Diving, Snorkeling, Ocean-play
This constellation of nearly 3000 individual reefs takes up more territory than New Zealand and Ireland combined. The closest town to it on the Australian mainland is Port Douglas, and that’s only a 35-minute drive from the Botanical Ark Retreat. Every day, up to 12 tours depart Port, as the locals affectionately call Port Douglas, with people keen to, dive, snorkel, swim, sail, fish (in allocated areas), learn, or just watch the water.
As you can imagine, the options are a little overwhelming and depends on your interests. To make it easier, we suggest you visit the Great Barrier Reef section of the official Port Douglas tourism website.
For those who want to connect with the marine world in a profound and meaningful way, we recommend Eye to Eye Marine Encounters. They offer the once in a lifetime experience to swim with Minke whales.
You can swim year-round in the Daintree but there are risks you need to be aware of.
During the summer months (Nov-April), the sea may have jelly fish, commonly called stingers, which can kill you. Some beaches have stinger nets and it is safe to swim here. During winter, the stingers have gone and it is a great swimming season.
The beaches and creeks are also home to crocodiles. If in doubt, don’t go swimming. But there are some fantastic swimming holes in the region.
The Botanical Ark Retreat
You have a fantastic swimming area, all part of the Botanical Ark Retreat, that is fed by the cool mountain creek.
Mossman Gorge Swimming
The Lower River track will take you to the Mossman River, full of granite boulders and swimming holes. You can rock hop and swim your way up the river. And not a crocodile in sight.
Their are some terrific beaches in the region. Even Port Douglas, the hub of tourism in the area, has Four Mile Beach, a place for building sand castles and getting some air into the lungs as the before/after-work walkers will testify.
People are attracted to live on the coast and you’ll find small settlements at Cooya Beach, Newell Beach, and Wonga Beach before reaching the Daintree River.
But the coast changes dramatically over the river. Gone are the settlements and sugar cane. Up here, the coast takes on a special meaning. After all, it is where the world heritage rainforest meets the world heritage reef. And it is easily accessible.
You’ll find some inspiring coastlines at Cape Kimberley, Cow Bay, Thornton Beach, Noah Beach, Alexander Bay, Myall Beach, Cape Tribulation and Cape Tribulation Beach.
There are three golf courses in the area. Two at Port Douglas and one at Newell Beach.
At Port Douglas, the Sea Temple Golf Club is a 6125-metre, Par 71, 18-hole championship links-style golf course with views of mountains and rainforest. Also has a golf shop, restaurant and bar, and tuition from a PGA qualified coach.
Also at Port Douglas, the Mirage Country Club golf course is an 18-hole international standard championship course designed by Peter Thomson. With 6 par-3, 6 par-4 and 6 par-5 holes within two different 9's, it borders the ocean with mountain views. Also has golf pro shop and instructors.
At the Newell Beach course, unlike those at Port Douglas, you’re likely to find more locals than visitors. The Mossman Golf Club has an 18 hole golf course 4km north of Mossman on the Newell Beach Rd, about 20-minute drive from The Botanical Ark Retreat. You can hire what you need and it has a licenced bar with light lunches.
Whether you want to go river fishing, reef fishing, game fishing, or charter fishing, even fly fishing, there’s a fleet of opportunities at Port Douglas, a 35-minute drive from The Botanical Ark.
Out as sea, there’s Blue and Black Marlin, Sailfish, Mackerel, Wahoo, Giant Trevally, Dogtooth Tuna, Coral Trout, Mahi Mahi, Tuna, Red Emperor and Sea Perch.
At local rivers, including the Daintree River, and estuaries, you can target the legendary barramundi, plus Queenfish, Mangrove Jack, Fingermark, Trevally, Threadfin-Salmon, Tarpon, Permit and more.
A good place to start researching your possibilities is at the Fishing Port Douglas website.
Horse riding on the north side of the Daintree River.
