'The holiday destination that ticked two locations on my bucket list without leaving Australia.'

Since I was young I have been obsessed with all things 'under the sea'. I still remember a lesson in primary school where I learned all about marine life and then came home and recounted the entire said lesson to my mum (I'm sure she found it all very interesting). I also credit The Simpsons episode where Homer decides he and his family are going to start a new life under the sea, but I digress...

In what I would consider a pretty obvious turn of events, sharks became my favourite animal. When I was at uni, I decided to go shark diving where I did scuba for the first time and no, the sharks can't eat you and yes, I absolutely loved it and would recommend it. 

Then a few years ago, I was lucky enough to visit the almost untouched Pacific island of Niue where my husband's father is from. We went snorkelling almost every day and have not stopped talking about it ever since.

It's because of these experiences that I have wanted to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef for well, forever. We're incredibly lucky that Australia is home to so many unique sights and when considering bucket list experiences, you really can't look past our own backyard. 

So I jumped at the chance to visit Daintree and Cape Tribulation in Tropical North Queensland, the only place in the world where two UNESCO world heritage sites — the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef — meet.

If you're looking to explore the two iconic locations, either as a couple (I visited with my husband) or with your family, here is the itinerary I would suggest:


Drive from Cairns to Cape Tribulation.

When we arrived at Cairns airport, we picked up a hire car from Avis and started our drive to Cape Tribulation. The drive itself is about three hours including crossing the Daintree River using the Daintree Ferry.

You can definitely do the drive door to door but if you want to add in a break, particularly if you have kids with you, I'd suggest stopping at Port Douglas which is roughly the halfway point. There are lots of options for food and you can pick up any things you might need from the local supermarket. It's also a lovely area to explore the local shops or get an ice cream (or both).

When you continue on to Cape Tribulation, it's a good idea to allow some extra travel time after you cross the Daintree River. 

In December last year, heavy rainfall from Tropical Cyclone Jasper led to multiple landslides that damaged the roads connecting the Northern Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation. While the road is now open, repairs are still underway, so travelling up and down can take a little longer than usual.

Stay at Cape Tribulation Beach House.

When we arrived at Cape Tribulation, we checked in at the Cape Trib Beach House which is the furthest accommodation before the road ends. And I can guarantee you've seen nothing like it. It sits on seven acres of rainforest with beach land running alongside it. 

As I mentioned, it is the only place in the world where the two UNESCO world heritage sites of the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef meet. It's pretty special to say the least.


Our cabin at the Cape Trib Beach House. Image: Supplied.

We stayed in the Ribbon Superior cabins, which have a queen bed, single bed, air conditioning, a fridge, private ensuite and shared balcony. 

We quickly learned on arrival that there is no phone signal or Wi-Fi available. You're well and truly off-grid. But when you're standing in one of the most beautiful natural locations in the world, you definitely don't miss it. There's also nothing quite like waking up to the sounds of the rainforest and the beach at the same time.


We had most of our meals at The Tides Bar and Restaurant which is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks. It sits under a tented canopy filled with fairy lights just off of the beach. Our favourite meal was the seared scallops special for entrée and local grilled barramundi and beef for mains. We also couldn't go past the strawberry cheesecake for dessert. Yum.

I still dream about these scallops. Image: Supplied.


Local grilled barramundi and beef. Image: Supplied.

Take a guided tour of the Daintree.

The following morning Joe from Down Under Tours picked us up for a full day guided tour. Being with the company for over six years, Joe was incredibly knowledgeable of the local area and had so much information to share with us.

Almost immediately after driving out of the Beach House, Joe pointed out a cassowary crossing the road. As we continued on he pointed out a second cassowary that was feeding on some berries. Two cassowary sightings down, I was sure Joe had organised a chat with them beforehand, but our day hadn't even truly started.


The second cassowary we spotted. Image: Supplied.

Our itinerary for the rest of the day included the following:

Daintree River Cruise.

This is Scarface. Image: Supplied.


After the cassowary spottings, we continued to drive towards the Daintree Ferry where we got on a boat for the Daintree River Cruise. Our skipper Al, having already been out that morning, could point out not one, but four crocodiles aptly named by locals as Scarface, Dusty Rose (who happens to be Scarface's girlfriend and together are known as Mr and Mrs Daintree), Charlotte and Dusty. We also spotted a kingfisher as well as some other local birds while learning more about the Daintree River and the mangroves that surround it.


Alexandra Lookout.

The view from Alexandra Lookout. Image: Supplied.

