The World Heritage-protected Daintree region of Tropical North Queensland is a wonderland par excellence, comprising 95kms of magnificent coastal rainforest and pristine tropical beaches. I joined Billy Tea Safaris on their guided tour of the Daintree, as a day-trip from Cairns.
The 130km long Daintree River, of which a third is tidal, boasts a bewildering abundance of wildlife. In fact a third of all of Australia’s bird species can be found in the Daintree, but it’s sighting the saltwater crocodiles who lurk in the river that provides the biggest frisson. Our river cruise pilot adds a sense of theatre to the croc-spotting mission, excitedly yelling out, “Tracking 12 o’clock, tracking, tracking…just in front of us…croc identified!”
As it was, with the tide high, most of the crocs were successfully tracked own, but partially submerged. Fang and Scar Face, are the two famous alpha males of the river, who both span nearly five metres in length, while Lizzy is one of the river’s matriarchs. These remarkable creatures pre-date dinosaurs, with a lineage that reaches back 240 million years.
After the relishing the river jaunt, head to Alexandra Range Lookout, or Wal Wugirriga, which provides a supreme panoramic perspective of how the lush rainforest dips meet the Great Barrier Reef. Two World Heritage treasures, essentially locking lips. Driving through the rainforest of the National Park, it’s fascinating to discover how it’s only recently enjoyed its status as a protected habitat, declared off-limits to commercial logging since 1988. There’s a spree of walking trails, to suit all stamina levels, throughout the National Park. Head to the Daintree Discovery Centre, which adjoins some artfully designed boardwalks and aerial walkways.
I gazed in awe at the multitude of ferns, palms and cycads, marvelling at the variety of shapes, forms and textures within the forest. My favourite specimen would have to be the rather unfortunately named sperm tree, conspicuous by its enormous buttressed roots, a sculptural masterpiece of nature to rival a Gothic cathedral. Beyond the forest, other highlights of the day trip with Billy Tea Safaris was enjoying a freshly brewed cup of locally grown billy tea alongside the crystal-clear waters of Emmagen Creek. A popular swimming spot, the creek is only accessible on the 4WD Bloomfield Track.
The day-trip also takes in Lync Haven, an animal refuge centre for orphaned wildlife. I happily leapt at the chance to hand-feed the uber-friendly, and rather posy kangaroos, wallabies and wallaroos. Our guides introduced us to the extraordinary array of tropical fruits lustily grown in the region. After sampling some freshly sliced specimens, like custard apple, soursop and black sopote, we then went one decadent step better, and called into the Daintree Ice Cream Factory. Your taste buds will be electrified with exotic tropical flavours, such as wattle seed, jackfruit and coconut icecream. Just perfect for the ride home.
With so many natural thrills on the doorstep of Cairns, not only is it the perfect hub, but a charming city to explore. Stroll the snazzy promenade, overlooking Trinity Inlet, a favourite haunt for joggers, walkers and bladders. Graze from the throng of swish cafes and bars in the Esplanade complex, many with leafy grass frontages. And take a soak in the superbly developed saltwater lagoon.
Where to roost? In the heart of the action in Abbott St, the Pullman International Cairns ( formerly the Sebel ) is the leading lady of 5 star hospitality. From the exterior, the building looks a little dated, but after a recent, extensive refurbishment, upon entering the lobby, the crisp, stylish and elegant interior is all-pervasive. In fact, the glittering, gold-chandeliered lobby is so gorgeous, take a peep inside even if you’re not in residence. All guest rooms include large balconies overlooking the harbour or mountains. Coco's Restaurant offers incredibly diverse buffet breakfast options and an à la carte dinner menu showcasing the region’s freshest quality produce.
Top tip: Dreaming of the Daintree? For a magical day-trip experience, from Cairns or Port Douglas, the family-owned Billy Tea Safaris has 33 years of touring experience in the tropical rainforest area. Check out their full range of encounters at www.billytea.com.au