Daintree National Park
With its stunning scenery of rainforest-clad mountains sweeping down to long sandy beaches, Daintree National Park is one of the most revered parks in Australia. Its Cape Tribulation section is the only place on Earth where two World Heritage areas exist side by side, as the Daintree rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef.
The park is divided into two sections: the Mossman Gorge section stretching north-west from Mossman, and the smaller Cape Tribulation section, which clings to the coast to the north and south of Cape Tribulation. Valued for their exceptional biodiversity and scenery, both areas attract thousands of visitors each year.
From Cairns via Captain Cook Hwy to Mossman then Mossman Gorge; from Cairns via Captain Cook Hwy to Daintree River crossing then ferry to narrow, winding road through Daintree to Cape Tribulation; Cape Tribulation to Wujal Wujal (Bloomﬁeld) is 4WD only
May to September; summer can be hot, wet and humid
80 km north of Cairns (Mossman Gorge); 110 km north of Cairns (Cape Tribulation)
NPRSR 13 7468
Camping permit and fees apply; bookings essential
73 500 ha
Cairns (07) 4051 3588
Featured Activities in the National Park
Stop at Walu Wugirriga lookout for magniﬁcent views
Learn about the rainforest plants and animals on the Dubuji Boardwalk
Picnic by the creek at Mossman Gorge
- Daintree National Park, Eco-friendly activity
- Daintree National Park, Recreational Wildlife-watching, Recreational Wildlife-watching
- Four-wheel-drive tours - Daintree and Cape York Peninsula, Eco-friendly activity
- Wet Tropics, Natural Wonders, Natural Wonders
A look at the past
It seems paradoxical that what is now considered the most wonderful wilderness area should have been named Cape Tribulation by Captain James Cook. His ship, the Endeavour, was holed on a reef off the coast here in 1770. The ﬁrst European land explorer to the area was George Elphinstone Dalrymple, who in 1873 named the river after his good friend Richard Daintree, a prominent geologist.
After the explorers came timber cutters, drawn by the huge stands of red cedar in the Daintree area. Gold discoveries on the Palmer River, to the west of the Daintree, in 1873 brought thousands of fortune-seekers to the region. However, within 10 years most of the yellow gold had been extracted and the ‘red gold’ had been cut down, so settlers then turned their hands to farming crops such as rice, vegetables, coffee, maize and sugar. In the 1880s, as settlement extended along the coast, more and more rainforest was cleared for farming. In 1945, logging of local virgin hardwood forests began again, bringing more development to the Daintree region.
The timber industry in the area declined in the middle of the 20th century, and the current Mossman Gorge section of the park was declared a national park in 1967. Cape Tribulation National Park was declared in 1981, and was later amalgamated into the greater Daintree National Park. In 1983, the Daintree attracted international attention over the proposed construction of a road through the coastal lowland rainforest from Cape Tribulation north to the Bloomﬁeld River. Despite protests, the controversial Bloomﬁeld Track was built. However, the furore caused by the protests was a deciding factor in having the Daintree National Park internationally recognised as a signiﬁcant natural area. It was included in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area in 1988, despite a High Court challenge by the Queensland Government.
The traditional owners of the Daintree are the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people. With its rainforests, coastal waters and numerous creeks and rivers, the Daintree provided a wealth of food. The Eastern Kuku Yalanji people gathered fruits, berries and grasses in season, ﬁshed in the creeks and rivers, and hunted the abundant wildlife, such as brush-turkeys, tree-kangaroos, possums, gliders and ﬂying-foxes. Many natural features in the national park, such as Thornton Peak, Mount Demi, The Bluff and Cape Tribulation have spiritual signiﬁcance for them, and the park currently maintains an access and use agreement with the Eastern Kuku Yalanji.
The Daintree wilderness encompasses impenetrable mountain ranges covered in lush rainforest, which rise steeply from a coastline of vast sandy beaches and rocky headlands. Over the last 400 million years these mountain ranges have provided refuge for ancient plants and animals whose rainforest habitat dwindled with rapid climate changes. Today, the park protects the world’s oldest living rainforests – a vital habitat for rare and endangered species.
The Cape Tribulation section of the park, which covers approximately 17 000 hectares, is a narrow coastal strip that stretches from the Daintree River in the south to the Bloomﬁeld River in the north. In between, the park is cut through by many creeks and rivers, which have their source in the McDowall Range, the western boundary of the park. Within the Cape Tribulation section is one of Australia’s last extensive stands of lowland rainforest, and offshore is the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Lying to the south-west of the Cape Tribulation section is the Mossman Gorge section of the park. Much larger, it is a rugged 56 500 hectares of generally inaccessible rainforest and mountain woodlands. Mossman Gorge, a popular natural feature, is situated in the south-east corner of this section. The gorge is a steep-sided valley formed by the Mossman River on its way from the mountain ranges to the coastal lowlands. The riverbed is strewn with granite boulders washed down from the hills during ﬂoods, making a picturesque sight as the crystal-clear waters ﬂow over them.
The lowland and upland rainforest, eucalypt forest, open woodlands, mangroves and coastal heath support a vast range of primitive ﬂora, providing an invaluable insight into the evolution of ﬂowering plants. Nineteen primitive plant families grow in the park. These include a early form of she-oak (Gymnostoma australianum) that is restricted to isolated pockets north of the Daintree River; Noahdendron nicholasii, an extremely rare understorey tree found only in the immediate vinicity of Noah Creek in the Cape Tribulation section; and ribbonwood (Idiospermum australiense), an ancient tree that is the only member of the Idiospermum family. This species remains practically unchanged from the period when ﬂowering plants started developing, some 120 million years ago. The ribbonwood has an impressive ﬂower that changes from creamy white to brilliant red as it ages, but its 'fruit' is particularly toxic.
