The Australian Daintree Rainforest is a special place, but is it possible to visit from Cairns? Is it safe and how can you get there? Well, the short answer is yes it’s not that hard to visit safely and it’s definitely worth the effort to see this pristine and stunning part of Australia.
Wild and unique, the Daintree is the oldest lowland tropical rainforest in the world. It’s a wilderness area with dense forests, tall mountains, stunning gorges, plunging waterfalls, and crocodile-infested rivers. But much of the Rainforest is hard to access and if you’re travelling alone or with children, going there may feel a bit daunting.
As a solo traveller in Australia, I had fun visiting the Daintree Rainforest from Cairns but before I dive into the details, here’s some more about the rainforest and why you should go.
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Is the Daintree rainforest worth visiting?
Recognized by UNESCO and World Heritage listed, the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef are both must-see destinations in Cairns and far north Queensland.
The Australian Daintree Rainforest covers a huge area from the mountains to the coast where it meets the tropical waters of the Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef system in the world.
It’s one of the best places in Australia to see crocodiles in the wild.
You can visit both the reef and the rainforest from the regional city of Cairns but the wilderness areas of the Daintree are further north, closer to the small town of Port Douglas.
A great way to visit the Daintree is on a day trip from Cairns or Port Douglas and the easiest way is to book a tour, especially if you’re travelling alone. But many people choose to drive themselves and spend a few days in the area.
TIP: I booked with Cairns Adventure Tours and can recommend this day trip. We saw the highlights of the Daintree, Mossman Gorge, Cape Tribulation and lots of crocodiles and other wildlife on the River Cruise that was included in this tour.
What’s special about the Daintree Rainforest?
- The Daintree is the largest tropical rainforest in Australia.
- It’s a pristine natural environment that extends for 1200 square kilometres in Australia’s far north.
- The Australian Daintree Rainforest is around 130 million years old and has a unique and complex ecosystem.
- The forest supports a vast variety of plants and animals and is one of the most biologically diverse landscapes in the world.
- More than 900 different species of trees and 130 species of reptiles live in the Daintree, including man-eating saltwater crocodiles, native frogs, bats, and insects.
- When you’re visiting the Daintree you may be lucky enough to see a cassowary, a large, flightless tropical bird but they are especially elusive and hard to spot.
- The waterways of the Daintree are the natural habitat of crocodiles and you’re sure to see these dangerous reptiles sunning themselves on the banks of the river.
- You can safely see crocodiles on a Daintree River cruise.
- In 2021, the Daintree National Park was given back to the traditional Aboriginal owners.
** WARNING! Crocodiles are dangerous! They live in rivers, estuaries and waterways so stay away from the water’s edge and always follow the safety signs in the Daintree.
Saltwater crocodiles are predators that swim out to sea and can attack from the beach so keep clear of the water’s edge in far north Queensland.
Can you swim in the Daintree Rainforest?
Yes, you can safely swim in some places in the Daintree. Although far north Queensland is the natural habitat of man-eating crocodiles there are some water holes where there are no crocs and it is safe to swim.
Mossman Gorge has a beautiful swimming spot below the waterfall and there are other places where there are no crocodiles like Emmagen Creek on the Bloomfield Track.
But make sure you get current local safety advice before you enter the water and don’t swim if there’s any doubt about safety.
Where is the Daintree Rainforest?
- The Daintree Rainforest in Australia lies on the east coast in far north Queensland and stretches north from the Daintree River, beyond Cape Tribulation to Cooktown and west to the Great Dividing Range.
- The thickly forested area to the south of the Daintree River near the small town of Port Douglas is known as the Lower Daintree.
- The UNESCO World Heritage-listed area of tropical rainforest covers 12,000 kilometres and extends from Cooktown all the way south to Townsville.
How to get there
The Daintree National Park is quite remote, and access is limited so the best way to get there is to book a tour or to drive yourself. Large areas of the Daintree are uninhabited, but Cape Tribulation has some camping, food and accommodation options.
The closest regional city is Cairns. There are regular bus and train services to Cairns and Cairns Airport provides domestic and international flights. If you’re travelling in Australia, flying to Cairns is the quickest and easiest way to reach far north Queensland.
You can hire a car or book a tour from Cairns or Port Douglas.
How far is the Daintree from Cairns & Port Douglas?
- The Lower Daintree and stunning Mossman Gorge are just 22 kilometres from Port Douglas and 78 kilometres from Cairns.
