What to Know About the Daintree Rainforest

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The Daintree Rainforest is a unique, ancient and fascinating part of the planet.  Here's a quick overview of just a few of the things that make this remarkable part of Australia truly special.

It's the world's oldest rainforest

Yep.  It's true.  The Daintree is an estimated 180 million years old.  This is tens of millions of years older than the Amazon rainforest.  For a bit more perspective on just how old this is, the dinosaurs died out some 65 million years ago.  In many ways, taking a tour of this part of the world is about as close as you will ever get to hopping inside a time machine.  There are ancient plant lineages here that date back to the Early Jurassic period of the Gondwana supercontinent, and are found nowhere else.

It's a world heritage area

Most of the Daintree Rainforest is contained within the Wet Tropics region of Queensland.  UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has recognised the unique value of this part of the world by proclaiming it a world heritage area.  Their reasons for doing this include the area's exceptional natural beauty, the diverse living record of ancient flora contained here (and nowhere else), the incredible diversity of plants and animals contained here, including many rare species, and the fact that this area of tropical rainforest remains rather untouched compared to many lowland tropical rainforests around the world.

It's right next to another world heritage area

The Daintree Rainforest is right smack bang next to the Great Barrier Reef.  This is the only spot in the world where two world heritage sites meet.  The Great Barrier Reef is spectacular in its own right - it's an international icon of vividly coloured aquatic lifeforms.  The reef itself stretches for 2300 kilometres, making it easily the world's largest living structure, and the only terrestrial lifeform that can be seen from outer space.  Do you really want to go your whole life without seeing this up close and personal?  The close proximity of the Daintree Rainforest to the Reef makes it an easy decision to base yourself in Cairns for a few days and tour both of these unique and spectacular natural wonders in the same trip.

Incredible animal diversity

The Daintree Rainforest is home for a great many weird and wonderful critters.  There's the White-lipped Tree Frog, the world largest tree frog, which sometimes barks like a dog and sometimes mews like a cat.  There's also the Ulysses Butterfly, a bright metallic blue rainforest flyer with a wingspan of 14 centimetres across.  Then there's the Bennett's Tree Kangaroo, a small tree-climbing marsupial that's kinda as close as any marsupial gets to being a monkey.  The impressively massive Cassowary also lives here, with its brightly coloured neck and idiosyncratic behaviours.

It's huge

At around 1,200 square kilometres, this is the largest contiguous area of rainforest in Australia.  This is large as New York City, and approximately 14 times the size of the island of Manhattan.  The entire Wet Tropics world heritage area as a whole is a massive 12,000 square kilometres.  This is more than 16 times the size of the island of Singapore, an area of the world home to five and a half million people.

It gets so much rain

Australia is a notoriously dry continent.  Australia is widely known as a land of droughts and deserts and shifting, sunblasted sands.  The facts support this popular image too: it's the driest of all the continents that support human settlement, with only Antarctica being drier.  The Daintree Rainforest, however, is a very rainy exception to this parched rule.  It gets an average of 2013 mm of rain every year.  This is more rain than London gets in three years.

It's named for Richard Daintree

Richard Daintree was a 19th century Englishman who migrated to Australia and did much to explore and photograph North Queensland.  After migrating to Australia in 1852 and briefly participating in the Victorian gold rush, he later accepted an appointment in 1854 in the Victorian Geological Survey.  He later returned to England to study assaying, and in this time also developed an interest in photography.  By 1857 he was back in Australia, working for the Victorian Geological Survey until 1865, when he bought into a pastoral propery in Burdekin in north Queensland.  Over the next few years he discovered indications of gold in this part of the country, which attracted prospectors up north and promoted development of Queensland's gold resources.  In 1869 he was appointed Government Geologist for North Queensland, and photographed the new Cape River goldfields, which provide an amazing record of what life was like in this time and place.  Richard Daintree returned England in 1876 in poor health, and died of Tuberculosis a short couple of years later.  Not only is the Daintree Rainforest named for him, but also are the town of Daintree, Daintree National Park, the Daintree River and the Daintree Reef.

It's under threat

Though the Daintree Rainforest remains fairly untouched as compared to other lowland tropical rainforest areas around the world, there are unfortunately several serious threats to this irreplacable part of the world.  Climate change poses a huge threat to the Daintree Rainforest - even just a 1 degree change in average temperature in this part of the world could see many important species lose huge parts of their habitat here, and this would in turn impact the rest of the rainforest ecosystem.  Extinction also threatens the area - a vast number of plant species in this rainforest are either entirely or mostly reliant on just one endangered bird, the cassowary, for the distribution of their seeds.  Cassowary numbers are low and their continued existence is not assured.  If this bird does not survive then neither shall the incredible trees and other plants that rely on it for their reproduction, and this will in turn impact other animals that need these plants for their habitat.  Introduced species present further problems: feral animals prey upon natives and compete with them for food sources, while weeds compete with and replace native plants, which reduces habitats for native animals.

With such an array of threats facing the Daintree Rainforest, it's important to make the effort to see it while you still can!

Massive tropical trees

The stunning array of spectacular plants and animals of the Daintree Rainforest includes some terrifically tall trees.  The Bull Kauri is one, a very rare conifer endemic to north Queensland and threatened by habitat loss.  The Daintree Rainforest is home to a couple of these trees that stand over 40 metres.  The tallest of these is 44.2 metres tall, which is roughly the same height as the Statue of Liberty.  This rainforest is also home to Bunya Pines, another massive tree that can reach 40 metres in height.

Primitive flowering plants

A trip to the Daintree Rainforest is the closest thing you can get to hopping inside a time machine, so it makes sense that you'd find some of the most ancient examples of early flowering plants only here.  These are incredibly valuable to our understanding of how flowering plants first developed, and are fascinating in their own right too. 12 of world's 19 primitive plant families are found in the Daintree Rainforest.  The Idiospermum - commonly referred to as the "idiot fruit" - is one of the oldest forms of flowering plant that is found only in the Daintree Rainforest.  Some also refer to this tree as "the green dinosaur", as it probably dates from 120 million years ago.  This makes it almost twice as old as the famous Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Stunning scenery

Most of all, the Daintree Rainforest is absolutely gorgeous.  Streams, waterfalls, vividly coloured animals and exotic plants meet white sandy beaches and the achingly breathtaking ocean at the north Queensland coastline.  Only 2 hours drive from Cairns, it's rare that such a largely untouched wilderness can be so conveniently located by the comforts and amenities of civilisation.  Seeing this part of the planet up close and personal is definitely one for the bucket list.

To explore the Daintree Rainforest, book one of our Daintree Forest Tours.