October 3, 2013 (Day 13)
Daintree National Park
Last night’s exhilarating drive on the Gillies Highway aside, the driving since leaving Victoria had been a drag – a monotonous necessity to get from Point A to Point B. Captain Cook Highway emphatically ended this streak of tedium and brought us some much needed excitement to yet another long day on the road. Australia is so blessed with top-notch beaches that this beautiful stretch of coastline remained undeveloped as nature intended.
We were on our way to Daintree National Park, home to a 110 million year-old rainforest and more than 800 different species of trees that extend all the way to the coast. It is formed by two sections – Mossman Gorge to the south and Cape Tribulation a further 30 km north across the Daintree River.
Mossman Gorge, a must-see on most people’s itinerary, isn’t worth a stopover, at least not to those who intend to head to Cape Tribulation. Trails in the latter are longer, quieter and more scenic. While free, those who don’t want to walk 2.5 km from the visitor centre to Mossman Gorge is required to shell out $6 per person for a shuttle bus. This sum of money should be saved for the car ferry across the Daintree River, which cost $20 round-trip.
Navigating through Daintree’s roads was a first-rate pain in the ass. Speed bumps were literally around every corner to protect wildlife like cassowary, a blue-headed flightless bird third largest in size behind only ostrich and emu. For an hour we drove along slowly, passing by many hostels, cafés, B&Bs and tourism-related businesses until we reached the end of the sealed road, where Cape Tribulation is located.
The beach was nice, just like numerous others along the coast. We walked along the beach through a mangrove forest and up to the Kulki Broadwalk lookout for a clear view of the southern side of Cape Tribulation.
We then worked our way south, stopping at Marrdja and the Daintree Discovery Centre. Both takes you to the heart of a rainforest, only the former is free while the latter is an unabashed ripoff, charging a mind-boggling $30 per person.
We were tempted by the Discovery Centre’s advertisement of “great chance to see a wild cassowary”, which unfortunately proved to be elusive on this day. The centre’s only differentiation to the free walks is a 23 m tall tower which allows a panoramic view of the top of the surrounding rainforest. Even with the benefit of this tower, the free walks are more informative, more photogenic and, let me re-emphasize, free.
We didn’t join any of the popular crocodile cruises as we didn’t find them interesting. Ironically we ended up spending a similar amount of money on a tourist trap because we had our fill of trees and wanted to see an animated object for a change. After being blessed with great weather for ten straight days, the sky was growing moodier by the minute. We decided to call it a day before the rain’s arrival.
I am sure Daintree is environmentally and scientifically significant, but I enjoyed myself much more at the less-heralded Wilsons Promontory.