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This post is part of our Australia/New Zealand Series. You can find the rest of the series here.
Cairns is a prime location for exploring the natural wonders around Queensland, Australia. While the Great Barrier Reef is the most popular attraction, the nearby Daintree Rainforest is a great place to spend a day. From Cairns, the Daintree is only a couple hours drive up a scenic coastal route. For our rainforest tour, we decided to go with Discovery Tours. They offer a full day tour of Daintree Rainforest, Mossman Gorge, and Cape Tribulation, with stops along the way for tasty treats and many scenic lookout points.
- Adventures – Write-ups of the activities we enjoyed during our visit.
- Hotel Spotlight – See our review of the Doubletree Cairns by Hilton.
Our guide, Carsten, picked us up in front of the Doubletree at 7am sharp. The tour bus is a Mercedes, with seating capacity for 14 passengers. We absolutely love small tours like this, because the experience is much more personal. Carsten shared stories of how he came to live in Australia and told us a bit about the local area, while we drove north to pick up more passengers. Discovery Tours offers pick ups for visitors from Cairns to Port Douglas.
We briefly drove through the small, seaside area of Palm Cove, where Carsten warned us about box jellyfish. He told us that these jellies have a powerful neurotoxin and have become so numerous that swimming outside of designated areas is very risky. We picked up a passenger here and motored onward to Port Douglas, where we picked up the final two passengers. In total, we had only eight members in the tour group!
With everyone on board, our breakfast stop was at the Mossman Gorge Welcome Center for some tea and scones at 9am. Carsten brought over tea, coffee, and a mountain of warm scones with whipped butter, jam, and honey. We sat around a little table, munching on scones and getting to know each other a bit. Turns out that Carsten is a former scuba instructor… pretty cool!
After breakfast, we ventured into the forest to explore Mossman Gorge. We followed a trail that wound along the edge of the river, through some lush jungle, and over a few swinging rope bridges. Along the way, Carsten pointed out various wildlife and some crazy trees. One particular type of tree, I can’t recall the name, actually grows downward from the limbs of another tree. We also saw a thorny vine called “wait a while” by the locals. If you’re running through the rainforest, the thorns will catch you and make you “wait a while,” before you proceed!
The trail finally wound down toward the water. This gave us an opportunity to take a little swim in the creek that flows through the gorge. Only a couple of us decided to get in, because the water was quite cold. I had a great time splashing around and riding the current over some smooth rocks. Don’t forget to bring a towel!
Daintree Tea House
Lunch is included with the tour. We were treated to a fantastic meal at the Daintree Tea House. This little restaurant is absolutely hidden among the jungle vegetation. If we had driven this way ourselves, we would have passed right by.
We had a few options for lunch. Brooke opted for the house specialty, barramundi (white fish), and I went for the more exotic kangaroo steak! I had never tried kangaroo before, and I’m happy to report that it was delicious. Kangaroo meat is very lean (98/2), so the chef served it medium rare. I found it to be tender, flavorful and not the least bit “gamey.” Brooke’s barramundi was well-seasoned and buttery in texture.
Lunch also came with an assortment of exotic fruits from the local area. The owner of the Tea House is reeeeeally into fruits, and he gave us a full lesson on each fruit we tasted.
Daintree River Cruise
Next, we drove deeper into the Daintree Rainforest to the banks of the Daintree River. Here we would join our river guide, Nick, for a 1-hour boat ride through crocodile-invested waters. Nick is what I picture when I think of Aussies. He’s a strong outdoorsman who really values conservation and harmony with the natural world.
Nick navigated us down the river, alongside fern-covered riverbanks, in search of crocodiles. December is unfortunately not a great time of year to see crocs, but we were able to spot one big girl named Lizzie. She is over nine feet long, and she had crawled up on a riverbank, likely a favorite nesting spot. We also saw some bright blue birds hanging out along the river. At the end of our river cruise, Nick dropped us on the opposite side of the river, where Carsten was waiting with the bus.
The next major stop on the route was at Cape Tribulation, named by Captain James Cook. Cook is a famous world explorer who successfully charted much of the land in the Pacific. He named Cape Tribulation, because his ship wrecked upon the Great Barrier Reef near the cape. His crew was able to reach shore safely and repair the damage.
We took a walk along the beach at Cape Tribulation. Other than our small tour group, nobody was on the beach at all. Carsten noticed a plant with some large green ants crawling its leaves. He grabbed one and told us that if you lick its butt, it has a sharp citrus flavor! What-the-whaaaat?? So, of course, I had to try. He was right, like a tart lime jolt to the tongue. Our whole tour group tried it… even Brooke, reluctantly.
Daintree Ice Cream Company
On the return trip to Cairns, we stopped at the Daintree Ice Cream Company for some real fruit ice cream. This little roadside shop is situated on the edge of a 22 acre fruit orchard. They make a daily selection of ice cream from locally grown fruits. On the day we stopped, the four featured flavors were passionfruit, macadamia, davidson plum, and wattelseed.
We had a great day swimming in Mossman Gorge, spotting crocs along the Daintree River, and strolling down the empty beach at Cape Tribulation. We also had our first opportunity to taste kangaroo meat and to sample fresh local fruit ice cream. Discovery Tours provides an excellent curated experience of the many options within the Daintree Rainforest. You could spend days wandering around the area, but they really showed us the good stuff! If you would like to book a tour, you can find their information here. Cheers!
We received complementary tours from Discovery Tours in exchange for our review.
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