Rainforests don’t get much more special than the Daintree.
This spectacular region is a must on any visitor's northern itinerary so don't rush...allow yourself time to explore at nature's pace!
Daintree Village, once the heart of the timber industry, nestles in a bend of the Daintree River where cruise boats glide between the jungle homes of birds animals and reptiles including large crocodiles and pythons. A naturalist's paradise, this region is recognised for its superb wildlife.
And eco-tourism operators provide itineraries offering fascinating insights into the creatures that inhabit this remote and beautiful river system. From the river's ferry crossing the coastal road continues north over tidal rivers and creeks and through small settlements to the renown wilderness areas of Cape Tribulation and Bloomfield Falls.
A haven for those wishing to pursue an alternative lifestyle, the freedom, untouched beauty and relaxing style of this region attracts nature lovers and backpackers seeking the perfect holiday escape.
World Heritage reef and rainforest come together along this section of the northern coast - nowhere else are these two natural wonders side by side and so accessible to travellers.
Between the Daintree and Bloomfield Rivers, the forest slopes of Cape Tribulation National Park plunge to the waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, where fringing reefs grow almost to the seashore. The mystical lowland rainforest here is a rare survivor of 100 million years of climatic changes.
The present reef system began growing above the remains of much older reefs when sea levels rose at the end of the last Ice Age. Beyond the islands formed from the peaks of flooded mountains and the cays created by wave action is the almost unbroken outer coral barrier of the Ribbon Reefs.
The Daintree Rainforest north of Cairns in Tropical Far North Queensland Australia is one of the most diverse and beautiful examples of Mother Nature in the world. It is home to the largest range of plants and animals on earth, and all are found within the largest chunk of rainforest in Australia - an area spanning approximately 1200 square kilometres.
This World Heritage Listed area contains the highest number of plant and animal species that are rare, or threatened with extinction, anywhere in the world. The Daintree Rainforest is a unique area, precariously balanced between the advances of development and the warnings of environmentalists.
The Daintree Rainforest contains 30% of frog, marsupial and reptile species in Australia, and 65% of Australia's bat and butterfly species. 20% of bird species in the country can be found in this area. And it all lives in an area that takes up 0.2% of the landmass of Australia.
The Daintree Rainforest's addition to the World Heritage List in 1988 in recognition of its universal natural values highlighted the rainforest as being:
- An outstanding example of the major stages in the earth's evolutionary history
- An outstanding example of significant ongoing ecological and biological processes
- An example of superlative natural phenomena, and
- Containing important and significant habitats for conservation of biological diversity.
The Daintree Rainforest is over one hundred and thirty-five million years old - the oldest in the world. Approximately 430 species of birds live among the trees, including 13 species that are found nowhere else in the world.
For tourists, this unique corner of the world offers an outdoor holiday that few other places on the globe can match. There are hiking trails, scenic lookouts, camping sites, picnic tables and swimming holes to be explored in the Daintree. In addition, visitors to the area can stay in eco-friendly accommodation and eat at cafes and restaurants that specialise in local delicacies.
Visiting the Daintree Rainforest exposes tourists to a wonderful outdoor experience:
- Untouched tropical rainforest
- Golden beaches with calm water
- Hiking tracks
- Thousands of species of birds and other wildlife
- Remote wilderness
- Ecological information about the most diverse ecosystem in the world
The Daintree has everything a wilderness lover can ask for. But the most important drawcard to the area is a product Australia is famous for: life-threatening flora and fauna. Make no mistake; if you want to be chewed on by a croc, chomped on by a snake or nibbled by a spider, the Daintree Rainforest could be just what you are looking for!
Please peruse this website to gain an appreciation of the Daintree Rainforest. This is a special part of the world. If you have any feedback about this site, please email us.
Getting to the Daintree Rainforest.
The number of ways to reach the Daintree Rainforest is almost as great as the number of visitors who make the pilgrimage every day.
- Rental car
- Rental motor-home
- Bus tour
*Please note there are no taxis in the Daintree area.
Vehicle users can be assured that a 4WD is not required to drive through the Daintree Rainforest. However the Bloomfield Track, which begins at the northern side of the rainforest, is suitable only for 4WDs. Following heavy rain causeways on the northern side of the Daintree River can be flooded, making travel impossible - even for 4WD vehicles.
