“You don’t come to Queensland for the beaches”, tells me an Aussie man with a white hat as he helps me into his car, in Cairns Airport parking lot. “There are crocodiles, even though some people don’t believe it. And poisonous jellyfishes. If you want to stay on the beach, go somewhere else”. I guess he’s trying to scare me; luckily, I’m not here for the beaches. I’m here to explore the Daintree Rainforest, the oldest rainforest of the planet. We take a lonely road running along the coast towards Port Douglas, the most renowned tourist destination in Queensland, Australia. It’s a winter night and the only light in the darkness comes from the car headlights and the moon, which looks upside down to me. The nice Aussie man drives like crazy, and I regret not talking some antinausean meds.
The silence of Queensland
For more than an hour I keep fighting against motion sickness, while at the same time I try to listen to the adventurous stories told by the driver. He moved here from rainy Melbourne with his wife in order to enjoy his retirement, but he ended up getting bored and working as a tourist guide. We finally get to the Thala Beach Natural Reserve, an eco resort that I will write about in another post. We are surrounded by the forest and I hear the symphony produced by the rustle of leaves and the animal noises in the humid, mysterious darkness. I come from the lively chaos of Sydney, with its skyscrapers, traffic and crowded streets, and the first impact with this new environment makes me feel lost. It is not a negative feeling, actually; even though it’s dark, I can sense I’ve arrived in a wonderful place.
OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE
But as I close the door of my room, in which there’s no tv set, and I’m left with only silence for company, I just lose my place for a moment. I miss the big city, its familiar noises. I miss looking out of the window and seeing the Harbour Bridge and the skyline. Even though city life is stressful, I’m used to it. Now I’m standing outside of my comfort zone. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? To explore a new territory. I’ve always wanted to visit Queensland because I knew it was one of the most remote parts of the planet, where still live animal and plant species dating back to the continental drift. I’m looking forward to going to the Daintree Rainforest tomorrow, the heart of this region.
The Daintree Rainforest, a green miracle
The alarm clock rings before dawn, when there’s just a feeble light at the horizon. As I walk to the dining room, I see the sun rising on the sea. The scenery is so beautiful that makes me stop and contemplate it for a moment, bewitched. The light is clear, almost transparent, and I feel like I’ve crossed the border to another universe. There’s nothing more powerful that Nature. I’ve always known it, but now I feel it more clearly now.
An hour later, the sky is full of clouds. It seems like it’s going to rain soon, but the guide reassures us: the forest is at its best in this wet climate. It comes alive. After all, we’re in the rainforest. From Port Douglas we drive to Mossman Gorge, a small town that has recently developed and has even a high school. We stop, park the car and get into an eco friendly bus, which takes us further into the forest, by the Mossman River.
As I walk on the wooden walkaway with eyes wide open, I try not to forget that I’m standing in one of the oldest ecosystems of the planet. A green sanctuary. The Daintree Rainforest thrived when, millions of years ago, the Australian continent was warm and humid and even the Ayers Rock region was green. As Australia became more arid, the Daintree Rainforest became the refuge for many species, whose descendants are still living today. Following the flight of a blue butterfly, we find an idiot fruit, one of the rarest and oldest flowering plants. The guide patiently helps us identify a dragon lizard, a small reptile that looks like a little dragon and clutches to tree trunks.
Back to the past
We walk further into the rainforest until we get to the Mossmar River. It looks like a wild mountain stream. We’re told that, together with the rain, it also contributes to keeping the forest alive. I feel this is a sacred place. Many plant species that thrive in the Daintee Rainforest help us answer to some of the questions regarding the origin of plants we still use as food and medicines.
While we listen to a geology lecture, a platypus appears in the water, swimming swiftly before our eyes. The platypus is a semiaquatic mammal inhabiting the rivers and streams of Tasmania and Queensland. It’s the first time I seen one. It reminds me of an animated tv series I used to watch as a child, in which an English family shipwrecked on an Australian island and met plants and animals they had never seen. And after meeting the platypus, we see three cassowaries, big birds that feed on fruit and usually disappear before a human realizes they’re there. So we’re very lucky, because these three birds seem perfectly at ease with us.
Across the Daintree River
The rain has started to fall and soon we’re soaking wet. We leave this part of the Daintree Rainforest and drive back to the coast, where we stop for a sweet break on a beach. Our lovely tour guide has brought bush tea and homemade Lamington, a typical Australian chocolate and coconut cake that I completely fall in love with. The beach is deserted; there are crocodiles here, so nobody would dare to get anywhere near the water. Then we head north, cross the Daintree River and reach one the wildest and most beautiful parts of Queensland. We’ll come back at sunset for a crocodile cruise on the river, to spot crocodiles and wildlife onboard an eco friendly boat.
But now we drive under green archways and into green tunnels, through which the light hardly filters. We meet very few cars, and the tour guide explains that the region north of the Daintree River is isolated for five hours a day. The wifi connection is poor and slow, but its inhabitants have got used to living like this. It’s so nice to find out that there are still places where people do not spend every moment of their lives with a cellphone, waiting for a text or an email, checking on likes and craving for more followers. And so we get to one of the most evocative places I’ve ever been, but I will tell you about it in the next article.