Great Barrier Reef (GBR)
If the fish have purple eyebrows, yellow tails, blue lips, with names like flame angel, yellow longnose, and sarcastic fringehead, there’s only one place you can be - the Great Barrier Reef.
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 call it, with people keen to dive, snorkel, swim, sail, learn, or just watch the water.
As you can imagine, the options are a little overwhelming. To make it easier, we suggest you visit the official Port Douglas & Daintree tourism website for guidance.
To connect with the Great Barrier Reef 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.
Tours in the air
You can also get a birds eye view of the Great Barrier Reef with a helicopter scenic flight. There are two operators in the area. They both offer varied packages and both can pick you up and drop you off directly from The Botanical Ark.
You can see their flight options by visiting the GBR Helicopters website or the Sky Safari Australia website.
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.
The primary difference between the two is that;
Mossman Gorge features the Mossman River that tumbles over and through granite boulders;
Cape Tribulation features palm-studded rainforest mountain slopes that meet sandy beaches.
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 this official National Parks website.
Walks near the Botanical Ark Retreat
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. There’s some things you need to know about this walk and you’ll find them on this National Parks website.
Walks near the Mossman Gorge Visitors Centre
The Mossman Gorge Visitors Centre is about 5-km inland from Mossman town. Drive to the Visitors Centre, take a shuttle bus but to where the walks start. You can not take your own car past the Visitors Centre.
From the shuttle 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.
From the shuttle bus-stop, the 270-metre-long Baral Marrjanga Track goes through rainforest, offering views over Mossman River and the hills beyond.
The above tracks meet and cross the Rex River swing bridge. From here, the crowds thin out significantly and 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 this National Parks website.
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.
Along the 2.4-km long Rainforest Circuit track, away from the other more populated tracks and popular swimming holes in the Mossman River, bird watchers will 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.
The aboriginal people of this area, Ngadiku (Nar-di-gul), share their stories and legends in their Kuku Yalanji language. The walks are on 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 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.
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 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 are 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 but 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 and information about the nature, culture, history, and other subjects concerning the Cape Tribulation section of Daintree National Park, visit this official National Parks website.
Beaches south of Daintree River
Two rare birds have been seen at Newell Beach, about a 25-minute drive from The Botanical Ark Retreat, are the red-rumped swallow and barn swallows. At the southern end, the Mossman River mouth seems to attract shorebirds and at the north end, you’ll spot the beach stone-curlew.
Unlike the two resort golf courses at Port Douglas, you’re likely to find locals at the Mossman Golf Club. The 18 hole golf course is 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.
Not only do you ride a horse along the sand of Wonga Beach with the Great Barrier Reef on one side and the Daintree rainforest on the other, but you also ride through the rainforest. They offer two ride times, departing 8:30am and about 2:30pm. Or if you want an exclusive ride, that can be arranged too. Read more details about riding horses at Wonga Beach.
Before you get to the beach, look up to the telecommunication tower on the highway and you’ll probably see the large and unmistakable nest of an Osprey, made from large sticks.
The north end of the beach should provide some Beach Stone-Curlews. Walk to the southern end and, behind the beach, you may find the Tiny Double-eyed Fig-Parrots and the Little (Gould's) Bronze-Cuckoos.
At night time, you’ll hear the distinct calls of the Bush stone-curlews and the orange-footed scrubfowls.
Wonga is a beach with the lush rainforest backdrop, punctuated with coconut palms.
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. The whole forms a funnel for the predominant southeast winds and could be why there are not many sandflies here - sometimes.
At Cooya Beach, about a 40-minute drive from The Botanical Ark, 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.
Cape Tribulation Beach 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 another 2km to the end of Myall Beach, and follow the track to Mason’s Shop. Stop, refresh, return, or take the footpath on the main road back to Kulki car park.
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 the Cow Bay airstrip
The 6km-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 your way back.
The 8-km round trip Creek Walk shows you around the sights of the community.
The coast changes dramatically north of the Daintree River. Gone are the settlements and sugar cane. Up here, the coast takes on a special meaning. It is the meeting place of where the world heritage rainforest meets the world heritage reef. And it’s easily accessible.
You’ll find some inspiring coastline at Cape Kimberley, Cow Bay, Thornton Beach, Noah Beach, Alexander Bay, Myall Beach, Cape Tribulation and Cape Tribulation Beach.
