Guide to Visiting Daintree National Park, Where the Rainforest Meets the Reef

This post was originally published in 2014 but has been updated in 2019, following our latest visit to Tropical North Queensland with the latest information about visiting Daintree National Park.

Daintree National Park is part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland, a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Daintree rainforest is known for its exceptional biodiversity, hundreds of tropical animals and unique species, as well as its remote location and quiet laid back natural environment.

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As you cross the Daintree River on your way to the Daintree National Park, you quickly realize how remote and untouched this park really is. The majority of the Daintree rainforest is located off the grid, so be ready to put down your phone, and immerse yourself in the rainforest.

Daintree National Park is the only place in Australia where the dense rainforest meets the beaches of the Great Barrier Reef. The park itself is divided into 2 sections: Mossman Gorge and Cape Tribulation.

How to Get to Daintree National Park 

You can get to Daintree National Park by car; it’s about a 2-hour drive from Cairns. You won’t need a 4×4 to get up to Cape Tribulation, but a car is recommended to help you get around and take advantage of all the activities in the area. 

Port Douglas is less than 30 minutes drive from the Daintree National Park. You can also find local buses running from both Cairns and Port Douglas up to Cape Tribulation.

How to get to the Daintree Rainforest from Cairns
Driving distance between Cairns and Port Douglas
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If you aren’t keen on a self-drive tour, then there are a number of companies operating tours to Cape Tribulation or Mossman Gorge from Cairns and Port Douglas. We have visited both and they are definitely worth adding to your itinerary. You’ll be able to book these at any travel agency in town or online.

Just keep in mind that cheap tours are very rushed and take the cookie-cutter approach, exploring just the surface of what’s on offer.

For a more relaxed yet informative tour, we recommend FNQ Nature Tours. They are a sustainable operator in the area, offering tours from both sites, Port Douglas and Cairns.

The Mossman Gorge, Daintree National Park

Walking through the Daintree Rainforest on the way to the Gorge, we were immediately enchanted by the sights, the smells, and the sounds of the rainforest.

The majority of the area near the Mossman Gorge is covered in inaccessible rainforests and mountain woodlands, but access to the Gorge itself is still possible from the Mossman Gorge Centre.

This was our first rainforest experience and it was like no other! Everything was different, so lush and green. The sun was peeking through the small openings in the thick forest, its rays playfully shining on the tree branches and illuminating incredible details of each and every plant. The trails of the Daintree Rainforest were lined with king ferns, birds of paradise flowers, plum pines, and oak trees, and the air was filled with the sweet scent of hydrangeas.

King ferns in Daintree National Park, Queensland
King ferns in Daintree National Park, Queensland
Pink birds of paradise in Dantree National Park, Queensland
Pink birds of paradise in Daintree National Park, Queensland
Deep in the rainforest inside the Daintree National Park
Deep in the rainforest inside the Daintree National Park
Boardwalk inside the Daintree National Park. It's incredibly well kept, isn't it?
Boardwalk inside the Daintree National Park. It’s incredibly well kept, isn’t it?

As we reached the opening of the Gorge, the sweat from the hike was streaming down our necks. The crystal clear waters looked incredibly inviting and with a quick nod of ‘ok’ from our guide, we followed the rest of the group into the water.

Mossman Gorge, Daintree National Park
Mossman Gorge, Daintree National Park
Cliffs at the Mossman Gorge
Cliffs at the Mossman Gorge

It was cold, despite the scorching sun beating down from above. The Gorge is surrounded by the rainforest with a few impressive cliffs towering over the water.

Other Activities at Mossman Gorge, Daintree National Park

If you are a bit of a thrill seeker, you can venture up to the top of the 9 m (30 ft) cliff and jump off into the cool water below. Not for the faint-hearted, but it makes for an exciting story of a visit to Daintree National Park!

Another must-do activity in the area is the Dreamtime Gorge Walk with a local Indigenous guide. This unique tour will take you along ancient trails through the rainforest, visiting culturally significant sites and learning about traditional ceremonies.

Cape Tribulation, Daintree National Park

After cooling off in the Mossman Gorge, we travelled further North, to Cape Tribulation, a place that to this day tops the list of our favourite places in Australia. This section of Daintree National Park covers over 17,000 hectares and contains some of Australia’s last lowland rainforest, along with extensive beaches.

Alexandra Range Lookout, Daintree National Park
Alexandra Range Lookout, Daintree National Park

Activities in Cape Tribulation

There was no shortage of things to do in Cape Tribulation. From guided walks through the Daintree Rainforest, wilderness crocodile cruises along the Daintree River, to Jungle Canopy Tours, you can easily fill your days with activities or simply relax in the serene environment of the jungle.

Guided Rainforest Walk

There’s a great selection of walking trails around Cape Tribulation allowing you to explore the rainforest on your own, but a guided tour lets you experience the rainforest on a whole new level. The guides are specialists about the area; they know where and when to spot the local wildlife and can tell you all about the amazing flora and fauna. Dig a little deeper on your Daintree experience and gain an understanding of how everything connects so perfectly in the rainforest ecosystem.

Following our guide through the Daintree Rainforest
Following our guide through the Daintree Rainforest
Boardwalk along the Marrja Botanical Walk
The boardwalk along the Marrja Botanical Walk at Daintree National Park
Lush greenery along the Marrja Botanical Walk
Lush greenery along the Marrja Botanical Walk
Reflections in the steam at Daintree National Park
Reflections in the steam at Daintree National Park
Meeting some local residents at the Daintree National Park
Meeting some local residents at the Daintree National Park

Daintree River Crocodile Cruise

Crocodile-spotting is one of the most popular activities for visitors to Cape Tribulation. The best time to see the crocs are in the dry season when the water is colder and they venture out of the water to sun themselves on the river banks.

