Queensland is a nature lovers' paradise that gives visitors access to two World Heritage-listed wonders of the natural world - Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef
One of my fondest memories of my time in Queensland in Australia’s Tropical North is swimming in the crystal clear waters of Cooper Creek in the heart of the rainforest. With huge creepers looping down from the forest canopy above providing a natural swing to sit on, and turquoise butterflies flitting past, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
This was just one of the many memorable experiences that we enjoyed as part of the day-long Daintree Discovery Tour (www.daintreediscoverytours.com.au). Priced at $160 per person, the trips are worth every penny as they allow you to immerse yourself in the region’s unique tropical rainforest habitat. We were picked up from our hotel – the Radisson Treetops in the coastal town of Port Douglas - in a smart, air-conditioned car at 7.45am. We headed north up the coast towards Daintree, where we crossed the river by ferry and stopped off at Alexandra Lookout to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the surrounding coastline. We then headed to Cape Tribulation, where, famously, Captain Cook’s boat almost sank after hitting the coral reef. We had morning coffee on the vast, deserted beach, which is breathtakingly beautiful.
Our next stop was the Cooper Creek Wilderness, where, Grant, our extremely knowledgeable guide for the day, took us on a trek through the rainforest, pointing out birds, animals and plants along the way. Daintree is some of the oldest rainforest on earth and exploring it on foot in this way is an awe-inspiring experience. After a delicious picnic lunch in the forest, we cooled off with a dip in the creek before taking to the Daintree River aboard a solar-powered boat for an afternoon of ‘croc-spotting’. As well as seeing a huge Amethyst Python coiled up in a tree, we spotted several of the region’s notoriously aggressive salt water crocodiles, including a huge, fearsome-looking female guarding her nest. We also saw fruit bats and all kinds of birdlife.
If my visit to Daintree had been the only thing I’d managed to fit into my visit to Queensland, I’d still have gone home happy, but our next outing was a trip to the Great Barrier Reef. We went on a Quicksilver Cruise (www.quicksilver-cruises.com) out to Agincourt Reef, which lies at the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef. The full day trip costs $197 per person and includes your choice of snorkelling or diving from Quicksilver’s permanent platform out on the reef, as well as the chance to see what lies beneath the waves from the comfort of the underwater observatory. We went for the snorkelling option and spent much of our time gliding over the vast underwater coral gardens. Although I’ve been lucky enough to snorkel in Malaysia, The Maldives and the Red Sea, I’d never seen such vividly coloured coral before.
I’d not appreciated the vastness of the Great Barrier Reef until I saw it for myself; it took us an hour to reach Agincourt Reef from the marina at Port Douglas, and the entire Great Barrier Reef stretches for more than 2,000km along the coast. We had to wear full-body suits to protect us from all the tiny jellyfish in the water and I found snorkelling out in the open sea, rather than just offshore as I have done previously, much more tiring. The dazzling array of electric blue and fuchsia pink corals, not to mention some seriously large grouper fish, made it all worthwhile though.
We'd flown into Cairns, but were glad we’d chosen Port Douglas, an hour’s drive away, as our base. It has a laid-back vibe, despite being popular with Australia's rich and famous, but does have its fair share of glamorous boutiques, bars and restaurants. The outback-style Iron Bar on Macrossan Street is a tourist attraction in its own right and well worth a visit, not least for the cane toad races that take place there in the evenings! We also enjoyed fantastic breakfasts at Soul ‘N’ Pepper on the waterfront off Dixie Street. The award-winning Mango Jam serves great pizzas and the Jade Inn is a good Chinese restaurant; both can be found on Macrossan Street.
Another highlight was a trip to the Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary in Port Douglas (www.rainforesthabitat.com.au) where visitors can get up close to everything from koalas and kangaroos to crocodiles and cassowaries (huge, monstrous-looking birds found only in the Tropical North of Queensland that are now threatened with extinction). The animals live in conditions as close to their natural habitat as possible and, in many areas, visitors can walk through the enclosures. Admission to the park is $30 per person and it’s an enjoyable experience for adults and children alike.
Our hotel, the Radisson Treetops, was a stone’s throw from Four Mile Beach, a seemingly endless swathe of golden sand. Once again, jellyfish are the only downside and swimmers are advised to stay within the netted areas. With an attractive outdoor pool and lush gardens, the hotel was a relaxing retreat - not that we spent a great deal of time there with so much to do and see in Queensland!