- But the main area of the Daintree Rainforest is around 56 kilometres north of Port Douglas and about 100 kilometres from Cairns on the Captain Cook Highway (State Route 44).
- From Cairns to Cape Tribulation is 140 kilometres and it takes around 2.5 hours to drive there.
- A cable ferry takes vehicles across the crocodile-infested waters of the Daintree River to the Cape Tribulation area of the forest.
- The road is sealed as far as Cape Tribulation but a dirt road and 4-wheel drive vehicles are needed to travel further into the Daintree beyond Cape Tribulation or off the main road in the forest.
Can you go to the Daintree Rainforest on your own?
Yes! You can visit the Daintree rainforest If you’re travelling alone. The best way to go there as a solo traveller is to book a day trip from Cairns. I considered driving there on my own but decided against it.
There are safety issues to consider as the area is remote and inhospitable. Some of the wildlife is dangerous and there are man-eating crocodiles lurking in the rivers. I liked the idea of going with a local guide as this felt like a safe way to see the area for the first time.
Located in far north Queensland, the Daintree Rainforest is more than 1700 kilometres from Brisbane and 2,400 kilometres from Sydney.
Because of the huge distances involved, driving my own car was out of the question and hiring a car was an expensive option for a solo visit. In addition, the rainforest environment was unfamiliar with dangerous crocodiles and a river crossing to negotiate before reaching the upper Daintree and Cape Tribulation.
While many people choose to hire a car and drive there, I found that the best way of visiting the Daintree for me was to book a day trip from Cairns and let someone else do the driving.
The tour I chose was with Cairns Adventure Tours. I booked with Get Your Guide and found this was a reliable way to plan ahead. This popular day trip to the Daintree gets great reviews and includes:
- Transport by bus
- A local driver/guide
- An Aboriginal smoking ceremony and “welcome to country” at Mossman Gorge
- Rainforest walk & swim in stunning Mossman Gorge
- Daintree River Wildlife Cruise
- Drive through the Rainforest to Cape Tribulation stopping at lookout points.
- Daintree River Ferry crossing
On the return journey, we tasted delicious locally made ice cream and saw some beautiful sky colours after sunset at Port Douglas as a bonus. It was a great day out and a practical way to see the highlights of the area as a solo traveller.
**NOTE** I paid for my day trip from Cairns to the Daintree Rainforest and I’m under no obligation to write this article. As usual, the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
A Delightful Day in the Daintree Rainforest – Trip Review
A day trip to the beautiful Daintree Rainforest in Australia was an exciting part of my visit to Cairns. The day began early with a 7 am hotel pickup. We drove around Cairns collecting the other passengers and it was interesting to see areas of the city that I hadn’t seen before.
I especially enjoyed driving past the beautiful Cairns Botanical Garden full of lush tropical greenery.
The drive from Cairns to Port Douglas is very scenic and is one of the most beautiful coastal drives in Australia. It took around an hour to drive from Cairns to Port Douglas following the Captain Cook Highway (State Route 44).
In Port Douglas, we collected some more passengers and soon after we arrived at our first stop, the Visitors Centre at Mossman Gorge.
The Daintree Visitors Centre
The Visitors Centre is located in the Lower Daintree Rainforest. The Centre provides an opportunity for visitors to discover the wonder of the rainforest up close, from the forest floor to the canopy.
There are educational displays, small group tours and research programs that offer an introduction to the Rainforest and the local aboriginal culture.
Our group received a “welcome to country” from a young indigenous man who performed a smoking ceremony and introduced us to the local bush tucker and some stories and traditions of the indigenous tribes of the area.
The traditional owners are the Eastern Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal people, and they hold a deep spiritual connection to the land.
Mossman Gorge Port Douglas
Mossman Gorge offers stunning walks, waterfalls, and swimming holes. A shuttle bus took us from the Visitors Centre further into the National Park to the start of the short walk to Mossman Gorge. Around spectacular Mossman Gorge, there is a number of lovely walks to choose from.
A raised boardwalk makes it easy to walk through the rainforest to the Gorge and the pathway is wheelchair accessible. There are several lookout points, and a suspension bridge to cross to a lookout over the waterfall.
At the waterfall’s base is a sandy beach by the river. It’s the perfect spot for a swim in the cool fresh water of the river.
