Where the forest meets the sea
Danielle norton visits Tropical North Queensland in search of a storybook land where colourful coral reefs meet ancient, tangled forest paths.
When my children were tiny they loved Jeannie Baker’s Where the Forest Meets the Sea, an intricately crafted picture book with a poignant environmental message. Essentially it tells the story of a boy and his father venturing into the ancient forest of Tropical North Queensland to explore, play, and dream of times long ago when this was the mysterious playground of Aboriginal children, and dinosaurs before them. At the end of the book the boy sagely asks the question, “Will the forest still be here when we come back?”
From the moment Baker's message sunk in, my kids have been begging to visit this magical place “before it’s too late”. So, finally, we pack our bags and head for Tropical North Queensland and one of Australia’s most beloved sites, Cape Tribulation. This headland is one of the few places where the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, of which the Daintree Rainforest is a part, meets the Great Barrier Reef.
Gorges and the Great Barrier Reef
We begin our adventure in Port Douglas. It’s wet season and so blindingly hot that sweat pours off us as we collapse at a table at The Little Larder on Macrossan Street. After a salad lunch, we check into an apartment at Reef Resort, then make a blissful beeline for one of the resort’s three pools.
The Mossman Gorge Cultural Centre is a natural choice for us in the afternoon. A two-minute bus ride up the hill and a short walk through lush rainforest delivers us to an idyllic river. The gorge water is absolutely clear and tranquil. The kids delight in wading through the fish at the water’s edge and swimming out to the waterfall until they are swept back downstream by the current.
The morning finds us on the Quicksilver Cruises ferry from Port Douglas to a pontoon on the edge of the Agincourt Reef. Although there are 400 people on board, the crew efficiently provides everyone with snorkelling gear and we’re soon face down, exploring the wonders of the ocean before drying off for a ride in the glass-bottomed boat. This is like a Disney movie come to life; schools of vividly coloured fish disperse as a shark glides by and when we spot a green sea turtle, estimated to be 100 years old, the kids alternate between squealing and awed silence.
After crossing the river by car ferry, we meander up the winding highway to Cape Tribulation. The teenager has a slight breakdown when he realises there’s no telephone service in the area and even the people who live in town can't use mobiles. We surrender to a simpler way of life and the lack of technological distractions proves a bonus, encouraging us to get out and explore.
At the Ferntree Rainforest Lodge, a peaceful oasis set among trees, the pool table and single TV set in the communal room
don’t hold the kids’ attention for long. Locals have told us about a picturesque swimming hole at Mason’s Creek so we leave our gold-coin donation in an honesty box near the deserted store and wander through the private property to the river track. We build dams with rocks and swim surrounded by old growth forest for the rest of the afternoon.
In the evening, we eat at Whet Restaurant in the jungle. The children’s menu has healthy, kid-friendly options and the owner, Michelle, regales us with tales of cassowaries, lightning strikes and wild tropical storms. She points out the enormous webs of the golden orb spiders, a metre in circumference. The kids are captivated by her stories and she promises more next time we visit. By 7am the next morning the kids are up, ready to ‘whet’ their appetites again.
Cape Trib Horse Rides offers the only beach ride in the area. Riding through forest, along riverbeds and to the sea gives us two hours of total tranquillity. Steve, the guide – in his Akubra, sleeveless denim shirt and Blundstones – is a dead ringer for Crocodile Dundee, but less of a risk-taker. “They call it the Therapy Ride,” he says as he sweeps his tanned arm in the direction of Myall Beach. “All your troubles disappear in a place like this.”
After a while, crocodile
To be winched up into the canopy of the magnificent Daintree, to zipline from tree to tree at Jungle Surfing Canopy Adventures, is exhilarating. We are 60 metres above the ground, dangling like wild primates. The kids leap from the ledges, squealing with joy and performing inverted tricks as they fly. Up here there is no noise, only beauty and the sound of the river rushing towards the sea.
It is here to we discover the exact location from which Jeannie Baker drew her inspiration. Oliver Creek is accessed by one of Cape Tribulation’s three boardwalks – Marrja, Kulki and Dubuji – each designed to allow tourists to explore the area without damaging the precious ecosystems and all manageable for children.
Before our adventure ends, we pop in to Hartley’s Crocodile Farm. As we watch the demonstration by crocodile handler, Jesse, we are captivated by the powerful jaws and quick movements of four-metre-long Hagrid. Weighing 250 kilograms, he is both frightening and majestic.
We leave wowed by this ancient, beautiful meeting place of forest and sea, and hope it remains protected until we return.
04 01 Agincourt Reef © Tourism & Events Queensland/andrew Watson 02 Peaceful views in the Daintree 03 Relaxing in the tropics, lagoon-style 04 Climbing trees is the perfect childhood pastime. Images 02–04 © Danielle Norton