Many travelers head up to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, but the region north of Cairns offers a chance to experience tropical rain forests and Aboriginal culture. Take the cable ferry across the Daintree River, and you’ll see a spectacular part of the country that most casual visitors miss.
Where to Stay
In Daintree National Park, the most upscale choice is Silky Oaks Lodge, but Daintree Eco Lodge also offers an inviting, if somewhat more rustic atmosphere, plus excellent cultural tours; both are outside of Mossman. In Cooktown, the best place to stay is The Sovereign Resort Hotel.
What to Do
The Daintree is a remarkable forest and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the more eye-popping places to visit is Mossman Gorge, which is near the town of Mossman. The boulder-studded river and waterfalls are the primary attractions here, so dedicate time to take a leisurely walk along the riverside trail.
A trip up the four-wheel-drive-only Bloomfield Track, north of the Daintree River through Cape Tribulation, is also a highlight. There are plenty of activities to choose from, including river cruises, zipline tours, and horseback riding.
Cooktown is a quiet, pretty place—and where you might see a kangaroo hopping down the street off the main drag, Charlotte Street. The paved road ends just north of town at the site of the northernmost settlement on Australia’s east coast. The town’s James Cook Museum has the anchor of Cook’s ship, Endeavour, which ran around here.
If you are going all the way to Cooktown, don’t miss Willie Gordon’s aboriginal cultural tour through his company Gurrbitours. Willie has a wealth of knowledge and will take you on an unforgettable trek into the hills south of Cooktown.
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Where to Eat
Both Silky Oaks Lodge and Daintree Eco Lodge have good restaurants, but your best bet is The Sovereign Resort Hotel in Cooktown. Note that it’s only open during the high season.
Those with more time may want to visit Palm Cove or Port Douglas for a relaxing beach getaway; trips to the Great Barrier Reef can be organized from these towns as well. The luxurious Lizard Island is another option for well-heeled visitors looking for exclusivity.
If You Go
Cairns is a three-hour flight from Sydney (just two hours from Brisbane); the climate here is tropical, and December through April sees hot, wet weather with frequent downpours that can make roads impassable. The dry season, particularly from June through August, is ideal, but even in the brief "winter" from September through November, temperatures are rarely cold.
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Photo credit: Adventure North Australia