A world of green
Far northern Queensland is lush and tropical, bearing a palette of colors far removed from the arid, red Australia of the imagination.
Rolling hills hold field upon field of vibrant green sugar cane, their silvery tassels catching the breeze and the sunlight. Behind the ocean of cane, a near-constant shroud of pearl gray mist blankets dark green mountains and tumbling waterfalls. Not far off to the east, sandy beaches line the edge of the Coral Sea.
Due to usually cool weather there were no vegetables to harvest, and we found ourselves with an unexpected but not unwelcome abundance of time to explore both sides of the highway. It was a leisurely change from our past two months of long drives and endless places to see. Suddenly we had time to stop wherever and for however long we pleased, enjoying the small, out of the way places that are sometimes the most enjoyable.
Daintree National Park is tucked as far north as a two-wheel drive car can take you, and its rainforests were one of the last places on our list of things to see in Australia.
The forest here is ancient. A last remnant of the forests of Gondwana, some of the vegetation types here predate the breakup of our present continents. Fern trees, proto-palms, and massive king ferns, three times as tall as us, certainly transport the mind into the Jurassic. You almost expect a brachiosaurus to lean down and start munching on the ferns, or a pterodactyl to take flight out of the high canopy.
Adding to the prehistoric feel were signs warning motorists to watch for cassowaries, northern Queensland’s extremely odd, ostrich-sized flightless bird. The enormous birds have a dinosaur-like protuberance on the tops of their blue featherless heads, and a razor-sharp claw on each foot, capable of slicing a jugular. We sort of hoped they moved in packs and attacked the occasional unwitting tourist, like velociraptors, but unfortunately they are skittish and rare.
Daintree is what you imagine when you hear the word rainforest. Massive buttressed trees support tangles of vines, bromeliads and climbing ferns. Intricate strangler figs wrap limbs and roots around other tree trunks in a deadly but beautiful weave of tentacles. Sunlight filters through stands of fan palms, their giant circular foliage making us feel like frogs under a pond covered in lily pads.
Unlike the raucous jungles of Southeast Asia, the forest here is eerily silent, broken only by the occasional birdcall or unseen creature rustling in the bushes. We often found ourselves conversing in a whisper.
Nearly 700 meters above the sea, up a steep, root-covered path to the top of Mount Sorrow, the forest changed. The air became wetter still, as the forests stripped passing clouds of their moisture. Small trees and ferns replaced the trunks of the lowland jungle giants, and a layer of varied bright green mosses— some thin and velvety, others like miniature versions of the king ferns— covered every trunk, root, and stone. The aesthetics and scale of the forest brought to mind some of Kyoto’s Japanese gardens.
With plenty of walking trails to fill our days, a shady campsite on Noah Beach provided a relaxing spot for our afternoons. We walked the wide beach, watching clouds gather over the distant reefs and stepping over millions of tiny balls of sand excavated by equally tiny crabs.
This section of the country is so beautiful, varied, and peaceful that we were tempted to just stay for weeks. But, of course, the basis of any rainforest is rain—not ideal when you’re living in a tent. Besides, we had a long-standing appointment with 60 kilometers of wilderness trail on an uninhabited island just offshore.