Sunpalm Transport operate scheduled coach and bus transfer services between Cairns and Port Douglas, as well as an airport shuttle service from Cairns Airport to most resorts. Private luxury limousine charter, bus hire and charter and 4WD vehicle charter a specialty. Avoid the disappointment and book your transport now.
An airstrip in Cow Bay Airstrip provides access for planes and helicopters. Of course, the primary reason for taking this method of travel is so you can get a birds eye view of the pristine rainforest.
The total travelling time from Cairns to the Daintree Rainforest is about 2 hours. Simply drive north from Cairns on the Cook Highway past Port Douglas. This section of road offers spectacular views of the Coral Sea and is among the great coastal drives in the world.
Continue through the small township of Mossman until you reach a road that turns off on the right side of the road. There is a small sign indicating this road and it is easily missed, so keep a good lookout. From this turnoff, it takes approximately 20 minutes to reach the Daintree River where the ferry is waiting to take you deep into the rainforest.
After crossing the ferry, speed limits on the bitumen road are slow and speed bumps are frequent. The speed bumps are designed to slow traffic in the Cassowary habitat; don't be in any hurry.
A few miles north of the Daintree River ferry crossing is the Alexandra Range Lookout where gorgeous views of the Daintree Rover mouth and the Coral Sea are had.
Bus tours servicing the Daintree Rainforest include:
- Reef and Rainforest Connections
- Down Under Tours
- Tropical Horizons
- Cape Tribulation Connections
- Tropic Wings
- Coral Coaches - this is an economical bus line that can take you to the Daintree Rainforest, but doesn't provide an informative tour. It is ideal for backpackers and people travelling on a tight budget.
History of the Daintree Rainforest
The Daintree Rainforest has a history that stretches more than 135 million years. This history is written on every plant, animal, waterfall and rock in the rainforest, and is one of the prime examples of evolution on the planet. There are plant and animal species living in the Daintree Rainforest older than human life itself, and this is what makes the area so remarkably beautiful and important.
The rainforest has survived the wrath of Mother Nature - violent volcanos, global climate changes, the rising and falling of sea levels, fires, glacier movement, and thrashing cyclonic winds. Perhaps the most dangerous threat to the rainforest now is tourism. For this reason, measures have been put in place by government authorities to restrict movement by people within the rainforest. Whether these rules are affective or not is up for debate, but there is no question that the ecosystem is fragile and visitors need to be careful of their interaction with the environment.
Sir Joseph Banks first recorded the area in European history in the 1770's. This man was travelling on the HMS Endeavour with the famous Captain Cook. The British led voyage signalled the beginning of European colonialism in the southern Pacific region.
By the early 1800's, explorers were battling through the thick jungle of the Daintree hoping to find settlement locations - or even better, gold. But the thick lush rainforest proved brutally impenetrable, so it was left alone to continue living as it had for millions of years beforehand. But only for a little while.
By 1897 better tools and the potential for economic gain from the area had led to increased efforts to settle in the area. Freehold land in the Daintree was gazetted in an attempt to attract settlers to the area. During the 1930's, pioneering families were encouraged to settle and farm 160-acre portions of land. It was designed to stimulate economic recovery in the area after the great depression. The tropical climate was ideal for fruit crops such as bananas, watermelons and pineapples. A commercial timber industry was a major success, bringing an economic boom to the area.
In 1902, German botanist Ludwig Diels found a rare flower that had many characteristics of a primitive flowering genus, Calycanthus. This was previously unknown in Australia. Other examples of the genus had been found in Asia and North America, but the specimens Diels collected were in poor condition and he was unable to find any more than his original finding. He was also unable to make a proper identification of the plant.
Sixty-Nine years later, the flower was discovered again in morbid circumstances.
Four cattle belonging to local farmer John Nicholas from the Daintree Tea Company were unexpectedly found dead in their paddock. A veterinary officer was summoned to check the reasons for the death of the four cattle, and while he was at the property he witnessed the death of two more. Autopsies revealed the partly chewed remains of large seeds in the cattle's stomachs. After scientific examination, it was found that that the seeds produced a poison similar to strychnine, and they were responsible for the death of the cattle. Behold, the flower was rediscovered.
After the Second World War the timber industry in the Daintree Rainforest came to life again with the return of soldiers from around the world. A local timber mill built a wooden punt designed to ferry timber trucks across the Daintree River. But this failed when the punt capsized. A better attempt, this time with a steel punt barge, was successful in 1954.
