The trail started off easy walking by the tea fields. As we climbed from the tea fields into the surrounding hills, the trail turned muddy. My horse, MP, was extremely analytical – checking out his route before he trod. Anxiously, I clutched the saddle, but MP remained calm and kept climbing. At the first landing, we tried our hands at trotting our horses. At a clearing, we cantered – one at a time. The first time I was terrified and just held on for dear life. But by the third time, I was an expert – hooting and hollering as MP and I cantered through the tea fields.

This trail ride lingers in my memory as one of the best, thanks to the folks at Wundu Trail Rides. This was my first of many adventures, which I would experience in the Daintree Rainforest.

Declared an UNESCO hertiage site in 1988, the Daintree Rainforest is part of the wet tropics, an area stretching from Cape Tribulation to Townsville. Of all the countries in the world, Australia possesses the highest number of natural hertiage sites, 14 in total. I was in the midst of 3 of them – Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribuation National Park, and Great Barrier Reef. This place is so amazing, surrounded on all sides by rainforest, it is hard to believe that Cairns lies only 200 kilometers south.

Access to this area is simple. Cairns’ international airport is serviced by AirCanada, Quantas, and NorthWestern Air. Several hotels offer pickups directly from the airport or you can choose one of the serveral bus services. This area’s diverse range of accomodations allows for all tastes – from budgets to luxury. There is something for everyone here – including activities. Visitors can choose from a variety of activities” hiking, bird watching, beaches, snorkelling, diving or just jounging on one of the many beaches or at your hotel pool.

A first stop for any traveller is the Daintree Forest Environmental Centre. The Centre offers an excellent introduction to this 56,000 hectare (140,00 acre) national park. A guided tour, lead by a an experienced naturalist, along the rainforest boardwalk introduces the unique plants of this area. The rainforest houses cyads, dinosaur trees, fan palms, giant strangler figs, and epiphytes like basket ferns, staghorn, and elkhorn. This rainforest eluded ice ages, volcanic eruptions and may other geological events over the last 110 million years to survive as one of the few primitive forests on this planet. A major climb to the top of the Centre’s 25-metre canopy tower offers amazing views of the rainforest canopy.

Another unique way of experiencing the rainforest is a guided night walk. This 3 hour tour allows the visitor a whole different view of this amazing natural wonder. Each walker is equipped with a special miner’s latern. The light from these specialized laterns will not harm the animals’ eyes. With laterns in tow, small groups of 10-15 walkers join an experienced guide. The great charm of this walk is the interactive element. The guide is there to assist, but each walker is responsible to find the animals. There are no guarentees, some walks are more sucessful, and see more wildlife. On the evening of my walk, we saw an amzing display – wallaby, left crickets, sleeping birds, Boyd’s Rainforest Dragon, White-Lipped Green Tree Frog, and a baby Boa Constrictor.

While there are many on-land activities, the Great Barrier Reef attracts most visitors. Several companies offer reasonablly priced excusions – day trips cost $89 AUD. The day began at 7:00 am with a pick-up from my hotel. After an hour drive, with a few stops to pick up more would-be snorkellers, we arrived at Cape Tribulation beach. We boarded our Rum-Runner IX sailing catamaran, and sailed to the marine park.

I felt very comfortable and safe in the excellent hands of this crew. The Rum-Runner IX transports a maximum of 20 snorkellers. No way to get lost on this trip. A comforting feeling considering that earlier this year one of the larger ships forgot a few of its passengers out of the reef. I liked the smaller boat, not only for the above reason, but also for the comradely of the passengers, and the crew.

Our captain explained the rules of the sea, gave a brief lesson on the reef, and what we might possibly see on our underwater journey. The crew assisted with equipment, and after a short snorkelling lession, we dove into the water. Time passed quickly as I floated over the reef, in awe of the colors, and variety of fish before me. Before I knew it, our crew called us for the lunch. On the menu, salads, fruit, and cold cuts. After a quick lunch, I returned to the oasis.

This underwater world had me totally memorized. My first time snorkelling, and I was hooked. Butterfly fish, blue semicircle angel fish swam circles around me. Several purple-blue starfish clung on the reef below me. So close, I could reach out and touch them. But I avoided the temtation remembering the words of our Captain. Visiting this amazing land comes with its responsibilities. 1500 kinds of fish, 400 species of coral, 400 kinds of clams and snails call the Great Barrier Reef home. This reef is a fragile eco-system, and must be protected. Touching or removing the coral, kills the reef.

Getting There

The Daintree Rainforest is situated in the northeast corner of Australia in the FNQ (Far-north Queensland), 200 kilometers north of Cairns.

Car and Four Wheel Drive Rental : All major companies have offices at the airport or to book your rental vehicle through an organisation that will try to find the most competive rates on offer, check out Cairns Direct (www.cairnsdirect.com)

Buses and coaches : While personal transport offers you great mobility to explore the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation National Park you can travel by bus or coach; Two services operate daily from Cairns (4-4.5 hour journey) through Port Douglas and Mossman. Timetables/bookings: Coral Coaches (07) 4098 2600, OR Far North Connections on (07) 4099 4616 (www.tm.com.au/travel/fnq.htm)

Where to Stay

There are a number of excellent hotels within the area:

Crocodylus Village (where I stayed) is situated at Cow Bay between the Daintree River and Cape Tribuation. The accommodation huts are built up off the ground and spaced out amongst the dense tropical forest. the atmosphere is friendly and casual. There is a small well stocked bar and a landscaped swimming pool. Restaurant serves fabulous large home-style meals ($27 AUD (dormotary) – $87 AUD (private cabins)

Lot 5, Buchanan Creek Road Cow Bay, QLD, 4873, booking fax: 61 2 9999 4332

Cape Tribulation Retreat Bed & Breakfast is a stunning timber chalet wilderness lodge surrounded by unspoiled native Daintree Rainforest, overlooking the Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef. This retreat is within easy walking distance to most of the amenities of Cape Trib settlement – casual and fine dining – bars and nightspot.

19 Nicole Drive, Cape Tribulation
Tel: 61 7 4098 0028 Fax: 61 7 3206 1122

www.capetribretreat.com.au

Coconut Beach Rainforest Resort This beautiful 4-start resort is built on 100 hectares (250 acres) of pristine rainforest fringing the white sands of Coconut Beach. Tt has 27 Hillside Units and 40 Rainforest Villas plus the famous Longhouse is the focal point of the resort, and stands impressively on the beachfront housing the main restaurant, bar and gift shop.

Cape Tribuation Road, Cape Tribution 4873
Tel: 61 7 4098 0033, Fax: 61 7 4098 0047

www.coconutbeach.com.au

PK’s Jungle Village The Jungle village is a backpacker’s dream, and inclues camping, dorm or air-conditioned cabin accomodation. This is the place to stay if you are looking for a party atmosphere.

Tel: 61 7 4098 0082, 1800-232-333, Fax: 61 7 4098 0055

www.pksjunglevillage.com.au