Jungle surf at Cape Tribulation
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The most adventurous way to explore the Daintree Rainforest and get a lofty perspective on the reef is to take a jungle surfing tour, gliding along in harnesses secured to ziplines strung between ancient trees. Even the initially nervous emerge from this experience with giant grins on their faces, having experienced the forest from several heights and angles, including upside down.
Sleep on the reef
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One day on the Great Barrier Reef is simply not enough, so bedding down on the reef on a luxury boat allows for an extended visit. Moored at the outer Great Barrier Reef, where the coral and marine life is most prolific, Reef Encounter offers 21 double and twin cabins and packages ranging from one to three nights. On longer stays guests can learn to dive, snorkel to their heart’s content or simply view the underwater scenery from a glass-bottom boat. Back on Reef Encounter, there’s a dining saloon and bar, sundeck and games area.
Take a Dreamtime walk at Mossman Gorge
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This boulder-strewn gorge in the southern section of Daintree National Park is surrounded by some of the oldest surviving rainforest on the planet, dating back 135 million years. The gorge is also inexorably linked with Aboriginal heritage, the Kuku Yalanji people having inhabited the area for 50,000 years. As the gorge and its mountain backdrop are alive with their stories, taking a Dreamtime walk with an Indigenous guide is inspiring and educational. Guests experience a traditional smoking ritual to cleanse their spirits, visit a ceremonial site and learn how to make soap and paint from natural materials.
Snorkel on Mackay reef, off Cape Tribulation
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It takes a bit more effort to reach the start of this reef trip that departs from Cape Tribulation, two-and-a-half hours’ drive north of Cairns. But it’s worth it for the ethereal drive through the Daintree Rainforest – along a road hemmed in by tropical vegetation – and the unspoiled Mackay reef, a half-hour boat trip offshore. This is the Great Barrier Reef as you should see it: luminous, astonishingly colourful and crowded with marine life, not tourists. The tour begins in shallow water around intricate coral gardens and continues in deeper water where turtles, rays and larger pelagic fish are found.
River drift snorkelling on the Mossman River
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The river drift three-hour snorkelling tour on the Mossman River is possibly the most unusual and rewarding activity in Tropical North Queensland. Guests don wetsuits, masks and snorkels and, after some training, launch themselves into the current in the sparkling river. Stopping regularly at sandy beaches and deeper pools along the way, the guides interpret flora and fauna, including freshwater turtles. Even young children soon get the hang of drifting with the river flow in the shallow water, making this a wonderful experience for families. With shafts of sunlight beaming through the trees and the opportunity to turn onto your back and be effortlessly carried downriver while looking up at the ancient forest canopy, this is a serene way to connect with the World Heritage environment.
Learn to dive
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The Great Barrier Reef remains one of the best places in the world to take your first fin strokes as a diver, with warm water, good visibility and an enormous range of coral and marine life to see. The most popular way to earn an entry-level “open water” dive ticket is over five days, with two days in the classroom and training pool followed by three days/two nights on a live-aboard boat on the outer Great Barrier Reef. You’ll never forget diving on this gargantuan reef.
Visit Kuranda by scenic railway and cableway
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Taking a daytrip to this atmospheric village situated high in the hinterland behind Cairns puts the size and scale of the rainforest into perspective. Journeying up there on the Kuranda Scenic Railway constructed between 1882 and 1891, the train weaves through the forest, via 15 handmade tunnels and 37 bridges, past thundering waterfalls. After browsing Kuranda’s markets, make the return trip (as far as Smithfield) on the 7.5-kilometre-long Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, skimming the treetops of the canopy and taking in coastal panoramas.
Experience Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas
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Seeing the rare southern cassowary – the world’s third-largest bird at up to 1.8 metres tall – is just one reason to visit this excellent Port Douglas wildlife park. Divided into habitats, including grasslands and wetlands, it features a wide range of Australian native animals, with an emphasis on tropical species. There are regular presentations of pythons, crocodiles and koalas with expert commentary, fascinating behind-the-scenes tours and even breakfast with the birds and lunch with the lorikeets in the dome-like restaurant.
Visit Green Island
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This tiny rainforest-covered island, a 45-minute boat ride from Cairns, is surrounded by fringing reef and has every means of being viewed – from its own underwater observatory and glass-bottom boats to parasailing high above it. While it can get crowded during the day, it’s much quieter if you stay overnight at the island’s luxury resort. At any time, you can escape on a quiet stroll into the national park to discover the land of the Guru-Gulu Gungandji people and see small flightless birds called buff-banded rails.