only 1200 of them are left. Lots of cassowaries get killed by cars.
There are road signs warning for cassowary crossings since cassowaries tend to cross the road in known places.
We were wondering if we would see these giant birds at all – and then, in one of these marked cassowary crossings we met one, a really big one. The cassowary was standing still just a couple of meters from us. It was looking at us for a while and then suddenly decided to rush back to where it came from. So the cassowary didn’t like us…
After a while the road climbs up the hill and reaches the Alexandra Range Lookout. This is the highest point on the way to Cape Tribulation and worth stopping at. Some Alexandra Lookout scenery:
Alexandra Lookout gives you a good overview of the region. You have rainforest mountains behind you and the Coral Sea in front of you.
Before Cow Bay, 10 km north of the ferry, comes the Daintree Discovery Centre where you can learn about the rainforest on self-guided tours. There is an elevated walkway and a 23 m high tower with good views.
Next to the Daintree Discovery Centre is another nature attraction, the Jindalba Boardwalk.
Jindalba Boardwalk is a great place to explore the wet tropics. It’s a 700 m loop through the rainforest. Even when the entrance was free it was not crowded.
You can walk slowly in your own pace and read about Daintree Rainforest and its plants on the informative signs along the track. Afterwards your can have a picnic, there are picnic tables near the car park.
There is a chance that you meet a cassowary on Jindalba Boardwalk. There are signs that tell that cassowaries can be aggressive.
If you come across a cassowary in the rainforest you are told to start walking backwards with a big obstacle, your rucksack or shirt or something else in front of you to protect you in case the cassowary attacks.
Tasting Tropical Ice Cream
We skipped the picnic since we rather felt like having an ice cream. There are a couple of ice cream factories on the way to Cape Tribulation that I had read about. They serve locally-made organic ice cream with tropical flavors. The fruits they use come from their own orchards.
We stopped at the first of the two ice-cream companies by the road. The place was really pretty, it was in the middle of the rainforest and the tropical ice-cream was – delicious!
Next we stopped at some beaches. There are many of them on the way to Cape Tribulation. This one is Thornton Beach 18 km from the river crossing. There was a small cafe with great views but it was closed.
We walked on the deserted beach and watched small crabs run in the sand. They all disappeared in their holes when we came closer.
At the south end of the beach is Cooper Creek that is known for its crocodiles.
The next beach is Noah Beach, also pretty. All the beaches we saw in Daintree were paradise-like. These beaches with rainforest on the background must be among the most beautiful in the world.
Cape Tribulation was the main destination of our trip and we stayed there for three nights. We had booked two nights but decided to stay on extra night. Cape Tribulation is a small community in Daintree Rainforest that hasn’t changed since tourism to the region has increased after the road was built.
There are only one or two grocery stores, some restaurants and smaller tourist attractions and some tour organizers arranging jungle and reef tours. You can find accommodation in eco lodges in the rainforest or beach-side campsites.
This is Myall Beach located on the south side of the cape.
Even when it was winter (winter is the dry season) and the best tourism season there no people on the beaches, except for a couple of hours after noon when all Daintree tour groups from Cairns arrived. Not many tourists are making self drive trips to Daintree and staying for longer than two hours.
Cape Tribulation Camping
We booked at Cape Tribulation Camping that promised us they can offer us an absolute beachfront location. Cape Tribulation Camping is in the rainforest just off the beach. We walked to the beach along the 20 m long sandy path that you can see in the picture below.
Every night between 5 and 8 wood fired pizzas were served in the restaurant that you can see below. The staff started heating the oven early afternoon to make it hot enough for pizza baking.
Almost all camping guests that were staying here in their tents and campervans came for dinner or just for a glass of wine. Sitting there all together and sharing our Daintree experiences was great fun. After dinner time almost all the lights went off and you could only enjoy the silence, see the stars and hear the sea.
On the Cape Tribulation Camping website you can learn about the surroundings and the activities that are offered in Cape Tribulation.
There are lots of activities from reef snorkeling to jungle river cruises that we didn’t take since we had taken the same kind of activities in other destinations before.
Instead we just enjoyed the rainforest and spent a lot of time on the beach. This is Myall Beach just a few meters from the camping.
Dubiji Rainforest Walk
Our first morning in Cape Trib we walked from the camping north along Myall Beach to the 1,2 km Dubiji boardwalk that winds in the rainforest. You can also find the boardwalk from the other side, the main road.
The Dubuji walk was one of the most beautiful short walks I’ve ever seen. The boardwalk winds its way through mangrove swamp deep in the rainforest partly in a fan palm forest (in the pictures above).
