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.

Holiday with Kids - - Tropical North Queensland -

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.

Tech-free sur­prise

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.

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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

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