At Cape Tribulation, you ride through the Daintree Rainforest, cross several creeks, and along coconut-line Myall Beach with great views of Cape Tribulation.
Up at Cow Bay, ride through beautiful fan palm forest, alongside creeks and through wetlands.
Horse riding on the south side of the Daintree River.
At Daintree Station, you can ride over farmland and through rainforest.
Ride along Wonga Beach and through the Daintree rainforest with Ride The Beach.
Spas & Towns
Perhaps next to the Great Barrier Reef, Port Douglas is known for its spas. The choice is, once again, a bewildering one.
The Botanical Ark Retreat offers in-house massage and spa treatments and can be booked when you make your reservation.
To help sort out what your preferences, we suggest visiting the official Port Douglas and Daintree tourism website.
However, we recommend Wellness@port. Their Wellness Day Spa in the heart of Port Douglas offers a wide range of Spa and Wellness treatments, including massage, body facials, hands & feet, body & soul, hydro treatments, some packages, including for couples.
There are country markets throughout the region. They are always popular, attracting visitors and locals, and generally operate from about 7:30am to 1p.m.
The Mossman markets:
are held every Saturday morning, are a low-key and friendly affair, sheltered under the magnificent rain trees on the north side of town, as you can see in the photo, and next to the Mossman historic stone church. It’s a beautiful site and only a 20-minute drive from the Botanical Ark. We can also recommend the coffee at the nearby Junction Cafe.
The Port Douglas markets:
attract good crowds every Sunday morning at Anzac Park, between the waterfront and the main street.
The Atherton Tablelands is a cool-aired plateau, between 500 and 1300 metres above sea level, and within an hour’s drive from The Botanical Ark.
At the nearly 30-year-old Yungaburra Markets, held on the fourth Saturday of every month, you’ll find something to tempt you from over 300 stalls, selling everything from jam to furniture.
There are two Kuranda Markets and they are open every day of the year.
A bunch of hippies started The Original Rainforest Markets 1978 and were such a success that they put Kuranda on the map. Today, the markets (and the hippies) have been revamped but are still primarily for artisans and craftspeople. You can buy anything there from local coffee to jewelry to a massage. In fact, they were so popular, the Heritage Markets joined in the fun in the 1990s.
Atherton markets are every first Saturday of the month, at Platypus Park, on the road to Herberton.
Mareeba markets are every second Saturday of the month at Centenary Park.
Malanda markets are every third Saturday of the month at Jack May Park in the centre of town.
For more details on other activities on the Atherton Tablelands, and there’s lots of them, visit the official Atherton Tablelands tourism website.
While you will find some excellent cafes, restaurants, and shopping experiences throughout the Daintree, that’s not what the Daintree is all about. The greatest number and variety of cafes and shops are in Port Douglas.
The Daintree region is one of Australia’s premier birdwatching destinations. The Botanical Ark is not just right in the middle of it but also tempts birds with our unequalled varieties of tropical fruits and plants. This is a wonderful place to watch birds. You can even do that from your bed!
Among them, but certainly not resticted to, are the yellow-bellied sunbird, brush turkey, orange-footed scrubfowl, black butcherbird, spotted catbird, Australain peaceful dove, bar-shouldered dove, wompoo fruit-dove, blue winged kookaburra, azure kingfisher, forest kingfishers, buff-breasted paradise-kingfisher, laughing kookaburra, various ducks, cormorants, and goshawks, Australian king parrot, rainbow looriket, sulphur crested cockatoos, and the noisy pitta.
Read more about the birds at the Botanical Ark Retreat..
At the Jindalba Boardwalk at Cow Bay, you may see rainforest species such as the Southern Cassowary, Victoria’s Riflebird, Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher, Wompoo Fruit-Dove, Superb Fruit-Dove, Noisy Pitta, a variety of honeyeaters, monarchs and others.
There are tour boats that specialise in bird watching. Discover your (many) tour boat options at the official Daintree tourism website.
Species you are likely to see include the Great-billed Heron, Black Bittern, Little Kingfisher, Papuan Frogmouth, Pale-vented Bush-hen, Azure Kingfisher, Shining Flycatcher, White-eared Monarch, Little Bronze-Cuckoo, and others.
Daintree Village, about a 35-minute drive from the Botanical Ark Retreat, is surrounded by pasture, rainforest, parks and gardens and, on its perimeter, the Daintree River. Continue through the village, past the river jetty area, now you’re on Stewart Creek Road. It’s a no exit road, 8km one way, and its habitats include pasture, wetlands, and lowland rainforest.
Around the village and along Stewart Creek Road, you may see the; Channel-billed Cuckoo, Double-eyed Fig-Parrot and Eastern Koel.
Plus you could spot the Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher, Azure Kingfisher, little kingfisher, Forest Kingfisher, Black Bittern, Little Bronze-Cuckoo, Wompoo Fruit-Dove, Great-billed Heron, Lovely Fairy-Wren, Monarchs, Red-necked Crake, Blue winged kookaburra.
Commonly seen is the; Rainbow Bee-Eater, Dollarbird, Pale-vented Bush Hen, Black-necked Stork, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, and all Egrets.
Mossman Gorge is about a 30-minute drive from the Botanical Ark Retreat. Along the 2.4-km long Rainforest Circuit track, away from crowded tracks and popular swimming holes in the Mossman River, bird watchers may be rewarded with some rainforest species including the Emerald Dove, Wompoo and Superb Fruit-Dove, Papuan Frogmouth, Red-necked Crake, Australian King-Parrot, Noisy Pitta, Spotted Catbird, Fernwren, Macleay’s Honeyeater, Grey Whistler, Pied Monarch, Yellow-breasted Boatbill and, between August and March, the Metallic Starling.
Wonga Beach, a 25-minute drive from the Botanical Ark Retreat, is a reliable Beach Stone-Curlew location. It is also easier to find Double-eyed Fig-Parrots here. They are frequently seen and heard on the wing as they move among this more open environment than dense forest.
Two rare birds seen at Newell Beach, a 15-minute drive from The Botanical Ark Retreat, are the red-rumped swallow and barn swallow. At the southern end, the Mossman River mouth seems to attract shorebirds. The north end attracts the beach stone-curlew.
The aboriginal people of this area, Ngadiku (Nar-di-gul), share their stories and legends in their Kuku Yalanji language. At the Mossman Gorge, a 30-minute drive from the Botanical Ark Retreat, guided tours take you on walks along private tracks and visit culturally significant sites. There are two options.
Option 1. The Dreamtime Gorge Walk
You are welcomed with a traditional ‘smoking’ ceremony that cleanses and wards off bad spirits, see traditional huts, learn about traditional plant use and their special relationship with this unique environment that stretches back many thousands of years, and enjoy some traditional bush tea and damper.
Option 2. The Dreamtime Legend Walk
This takes a more intimate look into the culture, spirituality and traditions of the Kuku Yalanji people and their unique connection with this ancient land. You start with a traditional ‘smoking’ ceremony, experience an indigenous performance, learn of dreamtime legends, they demonstrate traditional plant use, identify bush tucker and explain the history of cave paintings, and you have some traditional bush tea and damper.
At Cooya Beach, a 40-minute drive from The Botanical Ark Retreat, you can do the Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tour.
You will start this 2.5-hour tour with a smoking (cleansing) ceremony, then you’ll learn about traditional medicinal uses of plants as well as traditional fishing and gathering techniques, including spear throwing. It explores the mangrove, mudflats, and sandy habitats of Cooya Beach.
With the world heritage Daintree Rainforest and the world heritage Great Barrier Reef, this is a stunning, and we mean spectacularly stunning, place to see from a chopper.
There are two operators in the area. They both offer varied packages and both can pick you up and drop you off in a chopper from The Botanical Ark Retreat.
You can consider their flight options by visiting the GBR Helicopters website and the Sky Safari Australia website.
There’s a number of crocodile spotting tours are on the Daintree River, about 30 minutes drive from The Botanical Ark Retreat.
It’s not just that crocodiles are big, up to six metres long, or have lots of nasty looking teeth, or have skin tougher than concrete, it’s more that they have an attitude and humans are definitely on their menu. People are often “taken” by crocs in Australia but not, you’ll be pleased to know, from tour boats.
To help you decide which tour operator to take, visit the Destination Daintree tourism website and the Port Douglas and Daintree tourism website.
The drive from the Botanical Ark to Cape Tribulation is a great day out.
You could see crocodiles on the Daintree River, experience the Daintree River ferry-cum-barge, photograph views over the coast, spot a Cassowary, drive through rainforest tunnels, do some fantastic walks, including through rainforest canopy, explore spectacular beaches, eat an organic icecream, go for a freshwater swim (without the crocs), and come home dog tired.
The Atherton Tablelands is an cool-aired plateau, between 500 and 1300 metres above sea level, and within an hour’s drive from The Botanical Ark Retreat.
And because it’s bigger than Tasmania, a day’s self-drive exploration will reveal only some of its World Heritage listed features, including rainforests, national parks, mountains, rivers, lakes and waterfalls. You’ll find farms growing and selling everything from bananas to lychees to peanuts to watermelon.
At the nearly 30-year-old Yungaburra Market, held on the fourth Saturday of every month from 7:30-12:30, you’ll find something to tempt you from the over-300 stalls who sell everything from jam to furniture.
There are two Kuranda Markets and they are open every day of the year.
A bunch of hippies started The Original Rainforest Markets 1978 and were such a success that they put Kuranda on the map. Today, the markets (and the hippies) have been revamped but are still primarily for artisans and craftspeople. You can buy anything there from local coffee to jewelry to a massage. They were so popular, in fact, the Heritage Markets joined in the fun in the 1990s.
For more details on the Atherton Tablelands, and there’s lots of them, visit the official Atherton Tablelands tourism website.
Walks - Daintree National Park
The Daintree National Park is split in two sections: Cape Tribulation and Mossman Gorge.
The Cape Trib (as locals call it) section is north of the Daintree River.
The Mossman Gorge section is south of the Daintree River.
As you will see, there are excellent walks in each section.
For maps and information about the nature, culture, history, and other subjects concerning the Daintree National Park, visit the official Daintree National Park website.
The easy 650-metre-long Jindalba boardwalk at Cow Bay rises up to three metres high, affording elevated views through lowland rainforest with its king ferns and fig trees. Interpretive signs explain aspects of rainforest life and, if you’re quiet and lucky, you may spot a tree-kangaroo (Yes, a tree kangaroo!) or cassowary.
You can also access the 3km-long Jindalba Circuit Track at Cow Bay. Away from the boardwalk, it offers a well defined track along the rainforest floor. It is stony in places and involves some creek crossings. Once again, spotting cassowaries is a real possibility.
The free car park for the Jindalba boardwalk and circuit track has picnic tables and toilets.
The easy 1.2km-long Marrja (“rainforest”) Botanical Walk offers interpretive signs through some rainforest and along a boardwalk through mangroves, so you won’t get muddy! You’ll probably see Australian Brush Turkeys on the forest floor and Little Kingfishers along the creeks and estuary.
The Duduji (“place of spirits”) boardwalk is an easy 1.2km loop through lowland forest and offers a boardwalk over swamps and mangroves. It’s in Cape Tribulation community, near Myall Beach, and offers large grassy areas with covered picnic tables and toilets.
From Kulki at the Cape Tribulation headland, there is a 600-metre-long boardwalk leading to a viewing platform. It’s a short walk to Myall Beach and a rainforest walk leads to the Cape Tribulation Beach.