During the 1980's, the Daintree Rainforest was the centre of arguments between conservationists and the timber industry. The conservationists argued that continued logging of the ancient old-growth rainforest was unsustainable and putting too much strain on the ecosystem. Controversy surrounded the creation of the Bloomfield track - a 4WD road through the rainforest along the coastal fringe, all the way from the Daintree River to Cooktown. Protesters halted the construction of the road temporarily, but eventually it was built providing unprecedented access to virgin tropical rainforest. The road was created without proper engineering, and as a result it has remained a rough 4WD track for all of its life.
In 1987, the Australian Federal Government headed to an election with a policy to list the Wet Tropics as a World Heritage site and halt logging. This sparked controversy throughout North Queensland from fears of an economic downturn and job losses. The government won the election and nominated the Daintree Rainforest as a World Heritage area.
Opposition came directly from the Queensland State Government, and took the federal government to the High Court of Australia to challenge its ruling. In 1988, the Wet Tropics area was given a World Heritage listing. The conservationists had a major victory to celebrate.
A year later, a new Labor Queensland State Government was elected, and one of its first actions was to withdraw the High Court challenge against World Heritage listing. The Daintree Rainforest has been in safe hands ever since.
The historical significance of the Daintree Rainforest cannot be understated. In addition to the ecological heritage and importance of the region, the hardship endured by European pioneers in the area should likewise not be forgotten.
Buildings of worth in the area are the Timber Gallery, built in 1925, and Red Mill House, built in 1930. Both structures are made from timber milled where the Daintree Riverview Caravan Park stands today. In constant reminder of the ferocity of Mother Nature, these buildings remain a part of the ecosystem by way of the termites that eat the wooden foundations.
Aboriginal History in the Daintree Rainforest.
The traditional indigenous owners of land at the Daintree Rainforest are the Kuku Yalariji tribe.
Note: Two different spellings of the tribal name are found in references about these people. Some books use Yalanji, and others use Yalariji. On this website, we will refer to Yalariji.
The Kuku Yalariji people, one of thousands of Aboriginal Australian tribes in the country, are believed to have inhabited the rainforest for more than 9000 years. Anthropological research shows there may have been three or five groups within the tribe, with the groups inhabiting rainforest areas, rivers, coastal frontages, and mountain peaks.
The Kuku Yalariji culture is very distinct and uniquely adapted to the Daintree Rainforest environment. The natural world around the people was understood to be linked closely to themselves - for example if an unseasonable weather pattern emerged this could be seen as a consequence for a human action. The rainforest was often described in human terms. Changes to the environment were interpreted as changes occurring to themselves. The rainforest was the source of all food, shelter, resources and other social structures.
The Kuku Yalariji have five seasonal categories, known by the typical weather patterns of that period.
- Kambar proper wet season Late December to March
- Kabakababa winter rain season April to May
- Buluriji cold season June to September
- Wungariji hot season October to November
- Jarramali stormy season Late November to the middle of December
Research shows that the aborigines used the rainforest plants and trees to make material goods such as wooden shields and swords to defend themselves against rival tribes, woven baskets for carrying goods, and bark cloth as fish traps.
The people lived in temporary dome thatched huts, which could be easily built and then discarded if weather conditions changed. For example, if a sudden downpour of rain threatened to raise river levels and flood a camp, the Kuku Yalariji could gather together their few belongings and move to a more suitable place where a new camp would be built quickly and simply.
Aboriginal history in the Daintree Rainforest, indeed most of Australia, was totally devoid of European interference for thousands of years. However, the discovery of gold in the Hodgkinson River in 1877 changed everything. Mineral explorations, tin mining and the development of a Palmerston trading road shattered the lifestyle and culture the Kuku Yalariji had maintained. Violent clashes between the indigenous people and the European settlers often resulted in fatalities. Not surprisingly the European settlers, with their modern sophisticated weaponry, had the upper hand.
The hunter/gatherer lifestyle in the Wet Tropics was severely threatened. Reports at the time stated that the "pest" Aboriginal people had been wiped out by the mid-1890s. We now know this was not true.
Similar to rounding up cattle, European authorities rounded up Aboriginal groups. At the time this was justified as for their ‘protection.' Legislation was introduced to parliament calling for their protection, however this usually meant removing the indigenous people from their traditional homelands and way of life and placing them in missions. In 1897 the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act was introduced. This was intended to preserve and protect the Kuku Yalariji people. However, like many attempts to ‘rescue' indigenous people during this time, the legislation served only to reduce the human value of the aboriginal people.
