We enjoyed our first trip to Cairns so much that we ventured into tropical Queensland again, this time during the wet season. We kept ourselves busy in in the city for two days, enjoying unique experiences such as a seafood dinner on a boat “The Prawn Star” docked at the Reef Fleet Terminal.
After dinner, we observed the Flying Foxes crossing the city sky on their journey to food sources.
On Saturday, we arrived at Silky Oaks Lodge, at the edge of the Daintree Rainforest, on the north east coast of Queensland. We had a wonderful lunch in the “Perch” hanging over a steep cliff down to the Mossman River.
Just wandering around the lodge, we already got a glimpse of the variety of flora and fauna in this incredible rainforest, e.g. orchids, ferns, figs, insects, strangler plants and bush turkeys.
In the evening, we could see the humidity accumulating over the surface of the River—which had increased in volume after a heavy afternoon rain.
On our way to River House 10, our home for the next 3 days, we discovered a curled up snakeskin on the path.
We began our first day with a 6 km walk, which took us more than 3 hours to complete due to the high humidity, and the many things to discover. We saw huge spiders, avoided spiky palm trees and most importantly the “probably most dangerous plant along this walk, Calamus Australis” — a vine that can grow 500 m long, often use for Rattan.
Often we had to wade through ankle deep water - and in one of the little Billabongs, we discovered a turtle.
The rain forest is so dense that often only tiny rays of light can shine through the lush foliage.
We saw many strangler figs, and were impressed with their capacity to kill the host tree through pressure, as well as the fact that their roots can fuse when they meet.
Some of the trees had huge dimensions.
From time to time, the trail leaned towards the banks of the Mossman River.
I ended up with a leech on my neck that took it's time slowly filling its expanding body with my blood, until it dislodged later during the walk. But, we also observed more beautiful creatures, like these butterflies.
Next to our Tree House, we discovered magnificent large blue Ulysses Butterflies.
We were very impressed by the levels and layers of the forest. The various growths half way up the trees seemed to create a whole separate ecosystem, 10 to 20 metres above ground and 10 metres below the tree canopy.
In the afternoon, I went snorkelling, only to see some grey fish in milky water.
Near the river, we discovered green-bodied ants.
We decided to take advantage of our porch that overlooked the Mossman River, and ordered room service for dinner. We enjoyed the view of a stick insect which had decided to visit us in our Tree House.
In the evening, we went platypus hunting—only with the camera. After almost an hour of waiting, there was the first sign of a platypus.
Then, and only thanks to my super light sensitive camera, we got some (mediocre) pictures of one of these elusive creatures.
We stopped when my camera switched to ISO 25600.
The next day, we went to Cooper Creek Wilderness Daintree Rainforest for a tour with Neil Hewett who lives with his family on a privately-owned rainforest that was unprecedented in its inclusion within the World Heritage Area. But first, we had to cross the Daintree River via ferry to get to the Cooper Creek Wilderness.
After the crossing, we were greeted by Cassowary road warning signs.
Then, after arriving on the Hewett property, we had our first (short) wild Cassowary encounter: The bird that was “only” 45 kg—fully grown female cassowaries can stand at 1.8m and weigh over 60kgs. Mature males are much smaller at 1.5m and about 35kg. The latest study (CSIRO 2014) lists the number of cassowaries in Australia’s Wet Tropics to be around 4,000. These magnificent and archaic-looking creatures are large flightless birds. The Southern Cassowary is an important disperser of seeds in the rainforest, with 37 different species requiring transmission through the big bird’s digestive tract to facilitate germination, and a further 200 or more seeds being more likely to thrive if transported away from the parent trees that may retard their growth.
We saw hundreds, maybe thousands, of young Cane Toads on Neil Hewett’s lawn, whose 100 hectares of privately owned land are a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.
Neil Hewett explained to us that the average annual rainfall in the Daintree rainforest is approximately 2000mm (79in) per year. Some areas have even recorded up to 9000mm (345in) in a single year. The wet seasons is between December and March. Over 60% of the rain falls during this wet season. The Daintree Rainforest is estimated to be 180 million years old—the oldest tropical rainforest on earth and tens of millions of years older than the Amazon Rainforest. It houses some of the most biologically diverse flora and fauna in the world. The forest has 80% of the world’s fern species, 40% of Australia’s bird species and 35% of Australia’s mammals all reside and contribute to the Daintree’s ecosystem.
Neil pointed out a Bird-dropping crab spider that mimics the appearance of a bird dropping including run off to attract flies and keep away birds. The appearance closely resembles the white splatter of liquid in bird faeces. There is even a runnel in a dip in the leaf, simulating flowing movement. This is its protection: No bird wants to eat its own excrement. Not only does the spider look like a bird-dropping, but it also gives out a smell that attracts insects that like to eat bird-droppings. The attracted insects are then grabbed by the spider.
During the walk, we saw many fig trees with plentiful fruits attached to the trunk.
Another famous inhabitant of the Daintree Rainforest is the Idiot Fruit. The huge trees from which this fruit comes, have large brown fruits that look quite similar to baseballs. The Idiot Fruit was discovered over a hundred years ago when it was responsible for the death of cattle who would chew the toxic seeds. This plant species is twice as old as a Tyrannosaurus Rex which makes it an impressive 120 million years old and still going.
Neil also explained how plants that developed before flying insects evolved to pollinate. This fern-like plant is able to increase the temperature of its cones up to 17 degrees above the local air temperature. This usually happens in the afternoon — between midday and 2pm is peak glowing time for the cones. The heat is created by the breakdown of starch and lipids stored in the cone scales. This happens when the cones reach maturity and increases the chances of fertilisation, as insects are attracted by the plants’ odours, which become stronger when the cones are warm. (These odours may attract male insects by mimicking female hormones.) The heat may also help the male cones to shed pollen. More about this here.
He made us also aware of the Stinging Tree, probably the most dangerous tropical rainforest plant in the Daintree Rainforest. While it looks attractive it causes extreme pain with symptoms including an intense stinging sensation that can be reactivated through water contact as long as 3 months after the encounter. Aboriginal people call this plant ‘Gympie Gympie’, which means ‘devil-like’. It has large green leaves with serrated edges that are toxic and lined with fine silica-tipped hairs that inject venom, like mini-syringes. The Stinging Tree is found close to walking tracks or areas where a big tree has fallen due to a cyclone impact, instead of in the middle of the dense rain forest. Ecologically, it keeps herbivores away from the young rainforest that develops when a big tree falls.
During most of our 6.5km walk, we only saw a few rays of sunlight passing through the canopy to the ground.
Neil pointed out some 30-year-old tree mushrooms that have remained unchanged since he purchased the property.
Other tree mushrooms impressed because of their shape.
And we saw insects that have perfected the art of camouflage, such as crickets that blend into tree trunks.
The Fan Palms that make up the middle of the layer of the rainforest, between the ground and the canopy, are growing an average of 1 m in 100 years. This makes most plants 1,500 years old when they reach this half-way mark.
Often, there were reptiles that quickly ran away when we approached--only a few permitted me to take their picture.
And of course, spiders everywhere.
More pictures from Daintree Rainforest here.