Croc-hunting in Daintree Daintree National Park

Daintree is the oldest rainforest in the world, dating from when Australia was still part of the Gondwanaland supercontinent some 180 million years ago. It is also the largest continuous area of tropical rainforest in Australia, so it has plenty of worthy claims for its World Heritage listing. Our visit began at Mossman Gorge, and although it was swarming with tourists, it was impressive for its sheer scale. Essentially, it looked a lot like a gentle stream, criss-crossed with stepping stones – only it was enormous, with boulders taking the place of pebbles. We half expected to see a giant’s foot skipping across the stones.

Next stop was a cruise up the Daintree River to continue our croc hunt. It didnt take long. Within minutes, the boat pulled up right next to a crocodile lazing on the riverbank – easily close enough for it to jump up if it really wanted to. Our guide assured us that crocs are actually more the shy and retiring type, as he proceeded to tell stories of one that got curious and jumped aboard, resulting in a Crocodile Dundee-style wrestle and a black and blue torso from the whips of its tail. And another that was just ‘practising’ its show of aggression, in preparation for any rival dominant male trying to get in on his hareem. The training programme apparently involved sprinting to within a metre of its target (in this instance, the boat) and standing up to its full height, teeth laid bare.

That must have been pretty hair-raising for the tourists on those trips, but the crocs we saw looked fairly placid. The first was so still, with no external signs of breathing or blinking, that I was contemplating whether it was in fact a papier mache joke-croc, just to please the tourists (it wasn’t). Most of them seemed entirely indifferent to our arrival, though perhaps a little peeved that the wash from the boat was getting them wet as they tried to catch some rays.

After seeing adult crocs ranging from three to five metres in length, it was a surprise when the guide pointed out a baby amidst the mangroves. At five months old, I was expecting to see something about a metre big. Instead, if you looked really closely, there lay a teensy tiny little crocodile – more of a gecko really – sitting on a log. You forget that these huge creatures hatch out of eggs. They may be small, but they’re still pretty self-sufficient predators from a very young age.

After the excitement of the crocodiles, we headed on to Cape Tribulation “where the rainforest meets the reef”. After a spot of slow-motion rally-car racing along the windy roads, we hit the sandy beach with its picture-perfect backdrop of palm trees and tropical forest. Walking through, it was easy to spot the abrupt line where the rainforest turns into mangrove, bringing a distinctive shift in the plantlife.

It makes you realise just how clever nature is when you see some of the ingenious ways plants here have adapted to life in a flood zone. I am sure our friend and global mangroves expert Dan will correct all of this, but we saw trees that had huge roots to anchor them in soft mud and elevate them out of the water. We saw others whose roots act like snorkels, poking up above the waterline to breathe. There were others whose seed pods explode rather than simply dropping to the waterlogged ground, allowing the seeds to spread over the greatest possible surface area. Clever!

On the dark drive home, just as I was being lulled into a gentle snooze, Joe slammed on the brakes, but couldn’t avoid the huge rock in the middle of the ‘motorway’ – it turns out those ‘falling rocks’ signs aren’t kidding. The ker-thump, ker-thump from the front wheel signalled a flat tyre. Neither of us had every changed a wheel before. And the rental company’s support service was “experiencing a high volume of calls”. Just as we were contemplating giving it a go, a passing Australian asked if we needed a hand and we accepted enthusiastically. If you were to imagine an Aussie knight in shining armour, I think he would fit the description – huge arms, big smile and an air of total competence. He basically did the whole job singlehandedly, as we stood by feeling incredibly useless and passed tools on request. The wheel was changed in five minutes flat (unintended pun), it seems you get a lot of practice if you drive regularly on Queensland’s roads, and he seemed more than happy to help out and demonstrate a bit of Queensland hospitality. Thank you, Luke!