Local Aboriginal groups from the Daintree Rainforest region were moved to the Mossman Gorge Reserve, which is still active today. The indigenous people were first moved there around the time of World War Two.
Aboriginal people throughout Australia, including the Kuku Yalariji tribe, were not given citizenship rights in 1901 when Australia became an independent federation. Nor were they counted in the census. After decades of well-meaning yet destructive attempts at dealing with indigenous people by Europeans, their culture has been severely battered. The Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act was repealed only in the 1960s.
In recent years however, efforts have been made by Aboriginal Australians and white Australians to improve the living conditions of the original inhabitants of this land. It is clear that Kuku Yalariji culture is still alive, and with progressive approaches to human rights in Australia the culture can thrive again.
The Kuku Yalariji people are an integral and important part of the Daintree Rainforest. Everyone who visits the area must be aware of this historical significance.
Threats to the Daintree Rainforest
The Daintree Rainforest in far northern Australia has survived enormous environmental challenges over 135 million years. The immense numbers of plants and animals formed a biodiversity that ensured the survival of this pristine environment. However, a new force capable of destroying this unique and special environment now threatens the Daintree Rainforest. The threat is human.
There is nothing new about humans inadvertently destroying environmentally sensitive areas. Australians have waged countless campaigns against development in areas of natural beauty all around the country, but the Daintree Rainforest has been subject to more protesting and political wrangling than most. And rightly so.
The tropical rainforest is home to the most diverse range of plants and animals on earth. The Daintree region supports species of plants and animals that have existed for millions of years and are integral to the ecosystem not just of the Daintree Rainforest, but of other areas around the world too. As difficult as it may be to imagine, what happens in the Daintree Rainforest affects what happens on the other side of the planet.
One of the major concerns about development in the region is focussed on the soil. Rainforest soil is suitable only as rainforest soil, not as farming soil. History has proven that when rainforests are cut down and replaced with crops, the soil runs out of natural nutrients within 2 or 3 seasons. This is because the rainforest soil relies on the rainforest plants dropping leaves that then decompose and return the nutrients to the land. In this way, the rainforest is self-sufficient - something managed crops can never be.
In addition, without the huge root systems the old-growth trees provide, erosion is a big problem.
There are four major threats to the natural environment. All are interlinked, and all are within our control if we are sensitive to the way we handle the rainforest.
- Logging, an industry that put the Daintree Rainforest on the map decades ago, remains a force in the area. Parts of the rainforest are controlled by the Queensland Forestry Department, who could fell ancient trees and sell the timber for high prices.
- Mining is another threat, although has not yet become active. Tin mining leases are held over parts of the area, and if these go ahead many plants and animal species will be lost.
- Tourism also has an affect on the area. More than 400 000 people visit the region each year, which means thousands of buses, 4WD's, and passenger cars drive through the rainforest. The vast majority of tourism operators are highly aware of their impact on the environment and take steps to minimise their impact.
- Development by private enterprise is arguably the most dangerous aspect of human activity in the area. Subdivision of land, building of fences, and development of roads leads to hazardous conditions for native animals that often need to cross the fences or roads to get to their food source.
In 1983, a road was bulldozed through the Daintree Rainforest. Environmentalists and other people concerned about the region launched a furious campaign and blockade to stop the destruction. Unfortunately, the rainforest had already been bulldozed and a corridor of 4WD's began frequent treks up the track.
After the road was built, the area was turned into more than 1000 blocks of subdivided real estate. Some have been occupied and their owners have been sensitive to the environmental concerns in the area. But other lots have been bulldozed and used as cattle ranches. Recently, a species of tree in the red cedar family was suddenly made extinct when a landowner cleared a plot of land. This incident highlights the vulnerability of the Daintree Rainforest.
The latest political policy initiative aimed at saving the Daintree Rainforest is nicknamed ‘buy back'. The aim of this plan is for government to purchase freehold blocks of land in the area and return them to national park status. Therefore, no development can occur on these sites. The Queensland Labor Government considers buy back as the only plan that is acceptable to the majority of residents in the Daintree.
