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Outdoor Adventures in Daintree

Cape Tribulation, Daintree National Park is an ecological wonderland. Here you can see several of the world's most ancient plants and some of Australia's rarest creatures, protected by the Daintree's traditional owners, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji, for thousands of years.

The park extends over approximately 22,000 acres, although the entire Wet Tropics region—which stretches from Townsville to Cooktown and covers 1,200 square km (463 square miles)—was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. Within it, experts have identified several species of angiosperms, the most primitive flowering plants in existence, many of which are found nowhere else on the planet.

When to Go

Clear, sunny days, comfortably cool nights, no stingers in the ocean and mud-free rain forest and mangrove trails: "the Dry" season is the most pleasant time to visit.

"The Wet"—roughly November through April—can be wonderful, too: foliage is lush and green; buds turn to hothouse blooms. Drawbacks include occasional flash flooding and road closures, high humidity, slippery tracks, and leeches and mosquitoes.

Spring and late fall can be a good compromise: the weather—and the water—are typically warm and clear, and activities are less heavily booked than during the dry season.

A Sacred Site

With diverse plant and animal life, abundant fresh water, and tracts of fertile coastal lowland, the Daintree rain forest is rich terrain for the resourceful. Its traditional custodians are the Eastern Kuku Yalanji, a peaceable people who've been coexisting with and subsisting on the forest's abundant flora and fauna for tens of thousands of years. Their tribal lands stretch north almost as far as Cooktown, south as far as Mossman and west to the Palmer River, with the Kuku Yalanji traveling seasonally throughout the region.

Designating five rather than four seasons in a year, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji used changes in weather and growth cycles to guide hunting and foraging expeditions into the rain forest: when the jun jun (blue ginger) came into fruit, they'd catch diwan (Australian brush-turkey); when jilngan (mat grass) flowered, they'd collect jarruka (orange-footed scrubfowl) eggs; and year-round, they'd track tree-dwelling animals—yawa (possum), kambi (flying fox), and murral (tree kangaroo). Even today, members of the Kuku Yalanji can tell you which local plants can be eaten, used as medicines, and made into utensils, weapons, and shelter.

The Daintree's indigenous inhabitants believe many of the area's natural sites have spiritual significance, attributing particular power to Wundu (Thornton Peak), Manjal Dimbi (Mt. Demi), Wurrmbu (The Bluff), and Kulki (Cape Tribulation). Dozens of spots in the rain forest—waterfalls, crags, peaks, and creeks—are deemed by the Kuku Yalanji to have spiritual, healing, or regenerative powers. Take a walk with one of the area's traditional custodians to get an intimate, intriguing perspective on this extraordinary terrain.

Various indigenous-guided tours and experiences in the Daintree area focus on bush tucker and medicines, wildlife and hunting techniques, culture, history, and ritual. A waterhole just behind Daintree Eco Lodge & Spa is deemed a site of special significance for women: a dip in its healing waters is a female-only ritual.

Top Reasons to Go

Animals. Watch for the rare Bennett's tree kangaroo, believed to have evolved from possums; the endangered, spotted-tailed quoll, a marsupial carnivore; a giant white-tailed rat (prone to raiding campsites); and the Daintree River ringtail possum, found only around Thornton Peak and the upper reaches of the Daintree and Mossman rivers.

Birds. Daintree National Park shelters hundreds of bird species: azure kingfishers swoop on crabs in the creeks, white-rumped swiftlets dart above the canopy. The pied imperial pigeon flies south from Papua New Guinea to breed here—as does the glorious buff-breasted paradise kingfisher, distinguished by its orange underbelly, blue wings, and long white tail. Year-round, you'll see orange-footed scrubfowl foraging or building gigantic leaf-litter nest-mounds. If you’re very lucky, you might even spot the 6-foot-tall, flightless southern cassowary.

Updated: 2014-04-21

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