More common plants you are likely to see on a walk through the rainforest include strangler ﬁgs, lawyer vines with their distinctive hook-like spines that cling to anything, bird’s nest ferns and a variety of orchids. One plant to avoid is the giant stinging tree, the leaves of which will give you a very painful sting if you touch them. These trees are found alongside many walking tracks; look for the distinctively large, heart-shaped leaves with serrated edges. If you are stung, avoid scratching the affected area and seek medical attention.
The park’s forests are home to several animals that are endemic to the Daintree. The rare Bennett’s tree-kangaroo spends most of its time in the rainforest canopy and is found only in the lowland and upland rainforests north of the Daintree River. By nature a wary and nocturnal creature, it feeds on leaves, and fruit such as native ﬁgs. Its close relative, Lumholtz's tree-kangaroo, is also found in the park.
Another nocturnal creature, the Daintree River ringtail possum, is found in rainforest elevations over 420 metres and feeds on leaves from a wide range of species – including bleeding heart, pink almond and needlebark – and the fruit of the green-leaved Moreton Bay ﬁg. This possum shelters during the day in tree hollows and amid the staghorn ferns. Those looking for a daytime encounter with a rare marsupial should keep their eyes peeled for the adorable musky rat-kangaroo, which looks very much like a miniature kangaroo–rat hybrid. This little creature is not only an oddity restricted to the Daintree region, but also provides a valuable insight into the evolution of all kangaroos, as it has remained relatively unchanged for over 20 million years.
The Wet Tropics World Heritage area protects a number of endangered species, including the southern cassowary (see feature). Another Daintree dweller, the spotted-tailed quoll, is more common in the southern states. The northern population of this creature is an endangered sub-species (Dasyurus maculatus gracilis) and exists in small numbers only.
Butterﬂies may be seen in the rainforest, such as the brilliant-blue Ulysses butterﬂy and the green and black (male of the species) Cairns birdwing, Australia’s second-largest butterﬂy with a wingspan of up to 150 millimetres. The park’s many waterways provide a habitat for jungle perch, saw-shelled turtles and platypuses. Birds such as wompoo fruit-doves, chowchillas, white-rumped swiﬂets and grey fantails are joined in summer by migrating birds from New Guinea, including the buff-breasted paradise-kingﬁsher. Australian brush-turkeys are a common sight scratching for food amid the leaf litter. The velvet-black Victoria’s riﬂebird, which can raise its wings, fan-like, above its head in a spectacular courtship display, is found only in north Queensland; in the Daintree it is frequently sighted in the rainforest around Thornton Peak.
This is a park that takes time to explore. Featuring stunning scenery in both sections, it is a renowned photographer’s delight. In the Cape Tribulation section, there are picnic areas at Jindalba, Dubuji and Kulki. All three sites have toilets and picnic tables. Only Dubuji has barbecue facilities (this is the only place in the entire park with barbecue facilities). Toilets and picnic tables are provided near the car park at the entrance to the Mossman Gorge section of the park. All park visitors and campers should heed the signposted warnings of crocodiles and marine stingers. Swimming is not recommended as estuarine crocodiles live in these waters and box jellyﬁsh are present in the sea from October to May.
Most of the Mossman Gorge section is inaccessible except to experienced, well-equipped bushwalkers, who need to inform the ranger before departure. Otherwise there is the Rex Creek circuit (2.7-km loop, 1 hour), a wonderful walk though the rainforest, and the recently-built Barral Marrjanga boardwalk (270 metres, 5–10 minutes), which leads to a lookout with a spectacular view of the Mossman river.
The Cape Tribulation section offers four short walks, all of which include a boardwalk. Jindalba boardwalk (650 metres return, 45 minutes, easy) explores the tropical lowland rainforest. There is a large picnic area with toilets and tables. Wheelchair access to the creek is available from the exit end only, near the disabled parking bays. Marrdja boardwalk (1.2-km loop, 45 minutes, easy) offers views of the rainforest and mangroves. Close to Myall Beach, Dubuji boardwalk (1.2-km loop, 45 minutes, easy) has informative signs about the rainforest plants and animals. Kulki boardwalk (600 metres return, 10 minutes, easy) leads to a viewing platform overlooking the ocean and beach. A short walk from the carpark takes you to beautiful Myall Beach. These last three boardwalks, Marrdja, Dubuji and Kulki, are fully wheelchair-accessible.
Those wanting a more challenging walk can attempt the steep Mount Sorrow Ridge Trail (7 km return, 6–7 hours, difﬁcult). This strenuous all-day hike leads from the rainforest to the ridge line of Mount Sorrow and on to a lookout with stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Walkers have been lost in this area so inform the ranger before you set out, never walk alone and keep to the trail. It is recommended that hikers do not undertake this walk in very hot and humid conditions or in wet or cloudy weather. Guided walks throughout the Cape Tribulation section are provided by commercial operators (details from the ranger station).
Just 5 kilometres north of the Daintree River in the Cape Tribulation section of the park is Walu Wugirriga, or the Mount Alexandra Lookout. Here you can enjoy breathtaking views of the coast and mouth of the Daintree river, with Snapper Island visible just offshore.