One of the main reasons people visit far north Queensland is to see rainforest areas – and we have the world’s oldest rainforest just 90 minutes drive north of Cairns in the Daintree. The Daintree rainforest grows right down to the sea between Mossman Gorge and the Bloomfield River. It’s Australia’s largest area of continuous rainforest. It’s named after Richard Daintree, the Queensland Government’s first geologist for north Queensland and a pioneer photographer.
The first time most Australians heard of the Daintree was in the early 1980s when construction of a road in the recently declared Cape Tribulation National Park sparked one of this country’s biggest environmental protests – the Daintree blockade.
Not long after that protest, Pam and Ron Birkett visited the Daintree and went away disappointed – not by the rainforest, but by the lack of information available to visitors. They remember people frustrated that there was no way to experience the rainforest close up or to understand its history and biology. It was possible to get in to the forest on man-made walking trails, but Pam & Ron say this caused significant damage to the fragile environment and disturbed the wildlife. They campaigned for interpretive information and an environmental centre allowing controlled access to the rainforest. The Government of the day liked the idea but didn’t want to spend the money, so Pam & Ron stepped in and set up the Rainforest Environmental Centre in 1989 – it’s now known as the Daintree Discovery Centre. It welcomed its one millionth visitor in mid 2010.
You can get right into the rainforest on the aerial walkway and the canopy tower, without trampling through the sensitive under-storey or having an unfortunate encounter with a stinging tree. There are great views to be had, and plenty of information to help you understand what you’re seeing. And there are some amazing things to see – the view across the Alexander Range is worth the climb to the top of the tower, and you’ll see one of the world’s most popular palm trees — the Alexandra Palm – this is its home country. And there’s the king fern – a plant that hasn’t changed in hundreds of millions of years. There’s plenty of bird-life – and there’s a reasonable chance of sighting the usually reclusive cassowary.
Take a tour of the Daintree Discovery Centre with our wildlife correspondent Martin Cohen.
When you’re in the rainforest, there are fruits and plants that may look good – but should never be eaten. Such treats as the cassowary plum, stink horn and idiot fruit. Listen to Abi Ralph & Martin explain.