It makes sense that the world’s oldest tropical rainforest might have a bit of life-changing wisdom to share. Sarah Reid dives in as a willing student.
There’s a decent body of research exploring what draws people to Tropical North Queensland’s World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest. For many, it’s simply to experience nature; to soak up the beauty and wonder of one of the most biodiverse corners of earth.
For others, it’s to spot the Daintree’s quirky endemic flora and fauna—from the ancient idiot fruit to the formidable southern cassowary just to escape ‘real world’ pressures. On that note, you may as well put your phone on flight mode (remember that?) because the reception is patchy at best.
Whatever draws us to this veritable ‘Jurassic Park’, where plants and animals from the age of the dinosaurs still thrive, the Daintree tends to give back more than we bargained for—and I’m not just talking about a new collection of insect bites. After exploring this verdant abyss for a few days with Intrepid Travel, it didn’t just remind me why the Daintree is so darn special, it left me with a few helpful lessons for navigating the jungle of life.
The Daintree’s Traditional Owners, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people, are the gatekeepers of this knowledge. Along the walking trails of Mossman Gorge, in the southern section of the national park, interpretation panels explain how Kuku Yalanji people have lived in harmony with the Daintree for more than 50,000 years. But the best way to tap into this knowledge is to book a tour with a local Indigenous guide like Linc Walker, who runs cultural tours at nearby Cooya Beach, an important fishing place for Kuku Yalanji people.
“Just grab one and lick its butt,” Walker dares us after giving a green tree ant nest a gentle prod, prompting its residents to file out in a frenzy to investigate. As we delight in the burst of citrus sherbet excreted from the backsides of the angry ants in defence, Walker tells us about the versatility of a nearby pandanus tree, which can be used for everything from a hunting torch to a material for basket weaving. The seeds can even be soaked to remove their toxins before being pounded into a flour. Teaching me to appreciate the rainforest in a whole new way, it’s knowledge we’d do well to take on board.
Home to more than 700 of Australia’s vertebrate species including 30 per cent of its marsupials and 65 per cent of its birds, the Daintree is a wildlife bonanza. So, naturally, I arrived with a long list of critters I was keen to clap eyes on. But I quickly learned that a trip to the Daintree—or any rainforest for that matter—isn’t a safari holiday. Rainforests are so lush and dense, and its residents so savvy in the art of camouflage, you see, that it can be pretty challenging to spot the creatures that call it home.
The highlight, I discovered, is just getting amongst the greenery, from the giant fan palms to the furry mosses. Embracing—as the famous line from classic Aussie comedy, The Castle, goes—“the vibe of it”. It was a good reminder to stop and enjoy the moment, and avoid burdening myself with unrealistic expectations. Then if something cool happens—in my case spotting a dingo, an enormous saltwater croc, some beautiful butterflies and freaky spiders—it’s, like, the ultimate vibe.
Every single element of the rainforest has had a role to play in its survival over 180 million years, says outdoor educator Neil Hewett as he leads our small group on a walking tour of his rainforest property adjoining the Cape Tribulation section of Daintree National Park. Responsible for dispersing the seeds of dozens of rainforest plants, the cassowary, Hewett says, is a keystone species. “If this bird dies out—and there are as few as 1,000 of them left—a number of plant species would cease to survive,” he adds.
A metaphor for the power of collaboration in any setting, the plight of the cassowary also highlights the role that humans have to play in this one. For it’s rainforests like the Daintree that keep our planet healthy, and in the face of climate change and other threats that are seeing rainforests disappear across the globe, we all need to do our bit to protect them.
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