Palms line the roadside, shooting toward the dark, billowing sky as their fronds whip violently in the wind. The humidity hangs in the air making each breath feel as if it’s thick, and no amount of air conditioning seems to tackle the dampness blanketing our skin.
Through fields of tall sugar cane waving somehow gently in the strong wind, the road winds north from Cairns, Australia toward the World Heritage Wet Tropics region. The wind pushes our camper van from side to side as we struggle to keep it on the narrowing roadway cutting through the towering mountains covered with thick rainforest cascading down to beautiful gold sand beaches leading to blue waters. This is not the picture of Australia I had imagined; in fact, I was unaware the country had anything like this.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, we struggled to find a place to camp. Each and every beach pullout along the way seemed to have the same signs: “Warning: Marine Stingers Present in these waters”, “Warning: Crocodiles” and “No Camping”. The glow of our iPhone filled the cabin as we checked our WikiCamps Australia App for guidance on where to stay. Mt. Malloy was about 30 kilometers out of the way, but offered a great rest stop that allows 48 hours of camping, camp fires and has bathroom facilities with free cold showers. For us, it sounded like the perfect paradise.
As the headlights twisted and turned with the steep and winding roadway it became apparent the lack of moonlight due not only to the clouds covering the region, but also the thick canopy of tropical trees shrouding the highway.
After what seemed like an eternity, signs pointing to the Mt. Malloy rest stop reflected our headlights shining like a beacon of hope. We pulled in through campers and tents all settled in for the night and tucked our camper van away in the rear of the campground near a thicket of tropical growth. Dan scrambled out to scavenge for dry wood to light a fire. As he made his way around the front of the van he blurted out, “What was that?” “What,” I responded only half interested and more focused on heating a can of baked beans to accompany our hot dogs. “It was like a giant, furry rat,” he said. Assuming it was a harmless wallaby, I went back to cooking.
When coals beneath the fire were glowing and the flames spit sparks toward the sky, I climbed out of the van to cook my hot dog over the fire. Dan affixed the piece of meat to a stick and handed it to me as I pushed it toward the flames.
The heat of the fire made the already hot, humid night nearly unbearable. Tropical birds squawked and chattered above, and I quickly became uneasy. Minutes later the rattling of leaves and snapping of branches in the darkness was all it took to send me running back into the camper van. After catching my breath, I settled in to settle the rumbling in my stomach.
As I bit through the soft bread surrounding the hot dog and into its luke warm center, a surge of cool liquid meat squeezed into my mouth. “Odd,” I thought, but chaulked up the strange texture to something simply different from the United States. As I continued to eat, I was more and more disgusted and forced myself to choke down my food. Dan, who felt the same way, continued eating as well. With my hot dog almost gone, it dawned upon me. These aren’t precooked as they are in the US. Yes, we were eating raw, liquid meat. No wonder they were encased and linked together at the grocery store. I instantly felt my stomach churn nearly ready to reject the raw, blended meat.
I could tell Dan was worried. He seems to have the stomach of stone, but his face couldn’t hide his concern we would later be sick. To ensure we had made a mistake and were in fact eating uncooked, liquified meat, we threw a couple more ‘dogs on the stove. As the meat sizzled and swelled under the heat of the skillet, we knew we were right. Our second dinner was solid, and to be quite honest rather tasty.
Still disgusted, but trying to laugh it off we slinked off for a couple of frigidly cold showers before bed. As we lay down to sleep it was indiscernible which was louder, the rumbles of stomachs angrily trying to digest dinner or the squawking of birds overhead, and the crackling of branches in the woods beyond.
We awoke to discover we parked near a rather large, murky fresh-water creek most likely ripe with crocs and the birds chattering overhead were twice the size we imagined in the darkness. Another dance in and out of the cold water in the showers, and we were on the road again.
As we rolled near the Daintree Rainforest, we were taken aback by the thick walls of trees covered in a vibrant green moss. The canopy stretching high above, left us with a damp, shaded coolness below.
