On our recent trip up to tropical North Queensland, following the first two stops in Port Douglas and briefly at the Mossman Gorge, we cross the Daintree River into the rainforest proper. I am going to get this single point out of the way now –

the Daintree Rainforest is awesome!

I had known about this place all through school and when my interest in travel piqued its prominence as a destination to explore rose even further. All I can say now is wow! The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest forest in the world. At over 120 million years in age, it has never been beaten by the ice ages of the past. It is also the only place in the world where you can take a photo of two world heritage sites in one shot – the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. It is also that forest that has the highest amount of biodiversity in the world. But this trip was focused on the forest that meets the ocean, and it turned out to be the perfect time of the year to go. It was surprisingly the low season, the weather was perfect, and the beaches were deserted. How else could I have got a shot like this one – no staging required.

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Crossing the crocodile infested Daintree River set the tone of the trip – adventure! We drove onto the cable ferry to cross the murky waters, waiting on the other side was the rainforest.

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Getting off the ferry, we immediately felt like we were surrounded by the forest with the tree lined route overhung with foliage. I couldn’t help but stop at the first lookout. I was surprised when we got there as the afternoon storm shower was rolling in. From the lookout we could see the mouth of the Daintree River, but it was the cloud and rain that I wanted to nab through the lens. This would be a perfect candidate for me to experiment with HDR.

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The drive itself along Cape Tribulation Road is fun. We hired a Subaru Forester for the the trip and it handled great on the roads. Along the route there are several aggressive speed bumps whose intent is to slow people down significantly around the areas where cassowaries are likely to cross. The cassowary in Australia is an endangered species with just over a couple of thousand still left in the wild. So my hopes in seeing one were to be random at best. But we got lucky, after traversing one of the many speed bumps my wife excitedly gestured to the left side of the road in the shrub. Sure enough there one was making a slow getaway back into the forest brush. This was the best I could do, given that I was behind the wheel.

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The expectation that the rainforest would be teeming with big fauna was quickly dashed. This is a forest of the small and nimble. I think this makes it even more beautiful, because it is not the domain of humans. The animals are definitely not scared of the tropical rain. Straight after the afternoon shower, these birds just got back to business in this red hued plant.

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The ferns, some of the most ancient of plant life, continued to slowly uncurl. The natural spiral pattern of the frond has an eerily mathematical beauty about it, and I will never get  tired of shooting them.

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Speaking of other animals in the trees, the largest spider I have ever seen was a common sight all around the rainforest. The golden orb weaver is huge, with its outstretched legs giving it a reach much longer than my outstretched hand. Initially they are quite confronting, particularly when a couple of the locals told us about the strength of their webs, but they are not aggressive towards humans. Their strands of spider silk have a greater tensile strength than that of steel. One of the locals said that American researchers were trying to work out how they could make body armour out of synthetically produced silk of this kind of spider, via goats of all things. In this photo I took you can see the tiny male in the bottom left of the photo trying to approach the female as she gorges herself on some insect food. The same local went on to tell us that the male would soon suffer the same fate as the insect “meal” but not before he went about his reproductive business.

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As dusk approached, the quite of the rainforest took over. There is no mobile phone coverage in the Daintree, no signal, no data, nothing. And the TV reception at the house we stayed in was dodgy at best. The noise of the forest takes over, the birds and beetles humming away. The moon was in the final stages of the waxing gibbous phase and illuminated brightly the night sky. The lack of other radiant light added to the aura of seclusion. I didn’t have my full blown Manfrotto tripod with me, but a mini one that I carry always was the steady arm for this shot.

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Before the above photo we took a guided walk in the rainforest at night. That is for my next post, but my recommendation is for anyone to do it!

The next morning, the sunrise was serene and spectacular. I didn’t quite get the shot that I wanted, the lack of a tripod hampered me significantly. But this was the best I could do. I like the “ladders” on the ocean that the sun’s reflection caused.

