Everything you need to know about the world’s oldest rainforest
If all the national parks in Queensland were vying for a medal at the Olympics, there’s no question about which one would win gold. Daintree National Park is worthy of the top prize with age, cultural importance, natural significance on its side. And that’s all before you discover it’s downright beautiful and borders our most talked-about natural wonder, The Great Barrier Reef.
With some 400,000 visitors each year, Daintree National Park not only holds its own in the national park world but is worthy of the best-on-ground in Tropical North Queensland.
If you haven’t explored it before, we’ve got you covered with this guide to exploring the Daintree.
What’s so special about Daintree National Park?
Perhaps the better question is, what’s not special about it?
The Daintree is the most famous of the five precincts that make up the Wet Tropics eco-system. In fact, this rainforest is the oldest continuously surviving tropical rainforest in the world, thought to be 165 million years old – trumping even the Amazon when it comes to seniority.
But it’s not just the oldest. The Daintree is the longest on the continent too, running for approximately 450km from its Mossman south to Cooktown north. To put it in perspective, it measures half the distance you’d find between Brisbane and Sydney.
Daintree National Park, as part of the Wet Tropics, wears a UNESCO title for its universal natural appeal. And as if its flora and fauna are not enough, its custodians are part of one of the oldest civilizations in the world – this is Kuku Yalanji territory.
In case we haven’t convinced you, check out these reasons to visit now.
The trails of Daintree National Park
From simple strolls through to rock scrambles, your hiking boots have every reason to get excited about a visit to the Daintree.
For those who like their walks under a kilometre or require accessible paths, the Daintree is full of them. Our pick is the Baral Marrjanga track (270m) at Mossman Gorge, which is perfectly paved for prams and wheelchairs.
For something a bit longer that still won’t call for lycra or serious boots, meander along Marrdja Botanical Boardwalk to see rainforest meld into mangrove habitat when you cross Noah Creek on this 1.2km track.
Serious climbers need only apply for Mount Sorrow, a 7km incline which takes seven hours to complete (hot tip: only climb it in daylight hours). It winds from the lowlands of Cape Tribulation to the ridge of Mount Sorrow (which is how your legs might be feeling by the end of the journey!).
The flora and fauna of Daintree National Park
When it comes to biodiversity, Daintree National Park is just a show-off. There’s at least 663 species of vertebrate animals, 230 butterfly species, 135 dung beetle species and 222 species of land snails… and that’s without getting to any of the cute and cuddly stuff.
From a feathered perspective, there are 430 different types of birds in these boroughs who co-exist some of the most evolved animals including the southern cassowary and tree kangaroo. Don’t believe us? Check out these 10 animals you won’t find anywhere else except the Daintree.
If we had to pick a favourite, we’d swap feathers and fur for evolution of a different kind. Check out the Boyd’s Forest Dragon, Australia’s answer to a chameleon. You’ll often find this small lizard camouflaged against a tree. The only trick is, you’ll need to find him first.
If you thought the animals were interesting, wait till you see the plants.
Did you know the Daintree is home to most of the world’s 19 primitive plant families? That’s right, 12 of the world’s 19 plants are found here, preserving major stages of the earth’s history within their branches – actual proof that Australia and Antarctica were once a mega formation called Gondwanaland.
Don’t just take our word for it, in the application for its UNESCO status, a Professor of Systematic Botany at the University of Zurich (a referee for the nomination) famously said: “the region is really priceless and an irreplaceable possession of mankind as a whole.”
The best photo spots in Daintree National Park
Ironically, one of the best photo spots in the Daintree isn’t actually in it at all. Get your photography-loving butt to Cow Bay Beach (an hour and a half north of Port Douglas) to explore the very spot where the rainforest meets the reef for the postcard image that wraps around every visitor guide.
Not only is it the only place in the world you can see it, with a wide angle lens it’s the only place you can capture it too, showing off the seriously Jurassic landforms of Tropical North Queensland.
For the more adventurous, why not prove it with a photo? Insta-envy doesn’t get any better than swinging upside down like a flying fox with Jungle Surfing, a zip line course across six platforms that range 5 to 19.5m above the forest floor.
Local tips and tricks for visiting Daintree National Park
The seasons in North Queensland can be a trap for young players, so time your Daintree National Park visit for the cooler months between May and September if you can.
Your hair will be happy to know the humidity is much lower, while hikers will be pleased to know the temperatures will be sub 25 degrees under the canopy.
From a safety perspective, any ranger worth their khaki will tell you that you need to be aware, not alarmed up here.
We don’t want to put you off but ICYMI, some of the plants and animals have teeth up here – crocodiles, cassowaries, wait-a-while and stinging trees to name a few.
Throughout your Daintree visit, it’s important to be cass-o-wary at all times:
- If you want to get the best chances of spotting the third largest bird in the world, check out these hot spots
- Snap away with your camera, but don’t get too close when spotting any native Daintree animal
- Pick up a flora and fauna fact book at the Daintree Discovery Centre to learn up what you’ll encounter on your adventures
Want more local tips to explore this wilderness like a local? Check out this guide.
Where to stay in Daintree National Park?
After a day in the rainforest, the good news is you don’t have to keep channeling Tarzan and Jane… unless you want to, of course.
For pure luxury, we suggest checking into one of the 15 bayans (aka swanky treehouses) at Daintree Eco Lodge and Spa. Picture your own private-pole home with comforts like king beds, a bathtub on the balcony and fluffy robes all worthy of earning this property a place on this best treehouses list.
For something a little more down-to-earth that will still have you sleeping in the thick of it, Daintree Valley Haven delivers all the rainforest feels across its 30-acre property. You’ll get bang for your buck here with complimentary breakfast including tropical fruit, juice, cereals, home-made jam and yoghurt, coffee and Daintree Tea all part of your room rate.
Of course, if you want to really get back to nature, Queensland Park and Wildlife Services is responsible for the campgrounds up here. Our pick is Noah Beach, where you can fall asleep to the sound of rolling waves for $6.35 per person a night. A head’s up, though, this campsite is closed in the wet season. But who wants to camp in the wet anyway?
Discover more of the Daintree rainforest with these guides:
- Visiting during the wet season? Here’s how to do the Wet Tropics when they are, well, wet
- Explore tropical town Cooktown with this 48-hour guide
- Set out on an adventure with these adrenaline filled activities
- Got littlies in tow? Here’s how to discover the Daintree with kids
- Turn your visit into a road trip to Cape York with this itinerary
*Please note the temporary closure of all Queensland campgrounds in national parks, state forests and state-managed recreation and protected areas, in response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.