Realizing the narrow, winding road deep into the rainforest wouldn’t be passed in a relatively reasonable time, we pulled into the quaint, simple tourist town of Daintree Village in search of a pay phone. We called the National Park Service to reserve a site at the only approved camping area inside Daintree Rainforest, Noah Beach. We paid $10.00 AU over the phone and set out to explore.
We then paid our $23.00 AU return fee for the Daintree Ferry and waited patiently for the glorified platform to pull itself along two underwater cables from one shore to another. After gliding across the muddy, greenish waters to the other side, we pulled in to the Alexander Lookout to snap a few photos before heading on to the Jindalba Boardwalk for a short hike. By now the rain was falling, but little seemed to make it to the ground and instead was caught and diverted by the rainforest canopy above.
We wandered the boardwalk pausing to read about the amazing ecosystem at work before our very eyes. The 700 meter walk took only 30 minutes or so, but left us wanting more. As if it were fate, a previously unseen sign detailing a hike deep into the rain forest stood at the base of the path. We recalled seeing a small, muddy trail meandering from the boardwalk and determined that must be it. As we stepped off the boardwalk our well-worn Chaco sandals sank deep into the mud. We strained to pull our feet from the sticky rainforest floor while charging over fallen, rotten trees, through mazes of hanging vines and beside plants that seemed to reach out and lay their thorns into whatever they could whether it be clothing or skin.
As we slipped and slid our way deeper along the rainforest floor, the trail once laid out in front of us gently then seemingly disappeared. Several minutes later we realized, we were lost. As we turned in circles trying to find anything that resembled an old footprint, a worrysome feeling washed over me. Every direction we turned, each few steps we walked – everything looked the same. After what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was only a few minutes, we found an orange triangle tacked to a tree pointing from the direction we had come from. It may as well have been a ‘You’re stupid’ sign as it signaled that we were traversing the pathway in the wrong direction. Relieved to have found the path we continued forward, looking back at the trees behind to ensure we were near the orange triangles clearly marking the trail in the proper direction.
It wasn’t long before we were lost again. The deep, dark and damp forest around us was unforgiving of our idiocy. “Don’t move,” Dan told me as he darted off in each direction looking for the trail. It was smart. Had we both set off to find the trail, we would have lost our starting point and very likely been doomed to a night in forest. This time, I began to panic. I tried not to let it show as Dan methodically set off in one direction and returned to me shaking his head. Then there it was, the orange triangle hidden deep through the mossy trees. We were way off track. Relieved to have found some sort of direction we pressed forward. The 2.1 kilometer walk was one of the shortest on our list of hikes across the globe, but it somehow become one of the more difficult. Maybe we should have heeded the warning on the sign that labeled the walk for ‘Adventurous Walkers Only’. We continued to traverse through meandering streams, up muddy embankments and over leaves hiding the soft earth below.
More than two hours later we made it back to the boardwalk and our camper van, wet and tired, but relieved. As the engine roared to a start we set our sights on Noah’s Beach Campground and dinner.
As we pulled in through the thick forest and found our sight, we clamored out of the van to a non-potable water spigot to wash the mud and blood from our feet and legs.
The next morning before we set out, one last stop at the bathroom stopped me in my tracks. Next to door, hung an intricate web and in the middle a monstrous black and yellow spider. I aborted my bathroom stop and ran for the my life as if it were chasing me back to the camper. I grabbed the camera and Dan, pulling both back to the bathroom. That was it. Although I was enthralled with the beauty of the rainforest, its creatures sent me packing.
Throughout the Daintree Rainforest National Park you’ll find cafes, caravan parks, a gas station and even two ice cream factories. There are several boardwalks through the rainforest including the Jindalba and Maraddja walks. While the guide books and roadsides encourage you to explore the area for a couple of days, you truly don’t need more than a full day inside the park to explore – just make sure to set out early as it will be a full day. In both the Daintree Village and near the Daintree River Ferry you’ll find a handful of companies offering river and crocodile viewing tours.
How you see the rainforest and river is up to you, but it is a definite must see.