Experts can’t agree on which rainforest is the oldest living rainforest in the world. The Daintree claims to be the oldest, it is at least 135 million years old. But the Taman Negara National Park in Malaysia also claims to be the oldest with around 130 million years under its belt…But, scientists say, it’s impossible to tell exactly how old a rainforest is, so it will remain an estimation.
The age of these areas like these is important, because they’ve remained untouched all that time by things such as ice ages, as well as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. So in these places it’s much easier to trace evolution, and you will find flora and fauna that’s older than human civilisation.
This evolution shows clear signs that Australia was once attached to Asia’s mainland. Part of the ancient Pangaea
continent, which was a supercontinent containing most current continents around 200 to 250 million years ago. It is assumed that Australia was attached to New Guinea, considering many animal species are present in both countries.
In the eighties there was a battle between conservationists and timber companies regarding this area. Eventually the government recognised the area’s importance, and applied for the area to be listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987, which happened the following year.
Salient detail: several roads were laid in the area for logging, which now serve as tourist routes.
The park’s emblem is a southern cassowary, a large and unpredictable flightless bird. They can be up to 2 meters tall. The southern cassowary can be found in a few places in New Guinea as well. It is one of three cassowary species in the world, the northern cassowary only lives in New Guinea, and the dwarf cassowary can also be found on the nearby island of New Britain.
The animal was close extinction, but thanks to the efforts of conservationists it is making a comeback. The animal is important to the local ecology; it’s the only animal to eat around seventy kinds of seeds, which means these get distributed around the area.
The most remarkable thing about these animals is its ‘casque’, the big lump on its head. It is skin-covered bone, and the only bird to have this. They use their casque to clear their way through the dense vegetation, and the hollow space inside has fibres that are believed to serve an acoustic purpose. These birds can be spotted alongside the roads in the Daintree, most frequently in the late afternoon.
The Daintree is also home to one of the strangest animals on the planet: the platypus. This animal can only be found in Australia. This mammal is considered living proof of evolution, because it also has the characteristics of birds and reptiles as well. But its remarkable beak is soft, not hard like those of birds. And it lays eggs…
The platypus is a semiaquatic animal that feeds on worms and underwater creatures such as freshwater shrimps and yabbies, and occasionally fish. They are remarkably agile in the water, using their webbed feet to move around. The best time to spot them is early in the morning or around dusk, because they are nocturnal. They can be found in creeks, dams, rivers and lakes.
There are also different kinds of possums and gliders in the Daintree. The most interesting ones are the sugar gliders, which have loose skin between its front and hind legs. When they leap from tree to tree, they stretch out all their legs and this skin catches the air, so that they appear to glide.
Another special animal in this area is the tree kangaroo. There are twelve different kinds in total, most of them live in New Guinea. In this area you can find Lumholtz’s tree kangaroo, and the Bennett’s tree kangaroo. They grow to be around 60 to 80 centimetres tall, not counting their tails. They spend most of their time up in the trees, and only spend a small amount of time on the ground. That’s interesting, because all other kangaroo species long ago spent all their time up in trees and slowly evolved to be ground dwellers. You’ve got to be really lucky to see one as a tourists, and if you spot one, it’s likely to be a Bennett’s tree kangaroo.
Many tourist can encounter a Boyd’s Forest Dragon in the rainforest, a lizard about 50 centimeter in size with a long tail. It’s striking, with spikes along its spine and different colours along its flanks. Its most common positing is vertically along a tree, and they will run and hide the moment you come near it.
It’s quite easy to spot freshwater crocodiles in the various rivers. The males grow up to 3,5 meters, and the females grow no larger than 2,5 meters. One of the best place to spot them is along the Daintree river.
Its large, more dangerous brother is the saltwater crocodile. It’s the largest reptile in the world. Their size is already terrifying (up to 7 meters), but their reputation is even more scary, they are known to be deadly and have killed numerous humans.
They are not unique to Australia, you can also find them in the east of India, the south of China, and the Philippines, and most islands in between. Despite their name, they live near the mouths of rivers and even in rivers themselves, which is evident by their presence along the Daintree river, the best spot to see these reptiles. There is a tip to telling the two kinds of crocodiles apart: are their teeth all the same size? That’s a freshwater crocodile. Are their teeth irregular in size with an angled jawline? That’s his dangerous brother.
Other animals you may encounter on your walks (or even see from the car): red-legged pademelon, spotted-tail quoll, musky rat-kangaroo, long-tailed pygmy possum, tropical bettong, spectacled flying fox and several kinds of tree frogs.
The area is, besides the cassowaries, home to many birds, there are more than 430 kinds in the Daintree. One of those is the Victoria riflebird, one of four birds of paradise native to Australia. People come from far and wide to admire the male birds’ intriguing dances of courtship. When a male dances he makes a unique noise, which is where they got their name. It’s a spectacle to behold.
Another special bird in this area is the golden bowerbird. Male golden bowerbirds build tall and intricate structures to attract a mate. Besides these birds you can find many other special birds in this area, many are endemic, which means they can only be found is certain small areas. Each little pocket has its own small list of unique birds.
Wonga Beach, for example, is known for the double-eyed fig parrots and Gould’s bronze cuckoo that live in the bushes near this beach. Both only live in this one specific area.
Trees and Plants
The Daintree rainforest has the largest number of trees and plants in Australia. Of the nineteen primitive plant varieties, twelve can be found here.
One of those is the ‘green dinosaur’, or idiot fruit, a special ancient tree that grows and flowers differently to other more modern species of plants and trees. It is estimated to be around 120 million years old, and hasn’t changed much since then, which means it was around when dinosaurs walked the earth. Its fruit is very heavy and poisonous to many animals, but it’s believed that the dinosaurs were able to stomach them and dispersed its seeds. Now the seeds are only dispersed by gravity and thus are only found in very small areas, where the soil is wet and the seeds can sink and sprout.