For the fit and adventurous, there is always the Mount Sorrow Ridge Trail, about 200-metres past Kulki. Allow about seven hours for this 7-km return hike. It climbs from the coastal lowland, up a ridge through rainforest to a lookout. At 680-metres, it’s the highest point you can walk to in the Daintree National Park and the views are worth it. But we always say that!
Before you do this walk, there are things you need to know and this National Parks website will explain those.
For maps of these walks and information about the nature, culture, history, and other subjects concerning the Cape Tribulation section of Daintree National Park, visit the official National Parks website.
Mangal Jimalji, or Devil’s Thumb track, is the longest walk in the Daintree National Park and it’s only 3-km from the Botanical Ark Retreat. The 10.6-km return track demands above average fitness as you will encounter some steep, slippery, and rock scrambling sections. You should allow eight hours to go up and down.
Over 100-metres above the sea, perched on the Main Coast Range, you can can see Mossman lowlands and coastline to the east and the Dagmar Range, Wundu (Thornton Peak) and Daintree valley to the north. But the overwhelming view is the blue and aquamarine Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef. A handsome reward for your efforts. There are some things you need to know about this walk and you’ll find them on this National Parks website.
All other walks in the Mossman Gorge section are near the Mossman Gorge visitors centre, about 5km inland from Mossman Village.
Drive to the information centre. A shuttle bus will take the 3-km to the start of the walking tracks and river access. This is where all the action is. From the bus-stop, the 300-metre-long Lower River Track heads to the Mossman River where you will find places to swim - without crocodiles! The track also offers good lookout points of the river.
The above tracks meet and cross the Rex River swing bridge. From here, the crowds thin out significantly so you will not meet many people while doing the 2.4km Rainforest Circuit Track. It leads through lowland forest and offers some beautiful swimming holes.
For maps and information about the nature, culture, history, and other subjects concerning the Mossman Gorge section of Daintree National Park, visit the official National Park website.
Cape Tribulation to Mason's Shop
This one-hour walk starts from Kulki car park. As you come over Cape Tribulation headland, the views south are spectacular. Drop on to Myall Bach and, crossing Mason Creek at low tide, walk to the end of Myall Beach and follow the track to Mason’s Shop. Stop, refresh, return the same way or take the footpath on the main road.
Cape Tribulation to Emmagen Creek and Beach
This five hour round trip starts at Cape Tribulation, follows the main road north for 8km through forest and past creeks, to Emmagen Creek. A signposted path leads 800-metres to a fresh water swimming hole and beach. On a low tide, return to Cape Tribulation along the beach.
From Cow Bay airstrip.
The 7.5km Beach Walk follows country roads mostly and encounters rainforest, farm land, revegetated areas, some elevation, creeks, and views of surrounding mountains. There are lots of turns and clear directions are needed.
The 5.5km Mountain Walk follows the main road to the Alexandra Range lookout and you can include the Jindalba National Park walk on the way.
The 8-km round trip Creek Walk shows you around the sights of the community.
Wonga is a beach with a lush rainforest backdrop, punctuated with coconut palms, and takes about 20 minutes to drive from the Botanical Ark Retreat.
Walking north, you’ll see the Alexandra Range and, to the west, the Dagmar Range. These two ranges and the beach encompass the Daintree Valley. This valley forms a funnel for the predominant southeast wind and could be why there’s not many sandflies here - at times.
There are three historical walks in the region. One is through Port Douglas, another around Mossman, and the third at Daintree Village.
Historically, the area encompassing from about Port Douglas to just north of Cape Tribulation is the Douglas Shire. Within it, there is no shortage of history and the Douglas Shire Historical Society have done a great job of putting together these three historical walks.
You can download brochures from their informative website for any of these walks or pick up a brouchure when you’re here.
Whale photo: courtesy Eye to Eye Marine Encounters. Spa photo: courtesy Wellness@spa All others: Tourism Port Douglas & Daintree