The Daintree River

After 4 weeks of driving up Australia’s East Coast from Melbourne we finally got to the northernmost point of our journey; The Daintree River.

We stayed a couple of nights in the area before driving down to Cairns for our final few days in Australia. In between staying in our tropical cabin full of huge huntsmen spiders and being wakened early in the morning by a local kookaburra family we decided to spend a day diving the Great Barrier Reef and also take a boat along the Daintree River in the hope of seeing some crocodiles. Because if you ever watched Steve Irwin on TV you know Australia = Crocodiles!

The Daintree is a tropical rainforest the size of Sydney located just north of Port Douglas. It is the largest area of tropical rainforest in all of Australia and is home to some of Australia’s most unique species such as Bennett’s tree kangaroo and  the endangered Cassowary. The only way to get to the rainforest though is to cross the Daintree river. Rising in the Great Dividing Range and emptying into the Coral Sea the river is also a unique and thriving ecosystem itself and was the furthest we could go due to our tight timescale.

The Daintree river is renowned for being home to big saltwater crocodiles. Ruthlessly hunted until 1992 when legislation was introduced to protect these cold blooded aquatic predators they are now thriving along the river and down the east coast so much so that the beaches at places like Palm Cove, Cairns and Airlie Beach are covered in signs warning you not to swim in the open water because of the potential for a crocodile attack.

Although dangerous having the chance to see these animals in the wild has led to lots of small companies to spring up offering wildlife watching boat trips along the river.

We decided to go with Bruce Belcher’s Daintree River Cruises as they were highly recommended by our host’s Port Douglas and the longest running trip on the river.

We turned up at about 10am hoping to go on one of the early tours so we could make the most of our day but quickly learned how poor our timing was. We had turned up at high tide which is the worst time to see crocodiles as they can easily hide below the surface and we would be lucky to see just one croc whereas at low tide you can easily see 30 to 40. In the end we decided to go on a tour an hour later than originally planned which still wasn’t ideal but would increase our chances and instead headed in to the small town of Daintree for an ice cream.

Afterwards we headed back to Bruce Belcher’s and down through the forested path to the small jetty to get our first view down the Daintree river.

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Our boat was almost identical to the ones above; a small motorboat which sits low in the water offering you close encounters with the wildlife.

We sped along the river at some speed with our guide Ray checking all his usual spots to see the crocs during low tide but the water was still too high. After about 20 minutes of traveling up the river stopping every so often to check for crocs we stopped in a mangrove area where we saw our first croc!

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Well hidden among the mangroves was this female trying to keep cool. Crocodiles being cold blooded come out of the water to sun themselves and warm the blood throughout their bodies. When they get too warm they hold their mouths open as above in a method known as gaping to allow heated moisture to escape and allow them to maintain their preferred body temperature.

We also saw a tiny baby croc through the mangroves but couldn’t get the camera to focus on it amongst all the vegetation- it was a miracle we could see it after Ray pointed it out.

After moving on we found a much bigger croc lying on a bank sunning itself.

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This was a lot larger than the first and Ray believed it was young male based on its size. Size is the easiest and most dependable way to tell crocodiles apart. Females can grow up to 11 feet in length where as males can grow up to 17 feet. This guy was bigger than a female but significantly smaller than the most dominant males.

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Throughout the trip we were accompanied by Doug, Ray’s fearless and friendly dog who would run up and down the boat getting to know everyone and barking at every croc we saw.

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We soon reached the car ferry docking point which is where the rest of the guests got off the boat to go on a 4×4 wildlife tour around the Daintree. There is no bridge crossing the river therefore the only way to get across is either on a boat trip or by car ferry.

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There’s also no tarmac road on the North Side you really need a 4×4 if you are going to explore the Daintree or drive up to Cape Tribulation. Ray believed it was best that there is no bridge as having to use the car ferry to cross significantly reduces the amount of traffic that travels to the Daintree which helps protect Daintree habitat.

Short on time we quickly headed back up the river towards the jetty in hope of seeing one final big croc.

We came to a sudden stop and Ray pointed to a random over hanging branch and used his mirror to point out a tree snake. I still have no idea how he spotted it. It was barely visible coiled around the branch from the boat!

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It looks like a green tree snake. These snakes aren’t venomous to humans but do produce a venom which helps them catch their prey such as small mammals and reptiles. These snakes are pretty common and can be found all across Australia.

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Unbelievably this was the only snake we saw in our entire 5 week trip. Although we did really look for them on Fraser Island!

Just before before we reached the jetty we saw a large head just out of the water.

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It was a massive male. He must have been 15 to 16 feet long. Ray didn’t know this croc. Usually they keep tabs on the animals and have nicknames for all the crocodiles in the area but this one was new to him.

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He moved eerily slowly, creeping under a submerged branch towards the bank. All the while keeping his beady eye on us while Doug bravely barked at him. He didn’t seem fussed by anything.

Croc’s this size require so much food that the most common reason for their death is starvation! So they’re always on the lookout for their next meal, which is a pretty terrifying thought.

The Daintree river was such an incredible place we would definitely recommend a visit. Unfortunately a large part of it’s rainforest is still under threat despite it’s World Heritage listing in 1998. In the 1980’s the Queensland government approved a large area of the lowland rainforest for development. The developer who gained this authority then split the land into 180 different properties for sale which stands as a major threat to this ecosystem. Rainforest Rescue however has started a campaign with an optimistic vision to raise funds to purchase all of the properties by 2030 to preserve this unique and precious ecosystem. If you can help please do!

Our tips for a visit;

1.) We would definitely recommend Bruce Belcher’s Daintree River Cruises. The hour long trip was a great experience for the price and our guide was incredibly knowledgable and respectful of the wildlife, the ecosystem and the individual croc’s themselves.

2.) If you have more time a wildlife tour further into the rainforest would be well worth it to potentially see some of Australia’s rarest species. This is something we would definitely factor in if we return to North Queensland. Another thing we would love to do is go diving around the coast of Brisbane in the hope of seeing Dugongs.

3.) The drive from Port Douglas is another incredible experience with coastal scenery on a par if not better than the famous Great Ocean Road in Victoria!

 

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