Daintree, Australia: Where Everything Wants To Kill You
I should probably warn you that everything in here wants to kill you – our tour guide, Stu, told us seconds before we stepped into Australia’s Daintree rainforest, in North East Queensland. I smiled indulgently. Two weeks of travelling in Australia and I’d realised that Australian folks have a strange sense of humour, which very often involves scaring tourists.
After merely ten minutes walking through the forest, I realised that Stu had definitely not been joking. Everything – from the trees that fringed the walkway to the creatures hiding in the leaves – was waiting to kill us or, at the very least, wreck quite a bit of havoc.
The forest itself was beautiful. Layers upon layers of vegetation surrounded us. My fifth grade geography textbooks were coming to life; there were magnificent, century-old emergent trees that sheltered canopy trees, which in turn sheltered bushes and undergrowth. There were signs of animal life everywhere, from burrows in the mud to screeches in the trees. The region boasts an abundance of diversity; its 1200 square kilometres houses 90% of Australia’s bat and butterfly species, 12,000 insect species and a wide range of fauna. However, amidst the birds, butterflies and foliage deeper dangers lie…
One of the major dangers, one would think, would be snakes. Out of the 25 (identified) venomous snakes in the world, 21 live in Australia – so it was understandable that our entire group felt little heart flutters every time we saw something moving in the bushes. However, strangely enough, only 3 of the 45 snake species in the Daintree are poisonous, although Stu did concede that if we were to have the misfortune to be attacked by one, we’d want to get ourselves some medical attention – immediately.
He went on to explain that we could instead worry about stinging scorpions that lurked hidden in fallen leaves and cassowaries, elusive towering flightless birds with sword-like beaks, a razor-sharp nail between the toes and the tendency to attack if they feel even a little threatened.
“Hopefully I can find one for you today,” Stu enthused, to the puzzlement of the rest of the group.
It's no surprise, then, that the region beckons so many people. From the naturalist to the adventure seekers to the camper, it has something to offer everything.KJ
(Not too) sadly, cassowaries were nowhere to be found. While taking a cruise down the Daintree river, we spotted several of the main predators of the rainforest – the crocodiles. There’s a staggering abundance of crocodiles in the 140 kilometere river, some of which venture far into the river estuary and then into the nearby sea to find prey. Because of the crocs’ adventurous nature, tourists are warned to stay away from both river banks and the sea side; our guide told us one particularly gruesome tale of a woman who, paddling in the surf at the beach, was snatched by a lurking croc.
While keeping their eyes out for crocodiles and cassowaries, the unsuspecting explorer may just fall prey to – wait for it – a plant. A few species, which sit innocuously throughout the forest can morph into instruments of mild inconvenience or death traps. For instance, there’s the tellingly named Wait-a-While with tiny little hooks on its stem that can grip onto clothes and skin and take ages to untangle. The Hairy Mary is another plant to watch out for; it has tiny stinging spines covering its stem that can hurt to a distraction. By far the most dreaded plant is the Gympie Gympie, an aboriginal name which means ‘devil-like.’ If the Gympie Gympie brushes even the tiniest bit of bare skin, it’ll cause unbearable pain; imagine being stung by a horde of wasps and electrocuted at the same time.
What with the crocs, crazy cassowaries and battle-plants, you may be wondering why people bother to visit the Daintree at all. Well, for one, humans have never been known as a species that shies away from dangerous situations; how else can you explain the popularity of extreme sports? In fact, the rainforest is an enormously popular tourist destination. It’s been listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO and is recognised as the world’s oldest rainforest at 180 million years old. Several of the plant species in the forest haven’t changed since then; when wandering through the Daintree you’re looking at – and breathing in – 180 million years of history. That just floored me.
The Daintree is also the only place in the world where the rainforest meets the reef, as the celebrated Great Barrier Reef is just 30 kilometeres from the Daintree rivers estuary. Tourists can explore the coral reef in the morning and then head to the forest by afternoon.
It’s no surprise, then, that the region beckons so many people. From the naturalist to the adventure seekers to the camper, it has something to offer everything. Remember, though, to err on the side of caution. Go on a guided tour through the forest, stay away from the water, don’t take on a cassowary or brush against unknown plants and you’ll (probably) survive!