We spent around 45 minutes exploring the shaded pathways of Mossman Gorge but there are other walking tracks that take you deeper into the gorge and into the rainforest.
It would have been nice to spend more time in Mossman Gorge to enjoy the stunning rainforest, but on this tour, we had a lot of ground to cover and had to keep moving.
Daintree River Cruise
The Daintree River was our next stop, and we hopped on a small boat for the Wildlife River Cruise, a highlight of visiting the area.
The banks of the River are thick with mangroves and other vegetation. Crocodiles lurk in the murky waters and laze in the sun on the riverbanks. We saw many crocodiles from small hatchlings to huge dangerous adult males.
The tour guide knew the river well and had a wealth of knowledge to share about the wildlife. The resident crocodiles had names and it was fascinating to see them up close in their natural environment.
The Daintree River is very beautiful, and a River Cruise is a peaceful way to immerse yourself in the natural world of the rainforest.
Driving to Cape Tribulation
After the wildlife cruise, we re-joined the bus on the opposite side of the river and continued driving through the lush canopy into the main area of the Rainforest, stopping for lunch at a roadside café.
Cape Tribulation Beach was at the end of the road and the furthest we were able to go. The view of Cape Tribulation from the lookout point was stunning. On the return journey, we stopped at Mount Alexandra lookout for some more incredible views over the lush green rainforest to the sea.
After the river crossing on the cable ferry, we stopped at a popular local café to try some homemade ice cream. Our final stop was at Port Douglas, and we made it back to Cairns around 8:00 pm.
It was a very long day but a lovely introduction to the wild and beautiful Daintree Rainforest in Australia.
I booked with Cairns Adventure Tours and can recommend this day trip. We saw the highlights of the area, the Daintree, Mossman Gorge, Cape Tribulation and lots of crocodiles and other wildlife on the River Cruise that was included in this tour.
Another great option is a small group 4WD tour of the Daintree and Cape Tribulation. On this day trip from Cairns or Port Douglas, you’ll enjoy a scenic drive to the Rainforest, spot crocodiles and other wildlife on a River Cruise, visit the famous Cape Tribulation Beach and enjoy a refreshing rainforest swim at Emmagen Creek on the Bloomfield Track.
Where to stay
Accommodation in Port Douglas is more expensive than in Cairns.
Budget: I stayed at the Port Douglas Backpackers. I loved the location in the centre of town just a short walk from shops, restaurants and the beach. I booked a private room and was impressed with the size of the room and lounge area. The door had a solid lock and felt quite safe although the shared areas could have been cleaner.
Where to stay in Cairns
There’s a wide variety of accommodation in Cairns and Port Douglas for all budgets. Here are some suggestions:
Budget: I stayed at the Travellers Oasis in Cairns city centre. It was a friendly hostel with a lovely garden and pool located near the train station about a 20-minute walk from the ferry wharf. I had a cosy private room with a shared bathroom & I enjoyed my stay.
Mid-Range: The Coral Tree Inn has a good location in Cairns city centre and gets exceptional reviews. It’s friendly, quiet, clean, and a 15-minute walk to the waterfront.
Luxury: The Hilton in Cairns is a 5-star hotel right in the centre of town, on the waterfront and close to attractions and interesting dining options. You can’t beat the location of this popular luxury hotel near the Esplanade and the ferry wharf.
Visiting the beautiful Australian Daintree Rainforest is well worth the effort and is not so difficult to visit as a solo traveller.
I was very excited to finally see this ancient and unique part of the country and I loved the spectacular Mossman Gorge. But the Upper Daintree Rainforest is quite remote and, if you’re travelling alone, an organised tour is a safe and practical way to access the Rainforest and see the highlights of the area.
I would have loved to spend a bit more time exploring and, if I was travelling with a companion, I would consider driving next time and perhaps camping for a night or two at Cape Tribulation.
Also, I would book the tour from Port Douglas rather than from Cairns as this would cut at least 2 hours off the travel time and it was a very long day. But overall, I enjoyed this opportunity to visit the delightful Daintree Rainforest in Australia and I’m happy to recommend this day tour from Cairns.
**NOTE** I paid for this day trip to the Daintree Rainforest from Cairns and I’m under no obligation to write this article. As usual, the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
For peace of mind make sure you buy travel insurance before you go, especially if you are travelling solo. I use Travel Insurance that covers me for overseas medical, lost baggage, and other expenses and I can concentrate on enjoying my trip without worrying about something going wrong.
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