From there we drove to Alexandra Lookout which had an amazing uninterrupted view of the Daintree Rainforest, the oldest living rainforest connected to a beach in the world. From here you are able to see the Daintree River mouth, Snapper Island and Low Isles. You are also able to see the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics at the same time.

Daintree Discovery Centre.

We also visited the Daintree Discovery Centre, which is filled with lots of different activities including rainforest boardwalks, an aerial walkway, canopy tower, interpretive centre and discovery theatre. 


We picked up an audio guide from reception and as you walk around the centre and reach different points, you can select the numbers associated with the section to listen to the audio clip. Here we also saw lots of the famous blue Ulysses butterflies the area is known for. It was a great way to get to know more about the local flora and fauna and would be a great activity to do as a family.

Daintree Heritage Lodge.

Following on from the Discovery Centre we visited the Daintree Heritage Lodge for lunch. It is located about halfway between the Daintree Ferry and Cape Tribulation. The restaurant itself is on the edge of the beautiful Cooper Creek with the entire location being open air. It was an incredible spot for lunch to stop and admire the view.

Madja Boardwalk.

The Madja Boardwalk. Image: Supplied.


Our final stop was the Madja Boardwalk that gave us an incredible closeup view of the Daintree Rainforest. It was an easy walk to complete, and it felt like being in the Willy Wonka of the natural world. The Daintree has more plant life than anywhere else in the world, including the Amazon jungle. It was filled with buttress roots, basket ferns and mangroves just to name a very, very few.

Go snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef.

The following day, we were prepared for what we considered the main event: snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef. We did a half-day tour with Ocean Safari that visited two different snorkel locations, Mackay Reef and Undine Reef. It is the only tour in the world that takes you from one world heritage site to another, making it a very special experience.

It took our skipper Brooke about 25 minutes to get to the first snorkel location which was one of the benefits of this particular experience. You spend less time travelling to the reef which means you get more time to explore it. The rigid inflatable boat itself also allows for about 25 passengers so it is a much smaller group than you would typically visit the reef with.


Some of the fish and coral we saw while snorkelling. Image: Supplied.

When visiting the two locations we were accompanied by our Eco Host, Conor, who was able to tell us lots about the local area. When snorkelling the two locations it was incredible to see all of the different types of coral with marine life surrounding it. We saw lots of brightly coloured tropical fish, giant clams and starfish.

Finally, we took a quick visit to the coral cay (an island formed from sediments that come from the reef) just near Undine Reef, which was an experience in and of itself considering only 300 of the 3,400 reefs have a coral cay nearby. It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience and what felt like a couple of minutes was actually hours spent exploring the reef.


Stay at the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort.

When we arrived back from our reef tour, we freshened up and then drove back from Cape Tribulation to Port Douglas to check in at the Sheraton Grand Mirage Port Douglas. If you're looking for privacy and to really feel like you're in another world, the beach-front Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort is the place to stay. It has enough restaurants, bars, pools and activities that once you are there, you really don't have to leave if you don't want to. To say it's big is an understatement. It sits on 147 hectares of tropical gardens, including two hectares of lagoons and an 18-hole golf course.

Our room at the Sheraton Grand Mirage Port Douglas. Image: Supplied.


We stayed in a studio lagoon view room that had lagoon access and included a king bed, a spacious marble bathroom with double sinks, full amenities like a fridge and minibar, TV, lounge area, plenty of wardrobe space and a private area where you could sit next to the lagoon that also included a swim out. The room itself had a coastal feel to match the surroundings, was incredibly luxurious and included all the things you would expect from a five star resort.

The lagoon access from our room. Image: Supplied.


After settling in we sat in a private cabana for the afternoon and enjoyed cocktails by the lagoon. It was the best way to start relaxing and enjoy the grounds of the resort.

Go snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. Again.

If you're visiting the Great Barrier Reef to snorkel, you really need to grab the opportunity with both hands (fins?). So the following day we decided to do a second reef tour, but explore a different section, this time from Port Douglas. And I'm really glad we did because the experiences we had were so different.

This time we did a full day reef tour with Quicksilver that took us to the outer reef. This is the sort of experience that I would suggest for families as there was so much to do, particularly if you don't actually want to get in the water but still want to have the experience. You have the options of scuba diving, snorkelling, fly in a helicopter over the reef, or view it from the underwater observatory or semi-submersible one metre under the water.

The fish we captured using our underwater camera. Image: Supplied.


The catamaran carried hundreds of people on it and took over an hour to arrive at Agencourt Reef where you get onto the pontoon they have stationed. 