Take a Daintree River Crocodile Cruise to see and learn about these amazing creatures, their habits, and their place in the Daintree ecosystem. You can enjoy the Croc Cruise as part of the FNQ Cape Trip, which also includes the rainforest walk at Mossman Gorge. 

Daintree River from the Daintree River Cruise
Daintree River from the Daintree River Cruise
Salt water crocodile resting on the banks of the Daintree River
Saltwater crocodile resting on the banks of the Daintree River
A bit too close for comfort.
A bit too close for comfort… spotting some of the Daintree rainforest animals get the heart racing!

Jungle Canopy Tours

A jungle canopy tour is a perfect way to experience Cape Tribulation. Fly through the trees and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the ancient rainforest. There are loads of companies offering canopy tours, and they include all the necessary equipment and are led by experienced guides who will give you a deeper understanding of the rainforest and its inhabitants.

Jungle Canopy Surfing in Cape Tribulation
Jungle Canopy Surfing in Cape Tribulation. Photo credit Jungle Surfing

Daintree National Park is a true nature lover’s paradise, offering an experience that isn’t comparable to other National Parks in Australia. It’s a perfect place for those looking to disconnect and immerse themselves in the enchanting green shades of the rainforest, falling asleep to the sound of crickets, and awakening to the joyful chirping of over 400 species of birds and animals that live deep among the trees of Daintree Rainforest.

Relax on Cape Tribulation Beaches

Take your pick from the stunning remote beaches all along the Daintree coastline. Our top picks are Myall Beach, Cape Tribulation Beach (the famous spot where the rainforest meets the reef), and North Beach. Quite often, you’ll have the entire beach to yourself or you’ll be sharing with just a few others, which gives you a sense of complete serenity. 

The beaches here are more geared towards ‘lie back and enjoy the view’ activities, rather than swimming or other water sports. Swimming is not recommended anywhere in Cape Tribulation due to jelly-fish.

Essential Travel Information for visiting Daintree National Park Australia:

Where to Stay

Both Daintree and Cape Tribulation are very small and can be visited as a day trip,  best from Port Douglas but also from Cairns. 

  • Thala Beach Nature Reserve: Just a 10-minute drive outside of Port Douglas is the Thala Beach Nature Reserve. The eco-accommodation and wildlife retreat is situated within 140 acres of native forest and has its own private beach. Guests can stay in boutique timber bungalows with a private balcony while enjoying stunning views of the forest, mountains, or the coral sea. What’s more, they have been awarded the highest Ecotourism accreditation for their dedication to the protection of the local environment. 
  • Port Douglas Retreat: If you’re looking for a little privacy, then the Port Douglas Retreat will be right up your alley. The self-contained studio apartments are located just a 3 minute walk from the centre of Port Douglas Village. The Retreat skillfully incorporates traditional North Queensland architecture with the surrounding tropical gardens. 
  • The Riley: The Riley is a 5-star luxury hotel located along the Cairns waterfront boardwalk and offers guests elegance and style with its spacious suites, a lagoon swimming pool, and a private man-made beach. They are also a member of the Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef which is a network dedicated to the preservation of the Reef. The Riley is the first of three ‘sibling hotels’ planned for the Cairns hotel scene by Crystalbrook Collection. There are two more luxury hotels due to open soon–The Bailey and Flynn–so you will have even more accommodation options! 

Where to Eat

  • Lotus Leaf Asian Salads: With amazing salads made fresh to order, you can mix-n-match your own veggie combos here at the Lotus Leaf, or choose from their delicious menu. They are hidden away in the Port Village Shopping Centre, Port Douglas, but well worth the effort to find. Try the Bang Bang Bowl or the Coconut Bowl with rice noodles, marinated tofu, pickled green papaya, and coconut lime dressing. Fresh, flavoursome, filling, and healthy!
  • Betty’s Bohemian Beach Cafe: A little closer to the Port Douglas beach is Betty’s Bohemian Beach Cafe, where you can find a whole host of vegan treats, like their vegan cacao buckwheat pancakes with chocolate coconut cream. To die for. They also have macro bowls, avocado toast, excellent smoothies, and more, all to be enjoyed in a very charming atmosphere.
  • Mason’s Cafe: When you’re visiting Cape Tribulation, then don’t miss Mason’s Cafe. This is a small burger joint near a fresh ‘water hole’ in Daintree. Small, simple, home cooked food made with locally sourced fresh ingredients. They offer a tasting menu of exotic meats, such as emu, croc, and roo burgers. But don’t fret, if you’re vegan, you can munch on the superfood Jackfruit burger!
  • Whet Restaurant: Take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the tropical rainforest at Whet Restaurant, Cape Tribulation’s top restaurant. They are a fully self-sustained and off the grid restaurant nestled in Daintree National Park. They have a great range of vegetarian and vegan options, including the delicious Indian Buddha bowl and vegan Nutella raw cake.

Best time to Visit Daintree National Park Australia

The best time to visit Daintree National Park is during the dry season, from May to September, as the air will still be warm, but less humid. In the rainy season (Australian summer), the temperature ranges from 27 to 33  degrees Celsius (81-91 Fahrenheit), with humidity often exceeding 80%.

Extra Travel Tips

Bring suitable walking shoes and comfy clothes for your adventure through Daintree National Park. There is no one to impress other than the Daintree rainforest animals!

Have you ever been to Daintree National Park? What was your favourite part of your visit to the Daintree rainforest most?

Leave your comments in the comment box below!

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