By Daphne Titus-Rees
The Daintree River is the great dividing river that separates the Daintree rainforest from the rest of the world. Passing over the crocodile infested river is a symbolic entry into the beautiful tropical forest, and it feels as though you are entering a unique and ancient place. Indeed, you are.
The Daintree River Ferry, 50km north of Port Douglas, is the only way to cross the river. It operates on a cable system and is capable of taking up to 16 vehicles across the river at a time. The trip from the south bank to the north bank of the river takes about 5 minutes. This is the only cable ferry operating in a World Heritage area in the world.
The Daintree Ferry makes its first crossing for the day at 6AM and doesn't rest until midnight. This pattern is repeated seven days a week. The cost per vehicle at the time of writing is $20 for a return trip. However, for buses, vehicles with trailers and motor homes etc, higher fees are due. The Daintree Ferry is the only means of crossing the river; therefore visitors are warned to expect delays. With over 400,000 visitors per year using this ferry to enter the World Heritage Area, this is a major undertaking for the operators.
It is possible to take a privately owned vessel up the Daintree River, however skippers must be aware of the danger of crocodiles. There have been incidents of crocodiles attacking boats that have ventured too close to nests.
Floods develop quickly in the river. In March 1996, record flood levels swamped roads and properties throughout the Daintree region. Statistics gathered at the time recorded 606 millimetres of rain falling in 24 hours.
The Daintree River is home to a dazzling array of tropical life. It supports saltwater and freshwater marine life, including the dreaded saltwater crocodile. There have been numerous reports of deaths in the Daintree River from crocodile attacks, so it is important not to step close to the riverbank and absolutely never swim in the river.
The mouth of the Daintree River opens onto a giant sandbar that shifts with each changing tide. Due to the ever-shifting deep centre of the sandbar, entering the Daintree River has always been a problem for ship captains. The river winds through thick mangrove swamps where the water remains very salty. As it progresses through the rainforest, the water turns fresh. At this convergence point, an abundance of wildlife congregate, particularly fish.
By Daphne Titus-Rees