You can find yellow and spur mahogany in the daintree, as well as the blue marble tree, also known as the blue quandong. There are many other species of trees that Australians from other states have never even heard of.
One of the more common plants is the fan palm, which has an interestingly shaped leaf that adds a unique character to this rain forests. Another is the Hope’s cycad, which looks like a cross between a palm tree and a fern. It’s the largest of the cycads and its fruits are highly toxic to humans.
Go on a night safari
Walk around the forest at night with a guide to find all that’s alive and awake…or asleep. There are many birds that sleep under big leaves, sheltered from the rain. You can listen to the orchestra of tree frogs that fills the night sky around water holes, hear the splashing of creeks, and many other sounds that you might not be able to identify. You can go on a night safari in many places, so ask at information centres in the area.
Take a helicopter flight over the rainforest and the reef
Take a bird’s eye view of the area by seeing it from above in a helicopter. There will be a stop for a nature walk, for example to see saltwater crocodiles.
More information: www.daintreerainforest.com/capetribulation/
Spot wildlife from the Daintree River
ecause most animals regularly need a drink from the river, you can see a lot on a daily basis. So taking a boat tour along this vital waterway is an absolute must. You’ll be able to see many animals, including salt water crocodiles, and freshwater crocodiles if you’re lucky. You’ll also see many water birds including different kinds of herons.
More information: www.daintreerivertours.com.au
Watch hundreds of flying foxes fill the night sky
t’s known as a natural spectacle, and rightly so, when hundreds of spectacled flying foxes, also known as fruit bats, leave their roosting place at nightfall and fly out to hunt for food. One of the best places to see this is Windy Reach Lookout, just outside the Daintree township. They tend to need a drink after their day of sleeping in the trees, so they’ll drop in for a drink. The best time of year to see the flying foxes is in spring and early summer.
Explore the forest with the Kuku Yalanji people
Mossman Gorge is home to the Kuku Yalanji people, the original inhabitants of the area. It’s a rugged area, where a crystal-clear river makes it way to the ocean through the rocks and the rainforest. You can go on a Dreamtime walk with a Kuku Yalanji guide, who will show you the medicinal qualities of the flora in the area, share their deep connection to the land and invite you to attend a smoking ceremony.
More information: www.yalanji.com.au
Walk among the treetops
The Daintree Discovery Center is a gateway to much information in the area: the flora, the fauna and the the history of this ancient area. There are several audio tours for all ages and an interactive display. Plus there is the Canopy Tower that shows you the view over the rainforest from 23 meters above ground level, and an aerial walk at 11 meters high where you can spot much life and activity if you take the time to look.
More information: discoverthedaintree.com
Go into the forest on horseback
One of the ways to discover the rainforest is by horse. Those with a bit of experience can ride through the creeks and explore the more secluded parts of the area. You can also ride along one of the most beautiful sections: where the reef meets the rainforest.
Drive and sleep in a 4×4
It might be a bit of a strange combination, a sturdy 4×4 Toyota LandCruiser that is also your accommodation for the night. It’s total freedom: you can go wherever you like and then sleep wherever you like. You can camp pretty much anywhere you want in Australia, though you need a permit in national parks. It’s an amazing experience. You can hire these cars in Cairns.
Camp right on Wonga Beach
You can camp right on the beachfront at the township of Wonga Beach where there are two campsites. This is a great location to spot two endemic (that means they only live in one specific area) bird species: the double-eyed fig parrot, and Gould’s bronze cuckoo.
Hike to the summit of Mount Sorrow
This hike is for those who are comfortable going for a long walk every now and then, and requires sturdy footwear. But it’s known as one of the best in the area.
Expect wonderful views over both the rainforest and the sea, and of course the famous vistas where you can see both of those. And if you’re lucky, you might have some close encounters with the local wildlife!
Fish on the Daintree River
Besides the many creatures that live around the waterways, the Daintree Rivers is full of fish as well. Some of the bigger ones are barramundi, mangrove jack and trevally.
Go Platypus spotting
There are people who travel to Australia just to see the platypus. For the average tourist it may be looking for a needle in the haystack, but the locals know a bit more about where you can see them. So ask around where they can be spotted, you might just get lucky.
Lend a hand as a volunteer
If you’re keen on doing your bit to preserve this amazing environment, you can roll up your sleeves at the Australian Tropical Research Foundation. Every year volunteers are invited to help with maintenance and research work involving plants and animals both in the rainforest and on the beach.
More information: www.austrop.org.au
Spend the night in the rainforest
The sounds you can hear in the rainforest during the night and at dawn are unforgettable. And the chance you’ll meet some of the local wildlife is high. One of the places you can spend the night in the rainforest is the Daintree Wilderness Lodge.
More information: www.daintreewildernesslodge.com.au
This part of Australia is the wettest of the entire continent. The driest time is between May and September. It’s less humid then as well, and the temperature is around 25-27 degrees celsius and cooler nights.
The other months are wetter, and it the summer (December to March) it is quite warm, around 30-32 degrees celsius.
There are many poisonous animals in Australia, including the deadliest snakes in the world. And there are also toxic plants and trees that can really ruin your holiday. Educate yourself on what to look out for, and how to avoid encounters with the unpleasant kinds of flora and fauna, and make sure you know where to go or who to contact in case of emergency.
How do I get there?
It’s 110 kilometers north of Cairns by road.
You can also fly here from Cairns, but that’s a lot pricier, but the views are worth the costs, so make sure you get a window seat.
More information: www.daintreerainforest.com