Prior to getting on the pontoon, we listened to a presentation from a marine biologist who gave us lots of information on what we could expect to see while snorkelling. They had both morning tea, afternoon tea and lunch included on the catamaran, but my husband and I decided to skip lunch to tactically get us as much time in the water as possible.


We had all of our gear included and suited up before heading to the snorkel platform where you can get into the water. The sections are roped off for beginners and more advanced swimmers. We spent a good two hours in the water and the experience was incredible. 

The water was much deeper than the previous reef experience and we saw lots of different types of coral and fish. But the most exciting was of course a clown fish (otherwise known as Nemo) that my husband spotted and two leopard sharks at the very bottom of the reef. If you're going to do any experience on the reef, I would recommend this one.

Have a rum tasting at the Daintree Bar followed by dinner at the Lagoon House.

When our transfer from Quicksilver arrived back at the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort, we had showers and got ready for dinner. But first we had a rum tasting at the Daintree Bar. We sampled three types of rum made by Mount Uncle Distillery which pays homage to the cane cutters who arrived in the region over 100 years ago. Mount Uncle has a distillery located on an 800-acre property, set near a banana plantation that is next to the local sugar mill.

Rum tasting at the Daintree Bar. Image: Supplied.


Following our tasting we then had dinner at the Lagoon House which as you'd expect is right next to the lagoon. The food served is modern Asian and if you're a fan of Bang Bang in Byron Bay or Wildginger Huskisson, you will enjoy this.

We had the 1/2 dozen oysters 'katsu' pickled seaweed and hot sauce and crispy eggplant 'lee ho fook' spiced red vinegar for entrée. 

Oysters 'katsu' pickled seaweed and hot sauce and crispy eggplant 'lee ho fook' spiced red vinegar. Image: Supplied.


For mains we had the smoked wagyu brisket, white kimchi and sisig, sizzling Filipino diced pork, time, onions and an egg and green papaya salad, peanut, chilli, garlic for main.

Smoked wagyu brisket, white kimchi and sisig, sizzling Filipino diced pork, time, onions and an egg and green papaya salad, peanut, chilli, garlic. Image: Supplied.


We finished it off with the crème brûlée, Pandan, coconut and chocolate biscuit. Every dish we ate was more delicious than the next but as someone with a big sweet tooth, you really can't go past the Pandan crème brûlée.

Crème brûlée, Pandan, coconut and chocolate biscuit. Image: Supplied.


We enjoyed it so much we had breakfast there the following day prior to checking out. (Tip: it's a lot less busy than the buffet).

Drive to Mossman Gorge and take a Dreamtime Walk at Mossman Gorge Centre.

The following day after checking out we drove to Mossman Gorge Centre for a Dreamtime Walk. It gave us an entirely new respect and appreciation for the Daintree. It was conducted by Trevayne from Kuku Yalanji people who are the Indigenous inhabitants of the land and have a history dating back 50,000 years to the earliest human occupation of Australia.

The walk began with a traditional 'smoking' ceremony to ward off any bad spirits before Trevayne led us into the Daintree telling us dreamtime stories, how traditional plants were used for food and medicine and sharing the special relationship between his people and the rainforest along the way. He told us which plants were used for birth control, deep wounds, toothaches, arthritis and much more.

Trevayne during the Dreamtime Walk at Mossman Gorge Centre (taken with permission). Image: Supplied.


Trevayne also told us that King Charles visited to do the walk in 2011 but got too hot in his suit to complete it, so had to turn back. It made me feel very accomplished when I had completed the walk. At the end we sat around a wooden table to enjoy traditional Daintree bush tea and damper. It was a very special experience.

Have lunch at Silky Oaks.

After the visit to Mossman Gorge, we drove to Silky Oaks for lunch at the Treehouse Restaurant. The view itself was incredible sitting in the open air on the very edge of the Daintree Rainforest in the middle of nature. The decor perfectly matched the surroundings and the space itself felt very tranquil.


Kingfish ceviche and buffalo mozzarella. Image: Supplied.

Slow cooked short rib with sides. Image: Supplied.


We enjoyed a glass of sparking followed by kingfish ceviche and buffalo mozzarella for entrée and the slow cooked short rib for main from the contemporary Australian menu. It was a delicious experience and the perfect way to end our trip before driving back to Cairns airport to head home.

What bucket list locations do you have on your list to visit? Tell us in the comments section below.

Mamamia travelled as a guest of Tourism Tropical North Queensland. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's own.

Image: Supplied/Daintree Discovery Centre/Valentina Todoroska.

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