This drive follows the coastal road from Cairns to Cooktown through the only place on the planet where two World Heritage sites, the Wet Tropics of Australia (containing the world’s oldest rainforest) and the Great Barrier Reef, converge. The Daintree Rainforest contains the last remnant of the oldest surviving rainforest in the world. The Great Barrier Reef, covering an area bigger than the United Kingdom, Holland and Switzerland, is the largest World Heritage Area in the world. Together they support the richest biological diversity on the planet.
Location: North Queensland
Length: 235 km
Suggested return journey: Captain Cook Highway from Cooktown to Cairns
Features/attractions: Port Douglas, Mossman, Daintree River, Daintree rainforest, Cape Tribulation, Bloomfield River, Bloomfield Track
Minimum duration (one way): 1 day
The region from Port Douglas (one hour north of Cairns) to Cooktown offers visitors a range of experiences including scenic coastal drives, rare rainforest and a taste of the rugged and remote Cape York Peninsula.
This journey follows The Bama Way, a trail that follows story-lines of the local Aboriginal people. Its purpose is to share the area’s rich Aboriginal history and culture by explaining the significance of some of the landmarks along the way. Numerous tours to these landmarks, conducted by local Aborigines, are available at various stages along the way.
Take Captain Cook Highway from Cairns. This picturesque drive hugs the undulating coastline for around 60 km from Cairns to Port Douglas and Mossman. Visitors can explore the rugged mountain backdrops at the Bump Track near Port Douglas and Mossman Gorge. About 30km north of Mossman lies the Daintree Coast, popular among visitors for its reef and rainforest vistas. Scientists also hold it in high esteem for its unique populations of rare plants.
The road from Cairns to the Daintree Coast is sealed all the way to Cape Tribulation. The last 107km of the journey, from Cape Tribulation to Cooktown, is unsealed and section between Cape Tribulation and the Bloomfield River crossing requires a 4WD vehicle.
The Daintree Rainforest is located 110 kilometres north of Cairns, immediately across the Daintree River. Do not be confused by the terminology, as Daintree is used very broadly. There is frequent reference to the Greater Daintree National Park (stretching from Mossman Gorge to Bloomfield River) and Daintree Village, about 12 km upstream from the ferry crossing, on the south side of the river. But there is only one Daintree Rainforest that can actually provide the undisputed evidence of the oldest surviving rainforest in the world at the meeting place of two World Heritage areas.
The Daintree River is the major point of entry. A vehicular ferry makes continuous crossings throughout the day, from 6am until midnight. Fees apply. This is the gateway into one of the most scenic drives in the world the Daintree Rainforest Coast, which provides the perfect holiday base from which to explore the region. Be vigilant for endangered southern cassowaries, which grow very large (up to 95 kg) and frequently cross roads without any forewarning for drivers.
The Daintree Rainforest Community relies on the support of responsible travellers for conservation. Nurturing such a relationship rewards supportive travellers with the secrets of the rainforest, river and reef, that have become the intellectual property of the custodial community. The Daintree Discovery Centre is an award-winning world class interpretive facility that allows visitors easy access to this unique rainforest wilderness via boardwalk tours, a 23 metre high Canopy Tower, Aerial Walkway and comprehensive Display Centre.
Proceed north from Daintree to Cape Tribulation. The road north from Cape Tribulation to Cooktown is known as the Bloomfield Track. The section of the track from Cape Tribulation to the Bloomfield River crossing (32km) is strictly 4WD only. You will need to check rain conditions, as at least two creek crossings can be treacherous after heavy downpours. Care also needs to be exercised traversing the Cowie and Donovan Ranges, as there are very steep.
The section of the road from Wujal Wujal on the Bloomfield River to Cooktown (75km) is unsealed, but suitable for all types of vehicles. Here, the World Heritage Area becomes increasingly rugged and remote, with high mountain wilderness areas, coastal rainforest and mangrove areas.
The Bloomfield River is a stunning location for tropical fishing. The Mungumby Valley, set on the edge of Black Mountain, Cedar Bay and Ngual Bulal National Parks, is a great sport for bird waters and nature seekers. There are numerous bush walking trails, often leading to the many waterfalls in the area. Cedar Bay National Park has a mountainous hinterland almost entirely coveredin dense tropical rainforest, and fringed by sandy beaches and coral reefs.
At the northern boundary of the World Heritage Area lies the historic settlement of Cooktown. The gateway to more coastal and inland places of interest (Lakefield National Park; Cape Melville National Park; Endeavour Valley; Palmer River goldfields; Quinkan rock art), Cooktown is Australia’s closest mainland port to the Great Barrier Reef. Dawson and Cowlishaw Reefs are just a few kilometres out to sea and can easilt be reached by a small dinghy.