Dubuji boardwalk is meant to be a loop walk but at the time we visited the end of it was under construction and you had to walk back the same way.
We spent a long time on Dubuji boardwalk. Here are more pictures on the vegetation: above on the left is a plant called elkhorn fern that grows high up in the trees. They remind me of elk horns that you can see back in Finland.
Cape Tribulation Village Centre
The Dubiji boardwalk brings you from the beach to the village centre. Cape Trib is a small village, some shops, a visitor information centre and a small general store.
Behind the store is another camping, the PK Jungle Village from which we found another path back to the beach. There was a boardwalk again. And another mangrove swamp.
The mangrove swamp was so thick and wet that there is no way to get anywhere without a built boardwalk.
Walking along Myall Beach
So we came back to Myall Beach and continued north. Postcard-pretty but hardly anyone in the water. Why?
There are stinger and crocodile warnings, everywhere. Summer is the main season for stingers but they can exist all year round. So we didn’t think swimming was a good idea. Instead we walked in the water. There were no life-guards or stinger nets at the Cape Tribulation beaches.
We followed the beach and discovered a small path (the Kuliki Rainforest Walk) leading to the last car park before the sealed road ends. This was near the cape between the beaches.
From the car park you can walk to a lookout from where you get a view of the beach on the north side of the cape, the Cape Tribulation Beach. This is a short and easy walk, only about 600 meters.
Cape Tribulation Beach
So Cape Tribulation has two beaches. The beach on the north side was full of day-trippers from Cairns. This is the destination of bus tours and they stay here maybe one of two hours.
We felt happy that we could stay days in Cape Tribultation instead of hours.
There was huge network of mangrove roots between the beach and the headland. The roots take in oxygen which makes the plants able to live in the wetland.
Meeting a Goanna
On the way from the beach back to the car park we stopped at a picnic table to get beach sand off our feet, and there was a big goanna.
The goanna was staring at us from the bush. So now I have seen a cassowary and a goanna in the wild.
Daintree Rainforest Swimming Holes
If you don’t like swimming with stingers and crocs try the natural fresh water swimming holes in Daintree creeks or rivers.
Swimming holes are places in tropical rivers where the water stands still. The water is crystal clear and gets a green color from the jungle. In the rivers the water is a bit cool at least in the winter which is refreshing on a hot day. There are two croc-free swimming holes in Cape Tribulation.
Masons Swimming Hole
The first one the Masons swimming hole, a secret swimming hole right behind the Mason’s general store and café right when you enter Cape Tribulation village from the south.
The other is the Emmagen Creek swimming hole a 7 km drive north along a dirt road.
To get to the Masons swimming hole park your car in front of Mason’s store and walk to the river through the gate and the park that is in this picture. Leave a small donation in the box.
This is a what the fresh water swimming hole behind Mason’s store looks like. The top thing with the Masons swimming hole was that you could hang and swing on a liana and jump into the water, and there were lots of lianas hanging from the trees.
Emmagen Swimming Hole
The other crocodile-free swimming hole is the Emmagen Creek swimming hole.
The road north of Cape Tribulation is rough. This is the Bloomfield Track leading to Cooktown. On the Bloomfield Track you can drive on a two-wheel driven car just about 7 km to Emmagen where the first river crossing comes.
From this place onwards the road is only for 4WD vehicles. The road to Emmagen was in some curves steep and in others narrow which was a bit frightening to do with a campervan but we did it!
Leave your car on the small car park in the place that you can see in these pictures and on the left hand side you’ll see a small path leading into the rainforest. There is no sign or anything, just the path.
Follow that path for about 400 meters and you’ll come to Emmagen Creek. You can turn left or right at the end and both are good places to swim at.
We tried both and there were some other people too that had found this remote place. Some pictures of the Emmagen swimming holes:
And guess what we saw here: a platypus! Yes, we really saw one!! It looked the same as in Sydney Aquarium where we have seen one before, but never before did we see a platypus in the wild and we have so much tried.
The platypus was diving near the bottom and swimming rapidly and turning back all the time, like looking for something. But then it heard us talking (too loud of course…) and disappeared in the mud.
So when we were exploring the Daintree Rainforest we met local wildlife: a cassowary, a goanna – and a platypus!
Then it was the time to return from the deep jungle of Emmagen to the beach. Once again we enjoyed the Coral Sea.
More on Daintree and Queensland
- Read about our cruise to the Great Barrier Reef: Great Barrier Reef Cruise: Day Cruise to Agincourt Reef
- Driving itinerary to Daintree: Driving from Cairns to Daintree
More information on Daintree Rainforest and visitor maps: