Now we will take you on a journey through the tropical north of Australia. To make a self drive trip to Daintree Rainforest we rented a campervan and headed to the oldest surviving tropical rainforest in the world, listed by UNESCO as a Wet Tropics World Heritage Site.
Being such an old rainforest the Daintree contains many ancient plants and rarely seen animals. What also makes holidaymakers happy are the fine tropical beaches almost right in the rainforest.
The Daintree is one of the only existing places where tropical rainforest meets the ocean, one more reason for UNESCO to take it on their list.
Palms on the Jindalba Rainforest Walk, Daintree Rainforest
To explore Australia’s wet tropics we first took the long way from Europe to Australia and then flights to Cairns to get the campervan.
So now we were here, in the Australian wet tropics! Where should we go next, to the Great Barrier Reef, to the white Coral Sea beaches, or should we just dive into the thick rainforest?
We made the coastal village of Cape Tribulation our base. You can see the location of Cape Tribulation on the map, and the green area around it is the Daintree.
As we are nature lovers, getting to a rainforest like this had been our dream, an experience we have to share.
Maybe you are in the process of planning a trip to Daintree – if not now so maybe you will, after reading this post:
Self Drive Trip to the Daintree Rainforest: the Itinerary
Map of our self drive trip to the Daintree Rainforest
Here you can see our self drive Daintree itinerary. As Daintree National Park only has roads on the coast, we had to take the only existing main road both ways, there and back.
Nothing wrong with the roadside views
This is the second post about our journey to Daintree. The first post was about the drive from Cairns to Daintree, and this one will be about the Daintree itself.
Read here about the drive from Cairns to Daintree: Queensland, Australia: Driving from Cairns to Daintree
Driving through Daintree Rainforest
Once you have crossed the Daintree River by ferry you will dive into Daintree Wet Tropics National Park:
Driving in Daintree Wet Tropics National Park
It all looks amazing, knowing that the jungle we dived into is thousands of years old.
Being the oldest surviving rainforest in the world, the Daintree is a gem. There is the highest concentration of rare plants and animals anywhere in the world, just looking forward to see them all!
Self drive trip to the Daintree Rainforest: a dip on the road
The road soon narrows to wind its way to Cape Tribulation through the thick jungle. Curves, bends and speed bumps make driving slow.
Then there are many marked dips, bumpy places where you almost have to stop. The dips are there for the rainy season. They let flood water cross the road and run down from the mountains to the ocean! So in the rainy season parts of the road are under flood.
The first cassowary sign!
All this made driving much slower than we had thought. Yet the road is good enough to drive and there is absolutely no problem driving to Cape Tribulation by campervan. But from Cape Tribulation on it will be different.
The Daintree road is sealed up to the Cape Tribulation Beach. But beyond that it’s all clay based and to drive there, you will need a 4WD vehicle. There is clay, sand and even big stones on the road, but worst of all are the super deep creek crossings that make driving a real adventure.
Watch up for Cassowaries!
After the river crossing it didn’t last long until we got the first signs of ancient Daintree wildlife:
Watch up, a cassowary crossing the road!
There were many cassowary warnings on the roadside, in places where cassowaries tend to cross the road. As they normally use the same routes, the places are well known and can be marked.
We had just been wondering if we would see those giant birds at all – and then, in one of these marked cassowary crossings we met a big one.
The cassowary was standing still, only a couple of meters from us. For a long while it kept staring at us, and then suddenly decided to rush back to where it came from. It maybe didn’t like us, and eather did it want to attack. Some facts about the bird:
It was a Southern cassowary, a prehistoric fruit-eating bird that only lives in the wet tropics. The Southern cassowary is the third tallest living bird in the world after ostrich and emu. Cassowary numbers have declined and presently they are endangered animals. As a lot of cassowaries get killed by cars, only 1200 of them are left.
So drive slowly to let them live!
Rainforest Views from Alexandra Lookout
Alexandra Lookout, self drive trip to the Daintree Rainforest
After a while the road climbs up the hill, reaching the Alexandra Range Lookout. This is the highest point on the way to Cape Tribulation and therefore needs a stop. Some Alexandra Lookout scenery:
Alexandra Lookout, the gateway to the Daintree Rainforest
The lookout shows you what rainforest hills look like from above and gives you an overview of the region. Rainforest mountains on one side and the Coral Sea on the other.
Daintree as its best: Jindalba boardwalk ferns
Before reaching the coast and the Cow Bay, 10 km north from the ferry crossing comes the Daintree Discovery Centre. The Discovery Centre is a place where to learn about the rainforest. On a self-guided tour on an elevated walkway you cany observe rainforest and its plants from above, and for more views you can even climb a 23 m high tower.
Next to the Daintree Discovery Centre comes the next nature attraction, the Jindalba Boardwalk.
Walking in the rainforest
The Jindalba Boardwalk is an easy way to see the wet tropics. It’s a 700 m loop through the rainforest, the entrance to which is free.
You walk slowly in your own pace and get information on the Daintree and its plants along the track. Afterwards you can have a picnic in the rainforest, using the picnic tables near the car park.
Learning about cassowaries, ancient birds of Daintree National Park
There are information boards telling about cassowaries and their habits, and a slight chance to meet one on the boardwalk. As they can be aggressive and attack, don’t hope to meet one.
There are signs telling this: if you come across a cassowary in the rainforest, start walking back with a big object like your rucksack or shirt in front of you. That will protect you in case the bird attacks you.
Tasting Tropical Ice Cream
Clas tasting tropical ice cream, self drive trip to the Daintree Rainforest
As we rather wanted ice cream at this stage, we skipped the Jindalba picnic area. I had read about ice cream factories by the Cape Tribulation road, and we now wanted to find them.
Tropical ice-cream in tropical surroundings
Soon there was the first ice-cream factory. The cafe was really pretty, surrounded the thick rainforest, and the tropical ice-cream was – just delicious!
This is what they say: they serve locally-made organic ice cream with tropical flavors. The fruits they use for the flavors come from their own orchards.
One of the many Daintree beaches: Thornton Beach
After the ice-cream place came the sandy Coral Sea beaches. Many of them, so beautiful, sandy and soft. We had to start stopping.
This is the Thornton Beach 18 km from the river crossing. There is a small roadside cafe with Coral Sea views, closed, however, at the time we were visiting. So no more tropical ice-cream today…
So we only walked alone on the deserted beach, trying go get photos of the tiny crabs rushing in all directions in the sand. But each time we came closer they all went home into their small holes.
Watching crabs and walking back to the car park
At the south end of Thornton Beach is a small river, Cooper Creek, known for its crocodile population.
The next beach to come is the Noah Beach, also pretty. All beaches we saw in the Daintree were like a paradise. With the extra touch of the rainforest these beaches must be among the most beautiful in the world.
Cape Tribulation was our base in the Daintree, where we stayed for three nights. We had meant to stay two nights only, but extended it as we liked the place so much.
Cape Tribulation is a small coastal Daintree village that hasn’t changed a lot after tourism to the region started to grow when the road was built. Earlier there only was a 4WD road.
There are only one or two grocery stores, a few small restaurants. Also you will find tour organizers arranging jungle and reef tours. Accommodation is only available in eco lodges within the rainforest or on beach-side campsites.
Self drive trip to the Daintree Rainforest: coconuts on the white beach
This is the white Myall Beach located on the south side of the cape.
Even when it was winter (winter is the dry season) and the best tourism time, there were no people on the beaches, except for two hours after the noon when all Daintree tour groups from Cairns arrived, all at the same time.
It looked like all tourists take these bus tours, not many of them making self drive trips to Daintree. Yet using your own vehicle lets you stay as long as you like, longer than two hours.
Cape Tribulation Camping
Coral Sea view from our Daintree campsite
Our Daintree base was the Cape Tribulation Camping that gave us an absolute beachfront location.
The camping area is in the rainforest just off the Myall Beach and close to the village. So every time we wanted to the beach, we took the 20 m long sandy path you can see in the picture below:
Camping in Cape Tribulation
Then, every afternoon the camping staff started heating their old pizza oven with wood, to make it hot enough for pizza baking. And every night between 5 and 8 all guests gathered on the porch, waiting for good wood fired pizzas to be served.
The Cape Tribulation Camping pizza place
Almost all camping guests staying here in their tents and campervans came for dinner. Or if they didn’t want pizza every night, they only came for a glass of wine.
Sitting here all together and sharing our Daintree experiences was great fun and we learned a lot from each other. After the dinner almost all lights went off and we could only enjoy the silence, the stars and the Coral Sea.
On the Cape Tribulation Camping website you can learn about the surroundings and the activities offered in Cape Tribulation.
There are activities from reef snorkeling to jungle river cruises that we didn’t take as we already had tried similar activities in other destinations.
Relaxing on the coral sands of Daintree National Park
Instead we took walks in the rainforest and spent time on the beach. This is Myall Beach, only a few meters from the camping.
So where did we go?
Dubiji Rainforest Walk
In the deep Daintree Rainforest
The first morning we walked north along Myall Beach to the 1,2 km Dubiji boardwalk that winds through the rainforest. You can also find the boardwalk from the other side where the main road is.
Fan palms on the Cape Tribulation Dubiji Walk
The Dubuji walk was fantastic, one of the most beautiful nature walks I’ve ever seen.
The wooden boardwalk winds its way through a wet mangrove swamp into a deep rainforest. It also takes you into a very special fan palm forest that you can see in these pictures.
The Dubuji boardwalk is meant to be a loop walk, but at the time we were there, the end part was under construction and we had to walk back the same way.
Self-drive trip to the Daintree Rainforest: native rainforest plants
We spent a long while on the boardwalk. Here are more images of the vegetation: above on the left is an elkhorn fern that grows high up in the trees. An elkhorn fern makes me think about elk horns that male elks back home in Finland normally have.