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We had a couple more days in the Daintree, and we chose to do some other adventures – zip lining and kayaking (again both for my next post). But I think the highlight for me was actually walking in the rainforest itself. There are a number of boardwalks where you can walk both into the dry and wet parts of the rainforest, whilst ensuring that you don’t get lost. The only danger being the swarms of mosquitoes hungry for the sting. The mozzies were relentless around the wetlands, but on the dry rainforest floor not so much. But it was nothing that a spray of repellent couldn’t keep at bay. Walking through the forest with my travel partner in crime, my wife, brought back our sense of adventure that has gone a bit dormant as parents of a 3 year old. My wife and I love to travel together, and over the last 14 years we have been to many, many destinations around the world. When we do travel together we naturally take on designated roles. I am chief pilot/driver, repairman, photographer, scout, and sherpa. My wife is chief travel planner, logistics manager, chef, spotter, and a somewhat accurate navigator.

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The flora is spectacular and was the inspiration for James Cameron’s movie Avatar. The trees were very strange, and very seldom were adjacent trees of the same species. Here are two together, a regular tree being slowly consumed by a strangler fig. Eventually the strangler fig will devour its host and all that will remain will be the fattened roots of the strangler fig forming a tree on its own.

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A break in the forest canopy, caused by the last cyclone pounding the coastline is a prompt for regeneration. These Daintree fan palms are unique to this part of the world, and their leaf diameter was over a metre. For this part of the rainforest, this was the canopy.

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The Daintree is home to 28 different species of mangrove. You experience a significant change in your surroundings when you reach the wet part of the forest floor. The water runs off from the mountains and into the ocean. This is unlike anything that I have seen.

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The trees changed colour, notice all the orange, and it went from being very green to hues of orange and brown thrown into the mix.

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The muddy forest floor was teeming with crabs! Mostly they were no bigger than the palm of my hand and they were all shy. Everytime we came within a couple of metres of them, they burrowed back down in their holes. So to grab this shot I had to move slowly, silently, and softly on the boardwalk. It wasn’t until after I downloaded the image that I noticed the second one at the bottom of the shot who was motionless to avoid detection.

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While the waters of the ocean looked inviting it was very stinger season with the Irukandji jellyfish everywhere. The waters look sooooo inviting, even with the cloudy grey tropical sky.

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So the best place to take a natural dip is in the watering holes dotted around the forest. We went for a swim at Mason’s watering hole (no bikini shots of my wife allowed 🙂

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Tips for a trip to the Daintree Rainforest

The natural beauty of the rainforest is breathtaking. Here are some tips that I picked up for the next time when I take my son when he is older.

  1. Hire a four wheel drive (SUV) – a small hatch or sedan is not worth the bumps and discomfort. Even if the 4WD you hire is only a small.
  2. Make sure you bring mosquito repellant – you have been warned.
  3. A solid pair of hiking shoes will increase your mobility – it is a forest after all.
  4. If you a bringing a camera, one that is good in low light is best – the forest canopy significantly reduces the available light with which to shoot, even in the middle of the day. First side tip is to keep your camera handy when you are driving (I would have missed the cassowary shot if my camera was packed in the boot). Second side tip is to bring an underwater case if you have one (the forest climate is very wet).
  5. Bring a pair of binoculars if you have them – I am sure there were things I did not see in the canopy above my head because I wasn’t optically armed.
  6. Get used to not having a phone – who needs to be constantly connected anyway.
  7. Water, water, water – carry with you a bottle, camelbak, flask, whatever. It is hot and humid, and you want to keep going to see more.
  8. Careful what you touch – the plants are more of a danger than the animals.
  9. Careful what you pick to eat – most of it is poisonous.
  10. Relax and take in the world of micro – it is awe inspiring, but don’t expect to see child size lemurs jumping out of trees.

Magic Accommodation

Finally I want to put in a plug for the accommodation that my wife found. We stayed at the Sanctuary Bed and Breakfast house at Cape Tribulation. The house is spectacular and we had it all to ourselves. It sits in the forest canopy and is far enough away to be privately secluded, but close enough to get to most of the sights in Cape Tribulation within 15 – 20min. Just don’t forget not to leave out any food for furry or six legged visitors.

Here are a couple of photos of the house (and I shot a number of the photos in this post from the wooden deck).

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