Atherton Tablelands & Daintree Rainforest: Exploring the Tropical North

We’ve made it out of the outback! Finally. After a month in Australia’s red centre it’s so nice to get to the green, cloud shrouded mountains and thundering waterfalls of Queensland’s tropical north.

Blakey looking out at Zillie Falls, Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tablelands

As soon as we started climbing into the hills, the sky clouded over and the heavens opened. Rain! After the endless dusty, sunny days of the outback it was a shock to the system.

The first morning waking up at our campsite in Millaa Millaa, we peered outside at dull grey clouds and horrible wet conditions and thought ‘naaawww’. One cup of tea became two, morning dissolved away into afternoon, and the chance of us actually getting up and doing anything became very slim. I was still in my PJs, I wasn’t going anywhere.

Maybe it seems a bit bad when we’re here to explore, but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do anything. Maybe it was the rain, maybe we needed a break after the long days of driving through the outback, or maybe we were just feeling lazy. I don’t know, but we just needed a day to read books, play computer games and eat chocolate. We didn’t even feel guilty about it, sightseeing could wait.

The rain didn’t get much better the next day but we emerged from our van-cocoon to go and explore. First stop was Millaa Millaa Falls, home to Herbal Essence adverts and many insta pics of bikini-clad girls flicking their wet hair about to get that perfect shot, you know the one… water droplets flying? Because of the weather, we definitely didn’t fancy a swim, but did the little rainforest walk next to the falls instead.

The ridiculously perfect Millaa Millaa Falls, Atherton Tablelands

After that, we continued along the waterfall tourist drive and stopped at Zillie Falls, where we slid and scrambled our way to the bottom of the falls for a look before climbing up again, much muddier than when we first started. Blakey found his first leech, and he was much more thrilled about this than I would have been.

After Zillie, it was on to Ellinjaa Falls. I believe some of the Mysterious Girl video was filmed here, but funnily enough I couldn’t get Blakey to wade in and start singing, he wasn’t up for it, I don’t know why…

Ellinjaa Falls, Atherton Tablelands

After that there were a few more waterfalls, but to be honest after a while they all look pretty similar so I won’t put any more pics in. It’s definitely a beautiful place, and if the weather was better I think we would have enjoyed it much more and actually managed to do some of the hikes in the area. Unfortunately it was far too soggy to tempt us out of the van for long. Urgh.

Daintree Rainforest

I’d been looking forward to Daintree since way before we got to Australia. It’s the world’s most ancient rainforest, millions of years old. You can kind of tell as you’re walking through it, the stillness and even the air seem somehow old.

Even getting there is a little adventure – if you want to go to the upper Daintree you have to get the ferry over the crocodile infested Daintree River. I say ferry… it’s little more than a floating slab of road. You just drive on, turn your engine off, and sit in your car, watching for crocs. Ten minutes later you’re driving back off again and happy that it didn’t sink.

Daintree Ferry crossing, look out for crocodiles!

Even when you get to the other side, you’ve got an amazing drive. Rainforest on each side of you, clouds edging in, exotic birds calling to each other through the dense mass of hanging vines and palm trees. Who knows what’s lurking in there?

Cape Tribulation Road, Daintree National Park

The whole area has a lot to offer – ice cream tasting (we were all over that), boardwalks, river cruises, discovery centre, beaches… although don’t swim in the sea because if the salt water crocs (salties) don’t get you, the jellyfish will…

Our first port of call was the Daintree Discovery Centre, which is an information centre all about the rainforest and it’s flora & fauna. It’s got boardwalks which take you through the different levels from the forest floor to the upper canopy, including a tower with amazing views over the forest.

View from Daintree Discovery Centre

We had a drive up to Cape Tribulation beach to explore the mangroves and beachfront. We hadn’t seen the ocean for what felt like a lifetime so we were pretty keen to get there. First thing we saw on the track to the sea was a big pot of vinegar and a sign saying to use in case of marine stings… safe to say we didn’t go in the water.

Rainforest meets ocean, Cape Tribulation Beach
Daintree as seen from Cape Tribulation Beach

Another beach worth stopping at is Thornton Beach – it’s on the way to Cape Tribulation, can’t miss it. Pie and a drink for $8 at the beachfront cafe, that’s lunch sorted. The beachfront dining of Thornton Beach cafe makes Daintree sound really developed, but that cafe is literally the only beachfront spot… in fact Daintree is refreshingly uncommercialised and touristy. Any hotels or lodges are set way back in the trees so you don’t even know they’re there – I bet there are some amazing spas and boutique hotels with ridiculous views, but if so, we certainly didn’t see any sign of it.

Thornton Beach, Daintree National Park

The last amazing thing about the Daintree is it’s population of cassowaries. A cassowary is a large, flightless bird which can reach up to 6 feet tall, and live up to 40 years. They’re the guardians of the rainforest – responsible for distributing seeds and fruits throughout, keeping over 150 types of plants alive. They also look like dinosaurs, making them extra cool.

We were lucky enough to see two cassowaries lurking around the road on our first day, which is very lucky as they’re usually pretty shy. The ones we saw didn’t seem to be though – one stuck around for a good look at us and even ran after the van as we drove away.

Look at those huge feet! Cassowary, Daintree National Park

We stayed in the Daintree for two days and that was enough time to get a really good feel for the place. We could easily have stayed longer and done some tours, but that involved paying… with only three weeks left here, our Australia fund is now pretty low. Time to move on to some cheaper countries I think!

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