The Federal Liberal/National Government led by John Howard has also pitched in to the buy back plan, although reluctantly. It has spent $23 million on the plan, but surveying of the area took almost half the funds, leaving the other half to buy blocks of land. The money is now all gone and only a few blacks have been saved from development leaving other critical areas of rainforest and threatened species habitat privately owned and unprotected.
The other hot issue for residents in the Daintree Rainforest is about establishing grid power in the area. Currently, there are no power lines and all properties run on solar power or generators. Many landowners want the government to install power lines so they can run air conditioners and other high-energy consuming products. In turn, this will increase the value of their properties. There is little doubt that grid power would make life easier for the people who live in the rainforest, however the impact on the environment is severe. Debates on this issue try to weigh up whether the impact on plants and animals justify the convenience of ‘on-tap' power.
The Daintree Rainforest is well known for its beauty. It is also becoming well known for the grappling between environmentalists who want to preserve the natural integrity of the area, and developers who want to take advantage of the economic boon possible in the rainforest. Whatever compromise is reached, it needs to be in the best interests of the Daintree Rainforest.
The Importance of the Daintree Rainforest
The Daintree Rainforest gained a World Heritage Listing on the 9th of December 1988. This was a declaration of Australia's commitment to the area and recognition of its environmental values. The Daintree area is adjacent to another World Heritage site of equal importance, the Great Barrier Reef. There are few places in the world as significant and with such biodiversity as the Daintree Rainforest.
The canopy of the Daintree Rainforest is up to 45 metres above the forest floor. It is a food source for insects, birds and possums, and also serves as a habitat for species that live in the high trees such as snakes. These animals living in the canopy play a crucial role in the survival of animals that inhabit the rainforest floor by knocking fruit down from the trees.
On a principle level, rainforests are essential to human life because they turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. Carbon dioxide in the air created by burning wood, car engines etc, is removed the air and stored in the leaves, branches, roots and stems of plants. This collecting of carbon dioxide helps reduce the amount of pollution in the air, and in turn assists in reducing the greenhouse effect.
But there is another, more scientifically minded reason that highlights the importance of the Australian Daintree Rainforest. Scientists are quickly learning that cures to diseases that affect humans can be found in the rainforests of the world, including the Daintree Rainforest. There are plants that live in these ecosystems that are found in extremely small numbers, and losses of these types of plants could mean losses of potential cures.
"Imagine losing the potential cure for cancer or AIDS that might have been found in an undiscovered plant from the rainforest." (Tropical Rainforest Coalition, 1996)
Although there is scientific proof that cures do come from rainforests - one-fourth of drugs have products that come from rainforests - we still continue to pillage trees in the name of development. In the Daintree Rainforest, many tropical plants have been identified as having anti-cancer properties. However, scientists looking for anti-cancer properties have only been able to test 1 in 10 tropical forest plants to date.
Drugs used daily around the world have come from the rainforest, including aspirin. The rosy periwinkle flower helps treat people with Leukaemia. Tropical rainforests have provided chemicals used to treat muscular inflammation and tension, diabetes, malaria, heart conditions, rheumatism, skin conditions, and arthritis. Chemicals are found in rainforests that act as stimulants, tranquillisers, and contraceptives. Even a cure for AIDS could be discovered in rainforests.
In fact, it already has.
Researchers found a tree from the Malaysian rainforest in 1987 that was totally effective at killing the HIV-1 virus. Unfortunately, they were never able to find the tree again...but they're still looking.
Even though we live in an age where we believe that science has all the answers and we know almost everything about the planet we live on, there are still plants and animals in the rainforests that have not yet been discovered by humans.
Rainforest Rescue is a not for profit organisation committed to saving our rainforests for current and future generations. With assistance from Rainforest Rescue, The Daintree Rainforest Foundation have purchased seven properties in the past few years. They are now being managed for their conservation values which will be protected forever. The acquisitions will contribute to a long term project to form corridor for Cassowaries in the area. If you could like to find out more about Rainforest Rescue and the Daintree Buy Back Project, visit Rainforest Rescue's website; www.rainforestrescue.org.au
The Daintree Rainforest website can be a useful tool when gathering information for school projects and assignments, and we invite you to use the information contained within to help your understanding of the Daintree area.
Please note that because of the sheer number of requests we receive every day for additional information, images and maps; we regrettably cannot answer questions of this nature -- sorry! However, there are several resources that may be able to help:
Daintree Rainforest Discussion Forum
We wish you the best of luck with your project, and hope that the above websites may be of use.