26 Jul Cape tribulation, Australia – Your Guide to Jungle Paradise for Kids
Cape tribulation and Daintree rainforest – where the jungle meets the reef! Sounds like paradise and really is my Australia East Coast favorite. Definitely worth a visit.
Daintree rainforest with Cape Tribulation is home to the oldest continually surviving rainforest on earth, mostly unchanged for over 135 million years! You cross the Daintree river by car ferry and dive into the lush rainforest five minutes later. Up this far North of tropical Queensland you can find wild and natural beauty coexisting with all kinds of adventures for visitors and mostly simple accommodation.
But, some will say, what’s the sense in going to a place like that? There is this beautiful jungle but you can’t go for a walk because of crocodiles, spiders, snakes and more. And there are stunning beaches but you cannot go for a swim because of stinger jellyfish. True – and applicable to a good part of Queensland’s Northern coasts. Since, who really wants to swim in stinger suits? You’re right, and as usual, it’s a question of managing travel expectations. Set realistic expectations, and you’ll be fine.
Unfortunately you will have to skip the “swimming in the ocean with stingers and croc’s”, but you should definitely take a bushwalk. The people here have done a great job in making it an enjoyable stay despite of all the restrictions. They have built boardwalks through the bush and mangrove areas that are as crocodile safe as it gets. Considering the fast growing rainforest, these boardwalks are more than perfectly well kept. I had difficulty even finding a spiderweb or leaves on the walkway!
We were looking for affordable but comfortable accommodation and encounters. We decided to stay in a jungle camp (PKs Jungle Village) in the heart of the rainforest for three nights and not take one of the fully organised day tours that are offered from Cairns and Port Douglas. Since we have experienced a couple of those, we knew it was going to be stressful for all of us. And hey, jungle and beach sounds exciting and interesting as well as dangerous. Maybe we would get to see some crocs or cassowaries in their natural surroundings?
As soon as we had crossed the Daintree river (and even before that), tons of cassowary warning signs popped up, some of which were really fun to look at. It felt a little bit like stepping into another world. We were about to discover animals and plants we had never seen before and we knew nothing about. We were like the early explorers, wild and free!
There’s one downsite to this place of sheer beauty: since there are only a few alternatives where to stay or what to do, there’s a lot of money making around and overall we found it was pretty overpriced. Which doesn’t make it less fascinating.
If you decide to stay overnight, which I would recommend, be aware that there is no such thing as a “jungle resort”. Even if that happens to be the given name of one or the other accommodation. Expect clean, but simple cabins and campgrounds, with many of them having access to the beaches. Enjoy the views, collect a fresh coconut on the beach, that’s a safe thing to do. Open it up, grab a straw and indulge in the taste of self-harvested fruit!
There’s simply no way in eliminating nature at Cape Tribulation and Daintree Rainforest. No risk, no fun. After three nights at a campground without fences, having completed bush walks as well as swimming in a river – I would say it is a manageable risk.
Anyways, I tried to find out how dangerous our stay really would be. I asked a local person about the bushwalks and the swimming holes. The simple answer was: completely safe. When I asked what makes them so safe, the locals looked at me strangely and said that the crocs do not usually come close to humans and anyways prefer shallow muddy water. I had the feeling what she really wanted to say was: well you’re here, live with it.
Here are 8 safe and “not so safe” things to do as a family at Cape Tribulation and Daintree Rainforest.
1. Visit Mossman Gorge
Only a 20 minute drive from Port Douglas you will find the village of Mossman at the southern border of the Daintree Rainforest. Mossman Gorge is also called the “entrance” to the rainforest. It’s a lovely river with huge granite boulders and stones on its shores, perfect to sit and climb on.
Though it is a beloved freshwater swimming area amongst locals, there are many warning signs advising you not to take a swim because of fast changing, unpredictable waters and unexpected depths. At the Mossman Centre which is run by the local Aboriginal people they have a sign that shows how dangerous swimming might be on that particular day. Beyond the omnipresent gift shop and café they maintain a small gallery of aboriginal arts as well. Go and visit there first, then hop on the electric shuttle bus (about AUD 9 per adult) which will drop you off close to the river after a five minute drive.
Of course there are different guided tours (as the dreamtime walk) offered by knowledgable Aboriginals. You certainly won’t need a guide to explore the area though. There are a couple of short walks (from less than 1 km to 4 km) through the rainforest along the river and across the gorge via a small suspension bridge. You will also have easy access to the swimming hole right beside the track. If swimming is not for you, just sit on the boulders and enjoy the stunning views across the river.
Overall, it’s a well – spent afternoon in beautiful, natural surroundings. Let the children climb the stones while you prepare a picnic right on the sandy shore.
2. Take a Boardwalk Through the Lush Rainforest of Cape Tribulation
There are a couple of short boardwalks you can take into the bush once you’ve crossed the Daintree river. The ones I can definitely recommend are Dubuji and Marrja walks, which are both about 1.2 km long. You can easily spot the street signs as you go by in the car. You will walk on wooden boards and small bridges over creeks, sometimes secured by a fence. Explore unique flora and fauna, from the beautiful Daintree fan palm to southern cassowaries and tree cangaroos.
Sadly we didn’t spot the animals though. No tree frogs or wetland dragons or cassowaries. At least the first two species are probably just too good at hiding. Saw couple of spiders though – yay!
Jindalba and Kulki boardwalks are even shorter, less than 1 km. The longest one is Jindalba circuit track, which isn’t a boardwalk and requires adjusted footwear. Once again, the boardwalks are perfectly well kept even in wintertime and definitely worth a stroll!
3. Explore the Jungle From a Different Angle
Do some jungle surfing! This is (again!) not one of the cheaper adventures at Cape Tribulation and, against what the advertisements suggest, it’s not an adrenaline rush either.
What it is: a guided canopy tour of 1.5 – 2 hrs, just that it’s a slow kind of zip lining instead of a walk. It’s a nicely spent morning with a knowledgable, funny guide and beautiful views from up above. Suitable already for 3-year-olds and located in the heart of the Daintree. If you want to learn something about the different plants and animals that live at different heights of the rainforest, you are right here. It’s also ok if you want to introduce your kids to zip lining.
But if you are looking for adventure and adrenaline rush, skip it. Especially since it’s really expensive at AUD 105 per adult and 95 per child.
4. Go For a Horseride on The Beach
The greatest happiness on earth is sitting in the saddle of a horse! Finally I got one of my kids to try out horse riding and I was so ready to pay for it! Suitable for kids from the age of 5 years the capetribhorserides offer 1.5 hr – rides to the beach and rainforest 3 times a day. Once more one of the pricier adventures at AUD 110 for adults and children as well. I was concerned at first that such a long ride would be too much for Julian. Since it was nothing more than a trail ride through stunning rainforest and along Myall beach he was perfectly comfortable all the time. The horses are well kept and some of the more experienced riders were able to do a short canter on the beach. Overall, good for first timers, not for experienced riders.
5. Go Swimming and Have a Croc Burger
Although Mason’s Café somehow gave me a weird feeling – a little worn down, not very welcoming – we at least wanted to check out the swimming hole. Not sure if one of us would dare to jump in. But when I saw this sign at the café saying “there are no crocs in the swimming hole, they are in our burgers” I thought that maybe we should give it a try.
A short narrow path leads you through the greenest jungle until you come across this beautiful hidden gem. A small river swimming hole, pristine waters full of native fish, surrounded by lush rainforest with its huge, shadow spending palmtrees! Follow the slippery steps down to a tiny platform with a single old plastic chair where you can leave your belongings. Which is what we did. One after the other cautiously jumped in and we all totally loved it. One of our favourite experiences, since the little bit of adrenalin made it feel like a real adventure! I admit, we spent the first couple of minutes looking out for our reptile friends. Since there were none we watched the fish flounder about. Perfect picture time especially as it started raining gently. Great spot, and it is free!
If you like, try one of Masons’s crocodile, emu or roadkill burgers afterwards?! Seemed pretty expensive to us and the atmosphere was not specifically friendly, so we decided not to stay for lunch.
6. Do a Daintree River Cruise and Spot Those Crocs
If you choose to go looking for the crocs, do it with Daintree River Cruise Centre. They have very knowledgable, friendly guides, offer great tea and can almost guarantee (90%) you the sight of some saltwater crocs. Moreover you will learn a lot about the mangroves and birds of interest. But yes, it can get kind of boring. Especially if you have to go looking for the animals at high tide and in very hot weathers. That’s when they hide away from the shores. At AUD 25 it’s still a reasonable price for a river cruise of one hour.
7. Enjoy Homemade Tropical Ice-Cream
Tropical fruits at the Daintree Ice Cream Company! Since I have always been passionate about food, and fruit in particular, I loved the idea of strolling through an orchard of tropical fruits at Cape Tribulation, and enjoying self-made tropical icecream. We were there in May and explored the garden with its 22 different kinds of fruit trees and bushes, which were shortly explained on a clearly arranged map. Unfortunately it wasn’t as colorful as expected since most of the ripening fruit was green. We saw banana, jackfruit and durian as well as starfruit, vanilla and sapotes. The most exciting attraction to me was the starfruit tree, which really was impressing since I had never seen one before.
The kids found it somewhat interesting in the beginning. But after the fourth tree with not so interesting looking fruit, all they wanted was icecream. But, Europeans, be aware! We are not talking about an Italian Gelato Bar where you can choose from endless, spectacular tasting sorts of homemade icecream. No. First of all, you don’t get to choose. They offer readily prepared cups with the 4 flavours of the day or week. You can choose between those 4 different tropical flavours (in our case this was tropical plum, passionfruit, banana and wattle seed) or a mango/passionfruit or a chocolate sorbet block.
The lady behind the counter was very friendly and the icecream did taste well enough, although it was nothing spectacular. It’s a nice place and I’m sure the owners put a lot of heart into their work – just let me say two words: managing expectations.
Visit the beaches
Don’t swim there, of course, but do take a stroll along these beautiful beaches. After all, Cape Tribulation is where the rainforest meets the reef! Worth a visit are definitely Cow beach and Myall beach. On Cow beach (turn right to Cow Bay only a couple of kilometres behind the ferry drop-off, follow this road for about 6 km) you will find a beautiful wooden swing and rope free to use. Perfect for both children and adults! It’s also a beautiful place for a beach picnic – but keep your eyes open for hungry neighbours!
On Myall beach we collected some coconuts and felt like Tom Hanks in Cast away when we were trying to open them up. Took some (a lot of!) time, but we finally made it. The kids didn’t appreciate the taste that much though. Don’t forget quick stops at the lookouts to the cape itself in the North of Cape tribulation area and Alexandra lookout. It’s located right behind the ferry drop-off, where you have great views over the Daintree river valley.
Altogether, Daintree Rainforest really is a jungle paradise! And you don’t have to spend tons of money on those expensive attractions since there are a lot of affordable options around the cape.
What do you think about Cape Tribulation? Want to go there and still have questions? You’re very welcome to let us know in the comments section, we’ll be glad to help!