Cape Tribulation Village Centre
The village of Cape Tribulation, Queensland
The Dubiji boardwalk is close to the village centre. Cape Trib is a very small village with only a few tourist shops, a visitor information centre and a small general store.
A typical Daintree mangrove swamp
Behind the store is another camping area, the PK Jungle Village, from where we found another path to the beach. And again there was a boardwalk, and another mangrove swamp.
This swamp was so thick and wet that there was no way to get anywhere in it, without a built boardwalk. Thanks to those that built this, we so much loved getting to see mangroves this close.
Taking Daintree National Park boardwalks
Walking along Myall Beach
So we came back to Myall Beach and continued north. Postcard-pretty but hardly anyone in the water. Why?
Tourists walking on Myall Beach, Cape Tribulation
Getting closer you will notice that there are stinger and crocodile warnings, everywhere.
Summer is the main season for stingers but they can survive all year round in these warm waters. So swimming in these fantastic waters is not an option and we only walked in the water.
As the Cape Tribulation beaches are in a remote place, there are no life-guards or stinger nets to protect you either.
Daintree beach life
Following the beach we found a small path (the Kuliki Rainforest Walk) leading to the last car park before the sealed road ends. That was near the cape between the different Cape Tribulation beaches.
Self drive trip to the Daintree Rainforest: walking amoung tropical plants
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. The lookout walk is short and easy, only about 600 meters.
The Cape Tribulation Coral Sea viewpoint
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 for one or two hours.
Seeing that we felt so happy to be able to stay days in Cape Tribultation instead of hours.
Tourists on Cape Tribulation Beach
On this beach you can see a huge network of mangrove roots between the beach and the headland. Mangrove needs those big roots to take in oxygen so it can live in a wetland like this.
Huge mangrove roots and beach walking in the Daintree Rainforest
Meeting a Goanna
On the way back from the beach we stopped at a picnic table to get beach sand off our feet – and saw a big goanna!
A Daintree goanna next to the Cape Tribulation beach
The goanna was staring at us from the bush. So now we have seen a cassowary and a goanna in the wild!
Daintree Rainforest Swimming Holes
A tropical Daintree swimhole
If you don’t like swimming with stingers and crocodiles, there’s another way to enjoy Daintree’s tropical waters. Just try some of the fresh water swimming holes that exist in Daintree creeks and rivers.
What is a swimming hole? A wider place in a tropical river where the water stands still. In these places the water often is crystal clear, getting a green color from the jungle. Daintree river waters are a bit cool, at least in winter, which makes you feel refreshed on a hot day.
Yet, for your own safety, you will have to know where to go. Around the village of Cape Tribulation there are only two crocodile free swimming holes:
Masons Swimming Hole
The park next to the Masons swimming hole, Cape Tribulation
The first one is the Masons swimming hole, a secret swimming hole right behind Mason’s General Store located where you enter Cape Tribulation village from the south.
The second one is the Emmagen Creek swimming hole 7 km 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 shown in this picture. And don’t forget to leave a small donation in the box.
This is a what the fresh water swimming hole behind Mason’s store looks like.
A green Cape Tribulation swimhole
The top thing with the Masons swimming hole is that you can hang and swing on a liana and then jump into the water, and there were lots of lianas hanging from the trees.
Emmagen Swimming Hole
Driving on the Bloomfield Track
The other crocodile-free swimming hole is the Emmagen Creek further north.
Driving north from Cape Tribulation the road is the Bloomfield Track to Cooktown. On the Bloomfield Track it’s only possible to drive on a two-wheel driven car for about the first 7 km to Emmagen, where the first river crossing comes (see the photo above).
Leave your car on the small car park and on the left hand side you will find a small path into the rainforest. There is no sign or anything, just the path.
On the way to the Emmagen swimhole
Follow that path for about 400 meters and you’ll reach the Emmagen Creek. At the end turn either left of right, both places you come to are good to swim at.
We tried both river bends and some other people too had found this remote place. Below some pictures of the two Emmagen swimming holes:
Emmagen, a Platypus River
And guess what we saw at Emmagen: a platypus! Yes, we really saw one, looking exactly the same as in the Sydney Aquarium. Never before have we seen a platypus in the wild, even when we so much tried.
The platypus was diving near the bottom, swimming fast and turning all the time as if it was looking for something. Then it heard us talking (too loud of course…) and disappeared in the mud.
End of the Self Drive Trip to the Daintree Rainforest
So in the Daintree we met wildlife: a cassowary, goanna and platypus.
Time for one more look at the Coral Sea before driving back:
End of the self drive trip to the Daintree Rainforest
More on Daintree and Queensland
- On the same trip we went to see the Great Barrier Reef: What is a Great Barrier Reef Cruise Like?
- Our drive to the Daintree: Driving from Cairns to Daintree
More information on Daintree Rainforest and visitor maps: