Queensland conjures images of surf, sun, and sand. The surf being those crystal-clear waters that not only line the entire coastline they also house the incredible Great Barrier Reef. The sun is the one that inspired the Queensland moniker of ‘the sunshine state’. And the sand helps to form the thousands of beaches that call Queensland home.
And while it makes sense that these are some of the things that come to mind when you think of Queensland, a whole other world is waiting to be discovered inland.
A world as old as time
You’re probably aware that Queensland is blessed with an abundance of tropical rainforests where unique flora and fauna live, but did you know that many of them are part of the much larger Wet Tropics Rainforest?
A World Heritage listed site, the Wet Tropics calls Tropical North Queensland home, and has done so for millions of years, surviving all this time to now be known as the world’s oldest rainforest.
Earning its Heritage Listing in 1988, the Wet Tropics has also earned the title of being one of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots. What this means is that it is home to more than 1500 endemic vascular plant species – or in other words, it has a high percentage of plant life that is found nowhere else on the planet, making it irreplaceable.
Having outlived the dinosaurs, the Wet Tropics encapsulates a mysterious world of diverse landscapes; flora and fauna unlike any other; and though much of it remains untouched, there is a lot of rainforest that is easily accessible and just waiting for you to discover it.
The Wet Tropics stats
Spanning a 450km stretch from Townsville in the south to Cooktown in the north, the Wet Tropics also heads inland from the coastline, covering a total area of approximately 8,940 square kilometres.
The Wet Tropics is made up of 5 very distinct precincts, each of which is has unique attractions, experiences and even species within. These 5 precincts are made of 29 National Parks, some of which may sound familiar to you, such as the Barron Gorge National Park, Kuranda National Park, and the Daintree National Park.
Made up of 185 regional ecosystems, the Wet Tropics is home to more than 2800 plant species, 60 percent of Australia’s butterfly species and over 300 marsupial species – many of which are only found in this part of the world. But it’s not only plants and animals that call this area home, 20 Aboriginal tribal groups do as well.
As you can imagine, this diverse part of the world holds so much to explore and experience, but where do you start? We’re going to make it slightly easier by breaking down each of the 5 precincts of the Wet Tropics, so you can discover what you will find in each.
The diversity of the landscapes within the Wet Tropics is truly astonishing. In relatively short distances you can be in the depths of the dense jungle or out in the open woodlands, and when you’re in the Southern precinct, you’ll see these vast differences the most.
You can start your exploration of the Southern precinct at the national park considered the southern gateway to the Wet Tropics – the Paluma Range National Park. Located north of Townsville, this national park has numerous walking trails, where you can immerse yourself amongst the unique array of plants and wildlife and enjoy the breathtaking scenery. The McClellands Lookout and the Witts Lookout offer incredible views of the area.
Heading north from the Paluma Range National Park, you will come across Little Crystal Creek and Big Crystal Creek. Both sites offer visitors the perfect place for an afternoon picnic. Some of the activities you can enjoy include swimming in a huge freshwater swimming hole, exploring the forest on one of the many bushwalking trails, or chasing the cascading waterfalls nearby.
If you keep heading north past Paluma National Park, this is where you see that dry, open woodland and the diversity of the landscape in action. And while this diversity will leave you surprised; we’ve got something that is going to make your jaw hit the floor.
Still in the Southern Precinct, one of the biggest drawcards of this region is located about 50km west of the town of Ingham, and that is the Wallaman Falls. Now, while we know it’s hard not to marvel at the tumbling waters of any waterfall, Wallaman Falls is quite unique. This is Australia’s highest single drop waterfall – a drop that is 268m! A year-round, permanent waterfall, Wallaman Falls is part of the traditional lands of the Warrgamaygan Aboriginal people and is a sacred place.
You can enjoy views of the Falls from the lookout, or you can make your way to the base by hiking down to the bottom. The track is a little rugged, and not for the faint of heart – it takes around an hour to reach the bottom. You will descend 228m, and of course make your way back up. But before you do make the trek back up, you can cool off and refresh in the waterhole of the falls.
And if a swim is what you’re after, but you’re not ready for the trek to the base of Wallaman, you can take another track from the lookout where you can venture through 800m of rainforest before you reach another watering hole that has numerous rock pools and sandbars.
South Central Precinct
This part of the Wet Tropics is known for two things, cassowaries and being the wettest part of the Wet Tropics. While cassowaries are at home throughout the Wet Tropics, the south-central region is also known as the Cassowary Coast, so it’s no surprise that your chances of seeing a cassowary in the wild is a lot higher when you’re here.
If you’re a bushwalker and hoping to run into a cassowary or two, try out the easy walking tracks around Mission Beach. Not only are these walking tracks an easy way to explore the area, but you might also actually come face to face with one of these prehistoric birds as they roam the area. Be careful though, cassowaries can be up to 2m tall, weigh as much as the average man, and outrun even Usain Bolt (just).
Now, even though this part of the Wet Tropics is wetter than most, don’t let that put you off visiting, especially if you’re an avid hiker. You’ll find trails for all skill levels, but if you’re looking for a real challenge, this precinct is home to Queensland’s tallest Mountain, Mt Bartle Frere. With a summit of 1,622 metres, the hike to the top of Mt Bartle Frere, is for the brave.
If you want a marginally easier mountain to climb, then you could give Bellenden Ker a try. Standing at 1592m, this mountain is not quite as high, but it is certainly wetter, as it is the wettest place in Queensland!
At the peak of either mountain, you can enjoy unbeatable views that stretch from the Coast to the Atherton Tablelands.
Monsoon conditions are experienced in the area because of these two giants, and so are waterfalls. One of the favourites of the region is Josephine Falls, which is also coincidentally where the trek up Mt Bartle Frere can be started.
Each of the Wet Tropics’ precincts is home to a large number of animals, however, none quite compares to the Tablelands precinct. Referred to as the epicentre of fauna, you’ll find rare tree kangaroos, possums, gliders, and platypus, as well as hundreds of vertebrate animals, and butterfly species.
But it’s not only animals this precinct is known for. The diversity of the landscape is more obvious in this precinct than most of the other precincts. From mountain pastures to lush rainforests to volcanic landforms, one moment you’re deep in a thick tropical rainforest, the next you’re faced with a lake that was formed from a volcanic explosion that was caused by the superheating of groundwater.
The most famous volcanic lake in this region is Lake Barrine. Found in the Crater lakes National Park, this volcanic crater is now a 65m deep lake that is home to fish, turtles, and most likely lots of other water-based wildlife. You can swim, canoe, and kayak on the lake, or if you prefer to stay dry, you can enjoy views of the lake from the forest lined 3km walking trail that surrounds.
And if this isn’t enough to keep you occupied, in the Tablelands precinct you’ll find the tallest town in Queensland – Ravenshoe, which is at a height of 920m. And just down the road from Ravenshoe you will find Australia’s widest waterfall, Millstream Falls.
But that’s not all, the Tablelands is considered the food bowl of Tropical North Queensland, with volcanic soils that are nutrient dense and fertile. Some of the produce grown in the region include sugar cane, avocadoes, mangos, coffee, tea, and macadamia nuts. The region is also home to the Gallo Dairyland, which produces chocolate and cheese. If you want to experience the produce of the region, one of the best ways you can do it is with a tour through Brett’s Outback Tasting Adventures.
Cairns and the Surrounds Precinct
More accessible than most, the Cairns and Central Coast precinct of the Wet Tropics offers many the chance to discover the rainforest without having to put in too much travel time – 20 minutes is all it takes to start getting a glimpse of the tropical rainforests in this region.
While you can opt to drive or hop aboard a tour bus when it comes to exploring the rainforest in this precinct it’s almost impossible to go past the Kuranda Scenic Railway and the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. One of the most unique journeys in the world, you can travel through and above the canopy of the rainforest on route to your destination, the rainforest village of Kuranda.
At an altitude of 330m, the mountain climate of Kuranda offers a nice break from heat that can be experienced in the area. While the town of Kuranda is an incredible attraction itself nestled in the heart of the rainforest, the journey is what steals the show.
The Scenic Railway offers you a journey through 15 tunnels and over 37 bridges, where you will wind your way from Cairns to Kuranda. Before you reach this rainforest village, you’ll experience the sights and scents of the rainforest, and of course you will see spectacular views of the Barron Gorge National Park, including Barron Falls. The journey aboard the train takes about an hour and a half, and as you make your way to Kuranda you can enjoy commentary of the rainforest world around you.
To make your return from Kuranda, you can take the scenic railway again, or you can try something for the slightly braver – the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Glide above the rainforest canopy, granite boulders and waterfalls of Barron Gorge National Park – an experience unlike any other. This journey will have you gazing at the incredible display of nature happening all around you. For the truly brave, upgrade to the Diamond View experience, where your gondola will have a glass floor that you can watch the world below unfold.
Northern Frontier Precinct
The Northern Frontier precinct is home to the rainforests that you probably think only live in your imagination. Beginning only slightly north of Palm Cove, this precinct holds Australia’s most well-known rainforest, the Daintree Forest.
Within the Daintree, one of the most raved about places to visit is Mossman Gorge, and this is for good reason – it is the gateway to your rainforest journey. Beginning at the Mossman Gorge Centre, you will learn about the Indigenous significance of the area and discover the plants and animals you may encounter when you enter the jungle.
From the centre you can take a self-guided walk into the forest on the many walking trails, where you can discover the almost untouched tropical rainforest at your own pace.
While any meander in this area is special, for something unforgettable, a Dreamtime Walk, where you can learn more about the indigenous traditions and culturally significant sites, cannot be missed.
As part of a Dreamtime Walk you can take part in a traditional smoking ceremony to ward off bad spirits, learn how to identify bush food sources, discover the special connection Indigenous people have with the tropical rainforest, and you will get to finish the experience with traditional tea and damper. The intimate sized group, along with the easy pace, makes this tour an enjoyable way to discover the area.
For something faster paced, you can discover the secrets of the Daintree with a tour from Back Country Bliss Adventures. Experts in Daintree adventures, Back Country Bliss offers tours where you can spend half a day or an entire day learning these jungle secrets.
Depending on the tour of choice, you will be able to take part in activities like swimming, snorkelling, floating, walking and hiking. And best of all you will experience areas of the Daintree you would never have found yourself and leave with a memory you cannot make anywhere else.
Dating back 180 million years, the Northern Frontier is home to some of the oldest vegetation in the world, and the best part is, you can experience this real-life prehistoric place for yourself.
Where to Stay
When you’re visiting Tropical North Queensland, a rainforest experience in the Wet Tropics is unmissable. And whether you’re interested in chasing waterfalls, hiking, spotting the wildlife or discovering a new plant species for yourself, you need somewhere to stay where you can reach the Wet Tropics easily.
That’s where Palm Cove, and more specifically, the Reef House comes in. Skip the hustle and bustle of the larger cities like Cairns and Port Douglas and opt for a beachside paradise where you can relax post your rainforest expedition.
The Reef House offers you colonial style, luxurious accommodation in one of the most relaxing places in Australia. You’ll feel as if you’re in a secluded paradise, when in reality, you’re only 25-minutes away from Cairns airport.
The convenient location of Palm Cove has you nestled between the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics, which only makes exploration of either, or both, so easy.
And when you stay at the Reef House, you can make organising your tropical escape even easier with the guidance of the Reef House’s own Luxury Concierge. Organise tours and discover the ways in which you can experience all that Tropical North Queensland has to offer with help from the Reef House.
Uncover the secrets of the Wet Tropics today.