Entering the Daintree in Northern Queensland Australia is like taking a step back in time. It’s a beautiful, quiet and protected oasis, and a rich and unique reminder of the ecosystem that used to be on the earth hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Some plants and trees in the Daintree are from the periods of history when dinosaurs roamed the earth. In fact when walking through the quiet forest, you can almost imagine that a raptor will come stalking out of the trees. These particular plants in the photos below are basically living fossils, and can only be found in the Daintree. Because they’re not as advanced as other plants in their reproduction or defense mechanisms, they will slowly become extinct the next few thousand years. I never thought I was a person who could become fascinated by plants, but these are incredible.
You can also see more advanced plants with very strong strategies and defense mechanisms in the forest. In the rainforest, every plant’s goal is to get to the top of the canopy as fast as they can, or die. For example, this parasitic “strangling” vine starts at the top of the canopy and quickly puts down roots around it’s host tree, slowly suffocating it to death. The original tree dies, and you’re left with this gorgeous natural work of art:
Check it out from the inside:
This plant below looks like it’s been chewed by a million insects, but it hasn’t. That’s the way the leaves look naturally. Why? Other insects (believe it or not) are pretty discriminating… they don’t want to eat where it looks like another insect has eaten. So they pass it by.
Mangroves are fascinating, too:
In prehistoric times, the forests weren’t ruled by large mammals like monkeys, pigs, or big cats. They were dominated by huge reptiles, birds, and insects. And that is exactly what you find in the Daintree: giant crocodiles, cassowaries, spiders, flies and lizards.
We didn’t spot a Cassowary in the Daintree, although we tried. As an endangered species, there are only a few protected areas in the world that they live, and about 70 of the birds live in the Daintree. They’re beautiful, strange and also dangerous to humans… their raptor-like claws could disembowel you pretty quickly if you got close. Here’s a picture of a cassowary that I snapped at the wildlife area we visited in Sydney.
Insects were a big part of our experience. On the hot, muggy day in the rainforest, we were bitten hundreds of times by swarming mosquitos, and giant blowflies also thought we might make a tasty meal. But more interestingly, the spiders were absolutely monster sized – in fact the Daintree is home to the infamous “bird eating spider.” I even saw a big leech down by the river, flopping around trying to find its next meal. Sure glad it wasn’t me. The rainforest is a “survival” kind of place – these guys sure don’t mess around. This one seemed like it was just waiting for us to step into its net:
And what about the reptiles? We spotted this gorgeous lizard when we came out of Cape Tribulation (an aptly named place, given the swarming bugs).
But, the true king of the jungle in the Daintree is the crocodile. Crocodiles seem to be the only animal that can strike fear into the hearts of even the most adventuresome Australian. These are people who live side by side with some of the most dangerous animals and natural conditions on the planet. They scoff at most of it: giant spiders (“No worries!”) – poisonous snakes (“Not likely, mate!”) – stinging jellyfish (“Well, the horrible pain does go away eventually!”). But ask an Aussie about crocs, and you’ll get a chilling tale worse than most ghost stories.
The day that we visited the Daintree was the highest tide of the year, which floods many of the streams and tributaries, and much of the lower lying landscapes are turned into wetland, covered in a foot or two of water. Our guide told us that on this very day the last year, a little boy was playing in some of the puddles in his back yard near the edge of the Daintree when he was snatched by a croc who had traveled quite a distance, perhaps at the sound of the splashing boy. Our outdoorsy “Steve-Irwin-like” guide himself said as we drove by some of the flooded land that we couldn’t pay him a million dollars to take a step into that swamp that day. Check out these warning signs posted near water:
We did see our own croc in the wild with our own eyes. As part of our journey, we took a river boat trip up the Daintree river. Our guide told us that it wouldn’t be a good day for spotting crocs – as it was high tide they were all out in the water, probably hunting (shiver!). But after a few false alarms, we saw her. She was probably about 7 feet long in length and probably 15 yards away among the mangroves along the treeline. She began moving and swimming along with our boat as we traveled upstream. 7 foot seems big, but the size of most of the crocodiles in existence in the world today is relatively small, because we kill or capture most of the big ones due to our fears about them. If we let them live long enough in the wild, they could reach truly dinosaur-like proportions. Here are the best photos that I could capture of her (as well as a video):
This is the only place in the world where two world-heritage sites meet: The Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. Visiting it taught me a few things: firstly, I’m adventurous, but not adventurous enough to spend more than 1 day in a place as incredibly wild and remote as the Daintree, and secondly, that places like this are truly worthy of our protection – there’s absolutely nothing like it in the world.