The ancient Daintree River rises in the lush rainforest covered slopes of the Great Dividing Range, descending 1,270 metres and meandering 127 kilometres before finally reaching the Coral Sea, opening on to a giant shifting sandbar at the northern reaches of Wonga Beach.
Because of the ever-shifting sandbar, accessing the Daintree has always been problematic. Captain Cook missed this area entirely when passing by so the first Europeans to set eyes on the Daintree were surprisingly not until 1873 – whereas the Kuku Yulanji, the indigenous people of the rainforest have lived here for over 9,000 years.
Standing on Wonga Beach just in front of the house that we’re staying in you can see the mist rising from the river and the distant jagged peaks of the rainforest in swirling moisture-laden clouds. It all has a ‘Jurassic Park’ feel to it – a land that time forgot, where giant ancient beasts roam.
Well that’s not too far from the truth as the Daintree River and river mouth are home to one of the oldest creatures to walk the planet, the Saltwater Crocodile, unchanged for over 200 million years. Some local residents grow up to an impressive 5 or 6 metres with an active population living here, so of course there’s a thriving Croc spotting industry centred in the tiny hamlet of Daintree where 1- hour cruises cost $40, leaving on the hour. That’s a bit too touristy for us so we were happy to stand on the river bank in awe at the brooding magnificence of the river – it’s so intensely vivid green and, on the day that we were there, absolutely still and deep, providing magical mirrored reflections.
It’s incredibly beautiful and transfixing but then you start to think about what lies beneath, then it all becomes somewhat malevolent, murderous even, so standing on the river bank as we were suddenly seemed a very bad idea indeed.