Wonga Beach is over 10 kilometres long, stretching from Rocky Point all the way up to the Daintree River mouth and beyond, with crocodile infested Snapper Island just off the coast and the distant Low Isles just perceptible on the reef horizon. It’s at this spot that the lush dense rainforest tumbles down to the coral sea and, in some spots, hangs over the fringing reef at low tide. Massive Calophyllum trees and Coconut palms line the entire stretch of the beach with a dense and seemingly impenetrable dark jungle brooding just behind. But it’s only from high up in the hinterland that you get a real sense of just how much the rainforest dominates this area – a vivid emerald green carpet that cascades right down to the water’s edge.
The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest continually surviving tropical rainforest in the world at 135-180 million years and the only place on earth where two World Heritage sites meet. It covers an area of 1,200 square kilometres, stretching from Mossman up through Wonga Beach and across the murderous Daintree River via the cable ferry to Cape Tribulation where the sealed road ends and the (only for the adventurous) 4WD Bloomfield track begins towards Cooktown.
Just off Wonga Beach lies uninhabited Snapper Island, part of the traditional sea country of the Eastern Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal people, who continue to hunt and fish here to this day. The island is part of the Hope Islands, an infamous reef where a certain Captain James Cook ran the H.M. Barque Endeavour aground on the 11th June 1770. His diary records: “The shore between Cape Grafton and the above northern point forms a large but not very deep bay, which I named Trinity Bay, after the day on which it was discover’d; the north point Cape Tribulation because here began all our troubles. Before 10 o’Clock (p.m.) we had 20 and 21 fathoms and continued in that depth until a few minutes before 11, when we had 17, and before the man at the lead could heave another cast the ship struck and stuck fast.”
The Endeavour remained stuck on the reef for 23 hours before she was floated off by pulling a sail under her hull so that she wouldn’t sink – no mean feat when most of the men aboard couldn’t even swim! Cook and his crew limped the ship into the mouth of a river, modern day Cooktown, and the 86 men decamped exhausted, unloading their cargo of sheep, pigs, ducks and a goat. They remained here for 48 days, the longest time that Cook ever spent on Australian soil.
There’s hardly a soul to be seen on Wonga Beach, whatever the time of the day, but at the crack of dawn, when the trade winds are calm and the flat Coral Sea shimmers with the approaching light, there is literally no one in sight along the entire stretch of beach. It truly is a magical place and, I would imagine, hardly changed from when Cook ran aground just off this coast – or for millennia for that matter. Vast empty and wild at heart.
There’s a sun-bleached tree log that’s been washed up on the beach with our names on it, the perfect spot to sit and wait for the sun to pop up over the horizon and turn the sky and the sea the most spectacular colours. We never tire of sunrises here and find ourselves each and every morning sitting alone, emptying our heads and soaking in this truly wonderous and wild place.