Where the Rainforest Meets the Reef

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Daintree Discovery Center
Boardwalk through Eden: The wooden trails of the Discovery Center, as seen from the top of the Observation Tower. (Leanne Mitchell)

Cape Tribulation sits in the Daintree Rainforest, about a two-hour drive from Cairns, just north of the Daintree River. The Daintree itself is part of the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropical Region of Queensland, which covers 2,209 acres and stretches 280 miles along the state's northeastern coast, from Townsville to Cooktown. The Kuku Yalanji Aborigines, the original inhabitants of the Cape Tribulation area, identify five distinct seasons—and all involve some degree of rain. But it's generally accepted that there are two seasons: the wet, from December to April, and the dry, from May to November. The dry still gets sporadic rain showers daily—sometimes a refreshing mist, other times a full-faucet deluge. But they seldom last long. As one guide explained, "The Daintree sees two types of rain: one where I can see you, and one where I can't." It's also one of the few places in the world where it could be pouring and a local will comment on the beauty of the day without a hint of sarcasm. Thing is, you'll likely agree.

The so-called town of Cape Tribulation—more a string of lodging, restaurants, and general stores than a legit village, much like Cow Bay, further south—has a shifting population of about 500, evenly split between tourists and seasonal tourist-trade workers. The main portion of Cape Trib is nestled at the base of 4,508-foot Thorton Peak, which connects with neighboring Mount Sorrow; the two peaks are collectively responsible for the region's silhouette, usually shadowed by dense rain clouds that snag on the mossy surface of the rainforest-covered peaks.

Places to Stay:
Even though its diminutive size keeps the number of Cape Trib hotels limited, there's still a refreshing variety on hand. Campers and those with mobile homes can bed down at Noah Beach, five miles south of Cape Trib, while PK's Jungle Village (1.800.232.333; www.pksjunglevillage.com.au) offers inexpensive, backpacker-style accommodation in a variety of options (four-person cabins, dorms, and campgrounds) set in the rainforest. A pool and bar/restaurant are also on site and the beach is a short walk away.

On the other end of the spectrum are two Voyages properties: Ferntree Rainforest Lodge (+61.2.8296.8010; www.ferntreelodge.com.au), a three-star resort nestled in a stretch of rainforest with two tranquil pools, and the flagship Coconut Beach Rainforest Lodge (+61.2.8296.8010), where guests can choose from one of 27 Daintree Retreats—deluxe, duplex-style rooms with private decks surrounded by the rainforest—or one of 39 Rainforest Retreats, freestanding buildings surrounded by the Daintree's lush green canopy. Both properties are forerunners in eco-sensitive management, from a recycled sewage system that redistributes the filtered water back into the earth to off-site laundry facilities that avoid chlorine contamination of nearby reefs.

Places to Shop and Eat:
For those searching for supplies, head to Mason's Store, the first left after crossing Myall Creek. The store is named after the first European to permanently settle in Cape Trib and it has supplied the region for over two generations.

The Jungle Bar, part of PK's Jungle Village, is the only Cape Trib pub, serving standard fare in a friendly, backpacker-dense environment. For a polar-opposite experience, try The Cape Restaurant and Bar, opposite the driveway leading to Coconut Beach Rainforest Lodge. The architecture alone is worth checking out: a wooden boardwalk weaves through a thick swath of rainforest before the mangrove trees fall back to reveal a towering, wood-framed building with massive windows that look out first on the man-made pool, then onto Coconut Beach. As you'd expect, the food is mostly seafood, and even though the prices are a bit steep when compared to other Cape Trib fare, the dishes are rewarding. One word of caution, however: service can be spotty...we had to wait nearly half an hour to get our wine—and there was hardly anyone else in the place.

Things to Do:
In addition to the Daintree Discovery Centre that you pass on your way in, most of Cape Trib's attractions revolve around the rainforest, the beach, or the reef. Information can be gathered on anything from sea kayaking and horseback riding to wilderness discovery tours and night walks at your hotel. You can also arrange for 4x4 excursions on the Bloomfield Track with an Aboriginal tour guide, head to Coconut Beach for morning yoga, or enroll as a Green Guardian at Coconut Beach Rainforest Lodge (you pay a small fee to plant a tree, and the proceeds go toward rainforest protection).

Two outfitters—Rum Runners and Odyssey H2O—are the only way to explore the Great Barrier Reef from Cape Trib. Rum Runners (+07. 4098.0061; www.rumrunner.com.au) appeals more to the backpacking crowd, with a max of 44 passengers aboard a 40-foot motored sailboat that reaches the reef in 75 minutes. Odyssey H2O, also affiliated with Voyages, gets to the reef in 45 minutes, and caps its groups at 30.

Published: 16 Nov 2004 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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