At Cape Tribulation, you can ride through the Daintree Rainforest, cross several creeks, and along coconut-lined Myall Beach with great views of Cape Tribulation.
At Cow Bay, you ride through beautiful fan palm forest, alongside creeks and through wetlands.
The drive from the Botanical Ark to Cape Tribulation is a great day out.
You could see crocodiles on 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 up in the rainforest canopy, explore spectacular beaches, go for a freshwater swim (without the crocs), eat an organic icecream, and come home dog tired.
The Great Barrier Reef
Port Douglas, affectionately called just ‘Port’ in these parts, is the departure point for diving, snorkeling, swimming, sailing, and fishing to the Great Barrier Reef. It is the closest town to The Reef on the Australian mainland and is only a 35-minute drive from the Botanical Ark Villa. Every day, up to 12 tours depart Port Douglas.
To make it easier, we suggest you visit the Great Barrier Reef section of the official Port Douglas tourism website for guidance. For fishing, try Fishing Port Douglas website.
To connect with nature 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.
Perhaps next to the Great Barrier Reef, Port Douglas is known for its spas. The choice is, once again, a bewildering one.
However, we recommend Wellness@port Their Wellness Day Spa in the heart of Port Douglas and offers a wide range of Spa and Wellness treatments, including massage, body facials, hands & feet, body & soul, hydro treatments, some packages, including for couples.
The Port Douglas markets are held every Sunday morning. They are close to the waterfront, near the main business district, and are very popular.
Port Douglas has Four Mile Beach, a place of sand castles and for getting some air into the lungs as the before/after-work walkers will testify. The town-end has life guards on duty.
Take a historic walk through Port Douglas. You can learn more from the Douglas Shire Historical Society’s website.
Eating & Shopping
While you will find cafes, restaurants, and shopping experiences throughout the Daintree, the greatest number and variety are in Port Douglas.
There are two golf courses in 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 golf shop, restaurant and bar, and tuition from a PGA qualified coach.
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.
Mossman Village attracts tourists and locals to the Mossman Markets held every Saturday morning from about 7:30 to 12:30. They are low-key and friendly affairs, sheltered under the magnificent rain trees that you see in the photo. It is a beautiful site and only a 20-minute drive from the Botanical Ark.
We can also recommend the coffee at the nearby Junction Cafe.
Take a historic walk through Mossman. You can learn more from the Douglas Shire Historical Society's website.
About 4-km north of Mossman village, at the turnoff to Newell Beach, is the Mossman Golf Club. It is about a 20-minute drive from The Botanical Ark Retreat. You can hire what you need there and it has a licenced bar that also serves light lunches.
The Atherton Tablelands is not just a town, but a whole bunch of them. The Tablelands is an cool-aired plateau, between 500 and 1300 metres above sea level, and within an hour’s drive from The Botanical Ark. And because it’s bigger than Tasmania, a day’s exploration will reveal some of its World Heritage listed 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 rom 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. In fact, they were so popular, the Heritage Markets joined in the fun in the 1990s.
There are also markets at Mareeba, Atherton, Malanda, and others.
For more details about things to do and sights to see on the Atherton Tablelands, and there’s lots and lot's of them, visit the official Atherton Tablelands tourism website.
There’s a number of crocodile spotting tours on the Daintree River, about 30 minutes drive from The Botanical Ark Retreat. The tour's last about one hour.
It’s not just that crocodiles are big, up to six metres long, or have lots of big teeth, or have skin tougher than, well, there's not much tougher than crocodile skin, it’s more that they have an attitude, humans are definitely on their menu, and it all comes with a sense of danger.
Tour boats on the Daintree River do not feed crocodiles so crocodiles do not relate tour boats with food. That means crocs don't harass the boats. People are “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 or the Port Douglas and Daintree tourism website.
There are tour boats that specialise in bird watching. Check the above website for details.
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 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.
The Daintree Village Natural Walk requires a good level of fitness or a bit more time as there are some steep sections. It starts at Pioneers Park. You may be lucky enough to see and/or hear the Lovely fairy-wren.
Or take a historic walk through Daintree Village. You can learn more and download a brouchure from the Douglas Shire Historical Society's website.
Photo credits. Main Great Barrier Reef shot, tours on water shot, Eye to Eye Marine Encounters. All others, Tourism Port Douglas & Daintree, except 1 or 2 by Norbert Guthier.