The Oldest Tropical Rainforest in the World

Day 422

One of the tours that I signed up for in Cairns was to take me on the Kuranda Scenic Railway to the Daintree Rainforest. The Queensland tropical north has the oldest living rainforest on earth. The train ride would take me directly through Barron Gorge National Park. 

A shuttle bus picked me up near my Airbnb and dropped us off at the train station. There were different tours to chose from, so the driver gave me the tickets I needed. It was pretty much self-guided, but they provided transportation, tickets, and a schedule. 

I was a little early to the train station, so I grabbed a quick breakfast and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. When I got on the 100-year-old train, I was instructed to sit on a bench, and I could get right against the window. 

The train ride took an hour to get to the top. It was incredible! I watched the old train slowly making its way up the steep mountain surrounded by a thick rain forest. Bright green trees engulfed us. Because of the curves, I was able to see the front and middle parts of the train, creating a postcard-perfect shot. 

As we climbed higher and higher, I could see the city at the bottom and mountains all around us to the west. It was one of the few times that I saw a mountain range in Australia. The rainforest was thick, lush, and wet – a striking difference from the outback.

The train stopped when we arrived at a gigantic waterfall. There was a platform where we could walk outside and take pictures for ten minutes. 

There was some commentary on the train, and here are some things I learned:

  • The train track was built in 1891 because miners in the area were on the brink of famine. It was too difficult to get food and supplies to them because of mountains and forests. The road from Port Douglas was becoming impassable. 
  • Thirty-two men died when building the railway. It is even rumored that more died from snake bites. 
  • The train runs from Cairns across The Great Dividing Range to Kuranda and on to Tablelands Atherton. 
  • There are 15 handmade tunnels and 37 bridges. It goes from sea level to 328 meters (1,076 feet).

The train arrived at Kuranda, and there was a waterfall at the top when we got off the train. I had about 40 minutes to look around before starting a wildlife park tour. I browsed the shops and walked around the small town. 

At the wildlife park, there was a small group of us scheduled for a tour. A guy walked us to a koala who had a tiny baby on her, suckling. He explained that they’re only pregnant for 35 days. 

We walked around and saw wombats. They were much stockier than I realized and looked like large rodents. 

We continued walking around as we learned about the animals. The guide told us that the saltwater crocodile there was 80 years old and can live up to 100 years old. The guide pointed out that while they can be very dangerous, more people die from crocodiles in Asia than in Australia. Freshwater crocodiles are only in Australia, and they’re not as aggressive. There are also saltwater crocs in the country, and they are fierce. When they lay their eggs, the temperature will determine the sex. 

Next, we saw kangaroos. There are 50-60 million kangaroos in Australia. I always love spending time with them, so I bought a bag of food and fed some as I did in Adelaide. These kangaroos weren’t very hungry, so it was harder to get them to eat from my hand. They were just lounging around. 

I spent some time walking around on my own and saw a cassowary, a massive, flightless bird. The birds are generally passive, but they can cause severe harm or death to humans if provoked. The cassowary is the largest land animal, weighing between 35-60 kg (77-132 lbs). There is one on record as weighing a whopping 85 kg (187 lbs)! One sign read, “Male cassowaries are responsible for hatching the eggs (on the nest for about 50 days!) and look after the chicks for the first 9 to 18 months.”

Next, I passed by a cage with dingos inside. They just looked like regular dogs to me, so it was hard to imagine them as deadly. 

It was time for my scheduled lunch, so I walked over to the Buffett at the wildlife park. They had kangaroo meat to eat, which I felt was pretty messed up, considering it was a place where you can feed and interact with them. I tasted a tiny bit and didn’t like it – mostly because I couldn’t get it out of my mind that it was a kangaroo, which I love. I know, it’s just like the time that I ate fish and chips right after snorkeling

The next portion of my tour was a duck boat cruise. The boat was old and rickety. There were wheels that allowed the boat to drive on land, which is how we were picked up. I was seated up front, just behind the driver. He said the old vehicles were from the U.S. Army, but they weren’t used in combat. Instead, they were used to take supplies on land and water.

The driver talked on a speaker as he drove through the jungle, telling us about the rainforest:

  • Only 1% of the world’s tropics are located there.
  • There are hundreds of species of termites that live there. 
  • Some of their trees look like giant ferns, and they’re called tree ferns. 

The stinging tree grows in the rainforest, and it’s one of the world’s most poisonous plants. Josh (who I had met in Whistler) is from Cairns, and when I arrived there, he messaged me to warn me about this plant. I added it to my “list of things that want to kill me in Australia,” and I never suspected plants to be added to the likes of sharks and snakes. 

Even if you barely touch it, the little hairs will poison you. The leaves sort of look like hearts, making it clear that love is poisonous. The short hairs stick inside your skin, slowing poisoning you over the next six months. Even today, there isn’t a cure. People are hospitalized but live in agony. In this article, a woman says, “Being stung is the worst kind of pain you can imagine – like being burnt with hot acid and electrocuted at the same time.”

The tour guide pointed one out, and it was just off the path! I could almost touch it, and he warned me to keep my arms inside the boat. It’s rumored that in 1942, a U.S. Army man used the plant as toilet paper, and it drove him mad, which led to his suicide. It’s also rumored that a horse got stung and jumped off a cliff due to the pain. It’s why it is nicknamed “the suicide plant.” 

We continued driving through the forest and then into the water. The tour guide pointed out the Fan Palm, which grows extremely slow. It’s nicknamed “wait-a-while-palm.” It has a tendril and spikes under the leaves, which grab trees to support it and grow. 

Once the boat tour was finished, I was directed to go to an aboriginal show outside. It was well done and a beautiful show of dancing. Next, we broke into smaller groups and watched them throw spears. 

Once the spear-throwing was finished, we watched them throw boomerangs. We each got a chance to throw one too. I was nervous because people were watching, and I sucked at it. It’s tough to get it to come back to you, but the aboriginals did a fantastic job. Some tourists could get it to return, but it was too high or far away to catch it. 

Once that portion was complete, I took a bus to the Skyrail. It’s a gondola that is suspended high above the rainforest and mountains. The creators of the movie Avatar took pictures from the gondola and used it as their inspiration for the film. The trees were some of the tallest and skinniest that I’ve ever seen! 

The gondola takes you back to Cairns through the mountains. It makes two stops, and it was our choice to get off and walk around a bit. I got off at the first stop and walked around. The lookout was an incredible view of Barron Falls, a long waterfall.

The next stop had a boardwalk through the forest and took me to the massive tree more than 400 years old. There were such unique trees and plant life there. One tree looked like it had a basket on top. 

A nearby sign read, “250 million years ago, the most severe extinction event in history – “The Great Dying” – killed a staggering 96% of all species on our planet. Today all life on Earth is descended from the 4% of species that survived.” 

Another sign talked about the ice age, “Up to 100 million years ago, rainforests dominated the Australian landscape. However, over the last 10