Forest Floored: Cairns to Daintree travel guide

What a difference 110 kilometres make. When you’ve explored Cairns head north to the world’s oldest rainforest and all the region has to offer. This is nature at its wildest.


Four people gathered around a small fire in the rainforest near a river, Walkabout Cultural Adventures, North Queensland

It’s not like there’s a lack of things to see or do around Cairns, but if you’re in this part of the world and you don’t take a few days to explore further north, you’re missing out on one of Australia’s truly magnificent wilderness areas.

Pass through Port Douglas and Mossman – both worth a pitstop, whether for a few hours or overnight – before arriving in the Daintree Rainforest. Not only is this one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth, but it’s also been growing for about 180 million years, making it the world’s oldest rainforest by a lazy 10 million years or so. And while spending hours beneath its canopy reveals all sorts of natural wonders, there are also beaches, rivers and villages to consider. And all of it is made accessible when you’re in the driver’s seat.


Four people, two with spears, walking along a beach with mangroves in the foreground on a tour, Daintree, North Queensland

The Daintree Rainforest and the beaches that fringe it are the homelands of the Kuku Yalanji people. If you want to find out more about their way of life, join Juan Walker of Walkabout Cultural Adventures on one of his day tours.

Ngana Julaymba Dungay: We All Going Daintree takes visitors through the rainforest to discover how different plants are used for food, fibre and medicine. Then it’s down to the beach to look for mud crabs and collect shellfish. It’s a great day out, and an eye-opening experience.


  1. If you were to list Australia’s great wine regions, the Daintree wouldn’t rate a mention. But, at Shannonvale Tropical Fruit Winery, groves of lychees, mangoes, limes and more are turned into wines that are, surprisingly, not overly sweet. Drop by the cellar door and try it for yourself.

  2. Check out the river banks. Not only are you very likely to spot an imposing saltwater crocodile, but there might also be snakes, crabs, kingfishers and other birdlife. Join Solar Whisper on the only zero emission vessel on the Daintree River. And, because the boat is almost silent, it doesn’t disturb the wildlife, which is great for budding photographers.

  3. There are lots of waterfalls in the Daintree, but not all of them are accessible (or crocodile free). Tranquility Falls tumbles from the rainforest down into a rocky pool on private land. You need to buy a $10 ticket from the Daintree Tourist Information Centre to gain access, but it is worth it, especially because it’s often deserted.

  4. One of the great aspects of visiting Cow Bay is taking the Daintree ferry across the river to get here. The beaches here are deserted, especially if you walk around the northern headland at low tide, but there are also great visitor facilities, such as rainforest forest board walks and picnic areas, in this part of the Daintree National Park. Oh, and the cows in question are the dugongs (sea cows) that feed on the seagrass beds here.

  5. See the beach or rainforest from a different perspective by joining Cape Tribulation Horse Rides. You’ll climb aboard a trusty steed and either clip-clop along Myall Beach – you might even be able to ride your horse into the water – or head into the Daintree Rainforest. Beginners are welcome.


Daintree Rainforest Retreat Motel

The 10 rooms at Daintree Rainforest Retreat Motel are simple, but tucked right into the rainforest, so you’re surrounded by the sounds of frogs, birds and geckos. Plus, there’s a great pool and barbecue area for when you’re done exploring.

Daintree Ecolodge

Take things up a notch at Daintree Ecolodge. The 15 luxury banyans are either set high in the canopy or closer to the rainforest floor – choose depending on your preferred outlook. There’s also a restaurant serving local produce, a cocktail bar and a spa.

Safari Lodge

If you want to stay further north, the Safari Lodge at Cape Tribulation, only a couple of hundred metres from the beach, is a well-priced option with cabins and an onsite cafe and bar.


A couple stands on a balcony surrounded by rainforest, Daintree Ecolodge, North Queensland

When you’ve picked up your rental car from the Apex desk at Cairns Airport you can head off on your way. Follow the Captain Cook Highway north and pass through Port Douglas (you can find out more about what to do there here) and Mossman – side-tracking to Mossman Gorge is a must – before arriving at the Daintree Rainforest. Without stopping it would take about an hour and a half, but that would mean missing out on all sorts of adventures.


A couple standing on a lookout platform with an outlook of lush rainforest, Daintree Discovery Centre, North Queensland

Head west for an outback experience with a difference. About 400 million years ago, the small, former mining town of Chillagoe was once an ancient coral reef.

Now the Chillagoe–Mungana Caves National Park is home to a vast network of limestone caverns, and you can join a ranger on a tour of three of its incredible underground spaces. There are also a number of walks, self-guided cave tours and accessible rock art sites.