Following the scenic coastline from Cairns, Queensland I was awash with the joy of anticipating Port Douglas, for me the doorway of Tropical North Queensland, a spectacular holiday destination and home to world renowned natural wonders.
This is the only place on the earth where two World Heritage areas, the lush shades of green of the Wet Tropics Rainforest and the blue hues of the Great Barrier Reef meet.
Settling into the tropical lifestyle at the Sheraton Mirage was relaxing as I was surrounded by thriving gardens and two hectares of sparkling saltwater lagoon pools. Perfect for lounging, frolicking, swimming and of course the ideal setting for a cocktail.
The beachfront luxury resort is located on the famous Four Mile Beach. At my doorstep was a spectacular four mile walk without any buildings or constructions interrupting the pristine vista. Housing and accommodation is effortlessly hidden behind swaying palm trees. The natural environment has been respected and protected for all to observe and appreciate.
This holiday I particularly wanted to experience the wonders of the diverse landscape rather than explore the fragile ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef.
So the holiday highlight was an extraordinary full day journey that began with a guided walk along the new aerial walkway in Mossman Gorge part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. It was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1998.
The Kuku Yalanji people are the traditional custodians of this area and their culture is thought to be around 9000 years old. Today many of its existing people are very active in tourism and offer sightseers an insight into their heritage as well as their dependence on and empathy with the environment.
Mossman George Centre opened in 2012 and was the result of the twenty year dream of Kuku Yalanji Elder, Roy Gibson. It is operated by Voyages Indigenous Tourism Community and today ninety percent of employees at the Centre are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
“This is our way of keeping our culture alive and walking together as one” articulates Roy Gibson.
Shuttle Buses operate every fifteen minutes dropping passengers in the heart of the tropical rainforest, where the 27 kilometre long Mossman River tumbles over granite boulders creating cool, clear freshwater swimming holes.
We observed Saw-shelled turtles basking on the rocks. They are one of the few animals able to eat poisonous cane toads and survive. Jungle perch, a silver fish with black scale margins and bold black markings on their tails were viewed swimming and darting in the fresh water.
The vivid and diverse flora is part of the last refuges of Australia’s ancient tropical rainforests. I was fascinated by the Epiphytes which grow on other plants but do not harm their hosts. The nested leaves of basket ferns and the funnel like leaves of bird’s nest ferns trap rain and leaf litter. These structures provide the plants with essential moisture and nutrients.
Our journey then took us to the Daintree stretching from the Daintree Village across river and encompassing Cape Kimberley, Cow Bay, Thornton’s Peak, Cooper Creek, Thornton Beach, Noah Valley, Cape Tribulation and the Bloomfield Track to the North.
The next adventure on our itinerary was a Daintree River cruise where we had close up encounters with crocodiles, snakes, beautiful birds and the estuary. Winding for more than 140 kilometres, the Daintree River is one of the longest rivers on Australia’s east coast.
The Daintree River contains 31 mangrove species and its flourishing swamp forest attracts rare and locally prolific bird life, plants, frogs and insects species.
The river cruise was smooth and tranquillity prevailed as we observed the flora and fauna. The Misty Mountains Frogmouth is only found in Queensland and these birds catch insects and frogs with their mouth not their feet. We spotted a White-lipped tree frog, the world’s largest tree frog cleverly camouflaged as it rested amid green leaves.
There are two species of crocodiles in Australia, the saltwater and freshwater, but it’s only the ‘salties’ that inhabit the Daintree River. It was very exciting seeing crocodiles in the wild. The Daintree River has a population of about 70 adult crocodiles. It was intriguing to learn that they can last over a year without food as they are very efficient at storing energy in their bodies and very capable of eating large meals. They patiently wait for their prey!
Later our vehicle boarded the ferry that makes continuous crossings over the Daintree River. We drove along spectacular scenic stretches with magnificent views of the ocean, thriving rainforest clad mountains, cane fields and deserted beaches towards Cape Tribulation. Most of the roads follow the original Aboriginal track.
We were in the heart of the world’s oldest surviving rainforest with examples of plant species that existed millions of years ago. We saw the King Fern which is one of the largest and most ancient ferns in the world. They need constant moisture to support their huge fronds, which can measure up to 5 metre on a fully mature specimen.
One of the highlights of this journey was spotting a fleck of blue which quickly materialised into a Cassowary in its natural habitat. This ellusive flightless bird is highly endangered so this sighting was an unforgettable experience
These solitary birds consume five kilos of fruit a day. In addition they also eat fungi, insects, frogs, spiders, snakes and other small animals. They are very territorial and will defend ferociously if threatened.
Their dagger-like claws can be up to 120 mm long and are extremely lethal. They have been known to disembowel large animals.
The males incubate the eggs for 50 days. Cassowaries are the second largest bird in Australia and they can live for up to 50 years.
After travelling a further 80 kilometres Cape Tribulation named by Captain Cook opened out at the end of a paved road. Astonishing Cape Tribulation Beach is a bush walker’s utopia with its rainforest trails and scenic panoramas. This is the very point where the two World Heritage listed areas meet, rainforest and reef. It was a breathtaking moment!
On the return trip we changed vehicles and boarded a soft top Land Rover to explore private tracks through creeks to one of nature’s hidden gems, Cassowary Falls.
Tucked away in a secluded valley, it was what most people expect of tropical rainforests but few actually get to experience.
I summoned up my courage and swam beneath the falls with fish, turtles and eels. That one special feat made this trip a rich and rewarding encounter.
It is truly magnificent immersing oneself in the wonderment of nature.
The location and swim created cherished memories. Each location on this magical day trip was unique and memorable. Port Douglas is unquestionably the gateway to paradise.
Rose Niland, NSW Features Correspondent, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017