We were headed up to Cairns in far north Queensland for a holiday, but knew we didn’t just want a resort getaway. We don’t do so well with staying put and lounging around. We prefer small scale tourism over the typical mass tourism that you get around Cairns, and Cape Tribulation feels off the beaten path. We had fond memories of our time in the Daintree rainforest from our backpacker days and were keen to explore the world’s oldest rain forest once again. Just to put it in perspective the Daintree is estimated to be 100-180 million years old, whereas the Amazon is a mere 7 million year old. We are talking really ancient!
The Daintree rainforest starts just north of Port Douglas, which is an hour north of Cairns. You can do a tour from Port Douglas or Cairns, but the self drive option gives you much more flexibility. Cape Tribulation is a headland a couple of hours north where the sealed road ends. It is a small village where two UNESCO Heritage Sites exist: the “Rainforest meets the Reef”. Check out these 7 crazy facts about Queensland.
We spent 3 days/2 nights exploring the Daintree and Cape Tribulation, but could have easily spent more. You can get around in a regular rental car and do not need a 4WD unless you are going further north then Cape Trib. By having your own vehicle, you can stop where you want and don’t need to keep a schedule. Since we were travelling with kids, we love the flexibility of having our own car. There are so many great things to do on the Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation route. Instead of rushing up on a day trip, spend a few nights up at Cape Trib. Staying at Cape Trib in the rainforest was a really special experience and allowed us to explore at a slower pace.
Also Read: 13 Awesome Places to Visit in Queensland
- 1 Daintree and Cape Tribulation Things to Do
- 1.1 Mossman Gorge
- 1.2 Daintree River Ferry
- 1.3 Cape Kimberley
- 1.4 Alexandra Lookout
- 1.5 Daintree Discovery Centre
- 1.6 Cow Bay
- 1.7 National Park Boardwalks
- 1.8 Daintree Ice Cream Company
- 1.9 Cape Trib Jungle Surfing
- 1.10 Exotic Fruit Tasting
- 1.11 Explore the Rainforest Swimming Holes
- 1.12 Night Safari
- 1.13 Jungle Bonfire
- 1.14 Visit the Great Barrier Reef with Ocean Safari
- 2 Where to Stay Cape Tribulation
- 3 Where to Eat Cape Tribulation
- 4 Our Verdict
Daintree and Cape Tribulation Things to Do
The first few items on our things to do in Cape Tribulation and the Daintree list are on the drive up from Cairns to Cape Tribulation. Don’t rush on up there; spend a day slowly wandering your way north stopping at the beautiful beaches, walking tracks, view points and swimming holes. We did some of these things on the drive up and saved others for the drive back down south.
The first stop we made after Port Douglas was Mossman Gorge, which is the southeast corner of the Daintree National Park. The Mossman Gorge Visitor’s Centre is now run by the indigenous community and it provides a shuttle service from the Centre to the Gorge. It is only a couple of kms and you can walk, but the aboriginal community requests you not walk through their village and instead use the shuttles ($9.50/adults, $4.70/child, $23.95/family (2+2)). The Centre also has a lovely bush tucker cafe and gift shop selling aboriginal artifacts. You can also partake in an indigenous-guided Dreamtime walk, which we heard great things about ($68/adult, $34/child, $169/family).
The shuttle bus runs every 15 minutes and just takes a couple of minutes to reach the walking track for the Gorge. It is supposed to be some of the purest and cleanest water in the world and a popular thing to do is go for a swim in the cool waters. There were signs up that day warning against swimming because of the conditions, but these looked fairly permanent and we wished we had brought our bathers.
There are raised walkways through the rainforest and you get your first taste of the lush jungle. The epiphytes growing in the trees and vines dangling down reminded us of Jurassic Park and Tarzan. After a short walk through the forest, you reach the Gorge with round boulders laid throughout the river. The watering hole awaited for those brave enough to dip into the chilly water. We spent about 1 1/2-2 hours at the Gorge. Many visitors to Cairns don’t get past Mossman, but there is still plenty to explore north to Cape Trib.
Daintree River Ferry
To keep the eco/off the beaten path feel, there has never been a bridge built across the Daintree River. The only way to get across is the Cape Tribulation Ferry, a cable ferry from another era that efficiently transports cars back and forth across the crocodile infested river. You may have to wait up to 15 minutes for the ferry. You just show up; no booking or reservations. The Daintree ferry costs $26/return.
Crocodile Express runs boat trips that depart from here if you want to get a glimpse of the crocs in the wild.
Once you get across the river, you really will feel like you have gone off the grid. Mobile service is spotty (non existent at Cape Trib), electricity is produced by generators and solar power and there are limited shops and services. This is what I loved about the area – you truly feel away from it all and immersed in the rainforest.
Cape Kimberley is a 5km detour off the Bruce Highway, but is your first opportunity to see the beautiful rainforest meets the ocean beaches of the area. Like all the beaches in farnorth Queensland, you can’t swim in them because of the danger of salt water crocodiles. We kept an eye on the kids and kept them away from the water’s edge. This beach is beautiful and since it is 2.5km long, makes for a lovely walk.
This beautiful lookout point puts the visual in “Rainforest meets the Reef”. You get a lovely view of the Daintree River emptying into the sea with the turquoise shades of reef visible. The view is definitely worth a few snaps and best of all there were some guys selling exotic fruits in the parking lot. They were just about to pack up for the day, so we got the freshest rambutans, tasty baby bananas and some yummy shredded coconut all for $5. Look for them if you stop here!
Daintree Discovery Centre
This award winning attraction receives zero government funding but provides an incredible amount of information at its interpretive centre. It is well worth making a stop here to experience the aerial walkway and canopy tower where you can view the rainforest from different vantage points through the canopy. We loved the informative audioguides that taught us so much about this incredible eco-system. They even have audioguides for the kids with engaging and educational commentary. Our kids love audioguides and learned so much about the rainforest at the Discovery Centre. We didn’t see a cassowary here (they see them often), but we saw a giant orb spider that was pretty impressive.
Plan to spend at least 1 1/2 hours exploring the boardwalks, trails and canopy tower. $35/adult, $16/child, $85/family. Read our full review of our visit to the Daintree Discovery Centre here.
Some of the best Cape Tribulation things to do involve the many wonderful beaches of the region. Cow Bay is beautiful beach and one that the Lonely Planet raves about. The beach is beautiful with the rainforest coming right down to the beach. Best of all is that there are home made rope swings great for the kids. They also have toilets and a picnic area and sand toys and diggers for community use. It is things like this that make me love this area so much!
National Park Boardwalks
There are three raised boardwalks along the Bruce Highway that you can stop at and wander through the rainforest. We stopped at Marrdja Boardwalk and did the 45 minute loop track. It was mostly through mangrove forest with lots of neat trees. I am sure there are lots of great birds as well, but our kids aren’t exactly quiet.
You can also explore Jindalba Boardwalk and Dubuji Boardwalk on your way to or from Cape Trib. These are great free Daintree things to do.
Daintree Ice Cream Company
Our whole family loves ice cream and when we are on holiday we indulge almost daily. The Daintree Ice Cream Company is a perfect spot to cool down and try some exotic ice cream flavours. The menu changes daily, but for $6 you get a serving of four natural exotic fruit ice creams. The day we visited we had mango, wattle seed, banana and passion fruit. So delicious and it definitely hit the spot. As a bonus you can wander their fruit orchards and see the exotic fruits being grown.
Cape Trib Jungle Surfing
By the time we arrived in Cape Tribulation, we were ready to relax at our hotel in the jungle (see below for where we stayed). The next day, as a special Mother’s Day outing, Ella and I were booked in to experience the canopy by jungle surfing (Cape Tribulation zip line) our way through the forest. Cape Trib Jungle Surfing should be at the top of your list for things to do in Cape Tribulation.
It is a great way to combine exploring the rainforest with some thrilling adventures. Ella, at 9 is pretty fearless and was totally up for the challenge. The tour is suitable for people of all ages (3+) and we were so impressed with the quality of the course, equipment and the incredible staff that made our day so memorable.
The course starts by using a human hamster wheel to power your mates up to the first platform. So cool and so ingenious! From there we zip lined our way between six platforms with awesome views over the canopy. Best of all, at each platform the staff taught us so much about the rainforest. Ella loved catching the edible green ants and eating them – true bush tucker fare.
The experience lasts 2 hours and can satisfy adventure junkies and less daring folks as well. It was such a fun way to spend a morning together. It is possible to do the jungle surfing tour from Cairns or Port Douglas, but we really think it is worthwhile staying a few nights up at Cape Trib. $105/adult, $95/child.
Exotic Fruit Tasting
The rainforest is full of unique vegetation and the wet climate makes it a great place to grow tropical fruits. When we backpacked up here years ago we did an exotic fruit tasting and it was one of the things I remember most about that trip. Our kids love fruit and having lived in Malaysia, they have been exposed to quite a few tropical fruits.
Cape Trib Farm is a second generation farm that grows over 65 different varieties of fruit. Many of these we had never even heard of and are not available commercially because of their delicate nature. In this 90 minute fruit tasting we sampled 11 fruits as Jeremy explained all about how they were grown and interesting facts about the fruit.
A few of them were fruits I love from Asia like rambutans and mangosteens, but others were totally new to me like breadfruit, black sapote, and miracle fruit. Trying new foods is one the things I love most about travelling and we loved this activity. The kids sat really attentively and listed to Jeremy and enjoyed trying these new and exotic fruits. How thrilled were we when Merran, the owner sent us a message the next day complimenting our kids on their good behaviour and enthusiasm (sometimes we all just need to hear that we are doing a good job!). After the tasting, we were shown around the orchard and heard more about the history of the farm. Fruit tasting happen most days at 2pm. Have your accommodation book you in advance. $30/adult, $20/child, $90/family (2+2)
Explore the Rainforest Swimming Holes
You can’t swim in the beaches in far north Queensland because of croc danger, but you can cool down in the rainforest swimming holes. Just north of Cape Tribulation the road turns to gravel. It had been fairly dry during our visit, so the road was in good condition. About 15 minutes up the road you come to Emmagen Creek where you have to have a true 4WD vehicle to cross the creek. Park your car and follow the track up the creek to find a series of lovely swimming holes. We were lucky enough to have this spot to ourselves when we were there and it was a great spot to cool down.
South from Cape Tribulation, Mason’s Store and Cafe have a swimming hole as well.
Cape Trib Jungle Surfing also run Night Walks Jungle Adventures, a guided walk through the rainforest to discover the jungle wildlife that comes out after dark. These two hour tours would be a great way to get up close and personal with tree frogs, insects and reptiles of the rainforest, but we didn’t think the kids would be up for it. $45/adult or child
We stayed at Cape Tribulation Beach House (see below) and one of the things that attracted me to this place was their nightly bonfires on the beach. There is something enchanting about a bonfire in the rainforest mingling with other travelers. On Saturday night, we even had some informal fire dancing entertainment. This was great fun for the kids and a highlight of our time at Cape Trib.
Visit the Great Barrier Reef with Ocean Safari
Since Cape Trib is dubbed the place where the “Rainforest meets the Reef”, this makes a great spot to visit the Great Barrier Reef from. We had already planned to visit the Reef from Cairns, but this would be a great half day option. The Reef is only 25 minutes away and the small group sizes and lack of crowds are ideal. $145/adult, $94/child, $436/family (2+2)
Where to Stay Cape Tribulation
Cape Trib Beach House – I wasn’t sure after reading the Tripadvisor reviews about this place, but we loved it. It has everything from dorms to family cabins and beach front cabins. We loved how we were sleeping in the jungle and we loved the great traveler vibe of the restaurant and nightly bonfires. Rooms are simple and basic, but we found they had everything we needed and the staff were friendly. We loved having the pool and the hotel is located right on a magnificent beach where you can watch the sunset each night. We are so happy we chose this place for our Cape Tribulation accommodation.
Cape Trib Farmstay – remember the exotic fruit tasting at the Cape Trib Farm? The owners also host guests in five cabins on their farm. Beautiful mountain views, warm hosts, lots of opportunities to sample delicious exotic fruit…what more could you ask for?
PK’s Jungle Village – this backpacker favourite has a pool, happening restaurant and bar and helpful tour desk. Good value accommodation set right in the rainforest.
Where to Eat Cape Tribulation
Cape Trib Beach House – we were surprisingly impressed with the food served at our hotel. For dinners the $16 Backpacker Menu, including a beer/wine is great value. There are lots of veggie options available and fresh seafood on the menu too.
Whet – this sophisticated restaurant set in the rainforest is a great place for any meal of the day. The food is delicious and reasonably priced. We loved that they had toys to keep the kids occupied.
Cape Tribulation Ice Cream Company – delicious natural ice cream made with exotic fruits from their farm.
We absolutely loved our 3 days/2 nights in Cape Tribulation and the Daintree. In fact we loved it so much that we were a bit sad to head down to Cairns to continue with the rest of our holiday. Cape Trib offers up tourism exactly the way I like it – small scale, eco-focused, communal vibe and full of nature and adventure. It would be such a shame to see the area on a rushed day trip. I am so glad we decided to spend a few days staying in the rainforest. What we gave up in creature comforts, was more then made up for in uniqueness and feel. I loved listening to all the jungle noises at night and truly feeling like I had escaped into a simple, natural world. I loved not having internet for a few days (you can purchase weak wifi at the hotels in the area, but there is no mobile service). It gave me a chance to unplug, relax and be present in the day and the experience.
There are so many great things to do in Cape Tribulation and some of the best things are simply exploring the walks and beaches. We loved Cape Trib 12 years ago when we visited as backpackers and we loved it again returning as a family.
Have you been to Cape Trib? What were your highlights?
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