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Steep terrain and dense vegetation restrict visitors to only a tiny portion of the Mossman Gorge section of Daintree National Park. The 73,500 ha park, home of ancient rainforest, is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.
An endangered Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) in the World Heritage-listed Daintree rainforest. There are about 40,000 in the wild, but they do it tough when their habitat is threatened, or destroyed, as much of the Mission Beach area was in Cyclone Yasi.
The tangled prop roots of the red mangrove filter out salt to prevent its absorption – one of mangroves’ defences against their salty environment. The widespread roots of this specimen, at Cowrie Beach, trap silt, building a more favourable environment and raising the odds of more mangroves colonising this spot.
Daintree National Park, comprising the Mossman Gorge (56,500 ha) and Cape Tribulation sections (17,000 ha), begins about 70 km north of Cairns and continues north from the Daintree River to the Bloomfield River, a distance of 70 km. The steep McDowall Range forms the western boundary to the Cape Tribulation section.
The Daintree, with Cape Tribulation at its heart, is a setting for the imagination. It was named for British geologist and photographer Richard Daintree, whose prospecting work in the area in the 1860s helped open up the tropical north. Daintree pioneered the use of photography on his field trips and his work – which can be seen at the National Library of Australia – is a superb record of early settlement in Queensland.
The sea’s advance and retreat across the coastal plain over millennia inundated all but a few low-lying areas in what’s now known as the Daintree. One surviving tract is preserved at Cooper Creek Wilderness, where fan palms and primitive flowering plants dominate a relict rainforest little changed for perhaps 130 million years.
Just a 5 km boat ride upstream from the busy Daintree River ferry crossing, the riverbanks are a nature-lover’s paradise, teeming with rainforest dwellers like this azure kingfisher. An expert diver, it utilises a ‘spot and swoop’ hunting method, taking off from and returning to the same branch. Excellent news for birdwatchers.
Australian Canopy Crane operator Andrew Thompson and environment officer Antoinette Wadge assist researchers studying biological processes in the rainforest canopy, more than 25 m above the forest floor.
In December 1988, in recognition of the region’s extraordinary biological diversity and its prominence as a living record of the evolutionary history of Australia’s plants and animals during the past 400 million years, the Daintree was included in the 8944 sq. km Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area. And at Cape Tribulation two of Australia’s World Heritage-listed environments came face-to-face: the Wet Tropics’ rainforest and the corals of the Great Barrier Reef.
Crocodiles and cassowaries are the biggest animals you’ll come across in the Daintree, says Lawrence Mason, a third-generation resident of ‘Cape ‘Trib’. “There are medium-sized marsupials like the tree kangaroo, but generally they stay very still when humans are about so they’re hard to spot up there in the canopy. The different thing about our jungles is that most of the plant eating is done by insects, not animals.”
In between the Mossman River’s rapids are tranquil pools and sandy beaches pocked with granite boulders. The musky rat-kangaroo, orange-footed scrubfowl and Boyd’s forest dragon are some of the special species dwelling in riverside forest; jungle perch and saw-shelled turtles are among those found in the surprisingly cool water.
A gravel road leads north of Cape Trib for 15 km to Cowie Beach. This is the start of the 4WD Bloomfield Track to Cooktown, some 107 km away. Cowie seems more remote than it is; at low tide the sea drifts sluggishly beyond an expansive beach where clumps of mangroves with their grotesque roots are on show. A south-east breeze rises and falls. From the shoreline looking west, you see clusters of coconut palms and then forest to the mountains. Neither the road nor any settlement is visible.
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A baby cassowary wanders through the dense rainforest of Daintree National Park in far-north Queensland. More than a metre tall, the youngun’ comes stepping lightly across the creek, just downstream from the secret “ladies’ pool” – which the local Aboriginal mob say is used for giving birth and is off-limits to men.
Many plants in the Daintree have names that are more accurately descriptive: wait-a-while palm (also known as ‘lawyer vine’), fire vine, walking-stick palm, fan palm, strangler fig, stinging tree, Noah’s walnut. Lawrence stops frequently to gather and show fruits and nuts, as well as pointing out the ferns, vines, cycads and lichens, all illustrative of the bewildering diversity of plant life here.
South of the Daintree River is famed Mossman Gorge, chanelling the Mossman River as it plunges from the Mount Carbine Tableland, past 1330-m Devils Thumb, and towards the sea. Near the entrance to the Mossman Gorge section of Daintree National Park is the Kuku Yalanji Dreamtime centre. The Eastern Kuku Yalanji people are traditional custodians of country stretching 110 km from Cooktown south to Mossman and 100 km inland to the Palmer River.
A small bat hang on a branch in the dense rainforest of the Daintree National Park, a World Heritage-listed area in far-north Queensland.
Daintree National Park, comprises the Mossman Gorge (56,500 ha) and Cape Tribulation sections (17,000 ha), begins about 70 km north of Cairns and continues north from the Daintree River to the Bloomfield River, a distance of 70 km.
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