Creeping from my bunk room at 5am I couldn’t believe no-one else was getting up to see the sunrise over the Great Barrier Reef from the edge of the worlds oldest rainforest; the Daintree. The upside; I’d have the true deserted island experience. The downside; there was no-one to steal courage from when stumbling through the thick night under the rainforest canopy and onto the crocodile housing beach.
Our bunk houses were embedded deep in the forest; no lights illuminated the path I was padding down towards the beach. Lined with the sticky webs of Golden Orbs, I tried not to stray its boarders. At the beach edge the path opened up for the restaurant, pool and a fire pit that had been blazing last night, then bottle-necking to a skinny track onto the open sand, curtained by a fallen tree. I couldn’t tell how close the tide was on the other side. How far had they told us yesterday that crocs came out of the water?
If I waited too much longer I’d miss the sunrise so I pushed through my nerves and the leaves, out into the inky pre-dawn. The tide was far out, I was well out of the reach of snapping jaws and felt a fool for being so scared. Settling in a white plastic chair, the beach was painted with colour before my eyes. Golden hews were pricked out in the ridges of sand and deep azure flecked the waking waves. Flames of light blazed above the horizon tickling the lazy clouds a blushing pink.
It was the time of lull when nocturnal rustlings swap to diurnal pattering and the forest died down into perfect stillness. With no sign of human touch on the beach, the previous nights footprints washed away in the receding tide, the feeling of isolation was unsettling. I had the strange sensation that I had awoken in this deserted place, abandoned and left to fend for myself against the grandeur of nature. It’s a difficult feeling to explain, the hostel was right behind me but hidden entirely by dense flora, and behind that a road back to civilisation. Yet I couldn’t convince my imagination they existed. It was just me alone in this perfect paradise; could I do a better job of existing in this Eden than they had done in The Beach?
By now the sun was hovering well above the horizon, I heard voices behind me, I’d been joined by an older couple sad they’d missed the light show. My spell was broken but the calm of a waking forest is hard to shake. We watched the sleepy waves in silence until they spotted a shark in the shallows and we all ran to try to catch a second glimpse; a shovel nosed shark according to the husband.
I’d come to Cape Tribulation on a 2 day trip with Active Tropics, the rest of the trip I could have taken or left. An indigenous welcome into the forest by a lady encircled by 40 gawping visitors as she blew smoke over us and briefly taught us the meaning of her group’s body paint symbols. A 5 minute slot repeated on the hour each hour isn’t enough to give any vague idea of this lost way of life and it’s adaptations for the modern world. I felt like I had watched a caged animal, forced to repeat over and over sad mimicry of its wonderful wild customs. There has to be a better way to inspire and teach people about the important customs of the people who first lived off these lands.
We were allotted an hour to wander round the Mossman Gorge where a day could have been spent exploring the thick jungle before we were piled back into our minibus to head towards the Daintree River for a crocodile cruise. This was actually brilliant fun; scouring the murky waters of the Daintree for any drifting log that might turn out to be the spiny back of a mighty saltwater croc from our shallow sided boat. Over the hour we saw a minute baby, no more than hand length, sunbathing on a log and were told its chances of survival were about 1 in 100, it being a delicious snack for its elders! Although there were no giants, the biggest maybe 1.5m, I still leapt to shore and up the bank as speedily as I could; I didn’t fancy a nip from even the smallest jaws!
Once the rest of the bunk house inhabitants had stretched, yawned and ventured into the morning damp with humidity, I was ready to take off and explore a little further down the coast. I acquired a German who spoke almost no English and we hitched a lift down to the slightly more populated, but no less stunning Myall Beach.
Boardwalks criss-cross the jungle floor before you reach the sand, taking you past the many bunker holes of wolf spiders (I kept my distance!) and the venomous leaves of suicide nettles – if their hairs get in your skin they can cause so much pain for so many years, with no cure that people have been known to kill themselves! Amidst these monsters grow intricately netted trunks of fig trees, a parasitic plant whose seed is dropped into the canopy and grows downwards, encircling its host and eventually strangling it. The result is a hollow mosaic which seems to be the product of immaculate horticultural attention!
The glistening sands of the Daintree’s capes and coves in daylight banished any sense of isolation I had felt that morning in the prehistoric dawn. Human touches were everywhere to be seen, hooves thundered down the beach with tourists taking idyllic beach rides and children on family holidays sunbathed or built castles in the white sand. You would have to stray far to lose yourself completely.
Dawn is the time to experience the Daintree, when the lazy are still tucked away in bed, and the imperfect light hides the flaws we humans have brought to the place. Let silence reign until tropical birds begin their dawn chorus and soak in the history of the most ancient forest, the secrets of the world’s largest reef and be inspired to help save the beauty left on our planet.
Follow my Footsteps
I based myself in Cairns at Jazz Cairns which was one of the cheapest, but I would absolutely not recommend staying within its unfriendly walls. Giligans has the best reputation but is also a party hostel, so be ready for some interrupted nights sleep.
I booked my trip with Peter Pans for around $175 (2 days, no meals, transport too and from and a night in a 5 bed dorm) two days in advance, booking with them also gets you a wrist band that gives you discounts at various bars and restaurants around the city.
You can do 1, 2 or 3 day trips, there is little point in the 1 day in my opinion as I really didn’t rate the various hour long, rushed slots along the way. 3 days would give you chance to take the hike to Mount Sorrow Ridge, something I really regret not doing! It’s not a hike for the faint hearted, 6 hours, steep uphill and no facilities on the way. You need to take a serious amount of water and have a good level of fitness and appropriate shoes. You can get advice from the hostel if you want to undertake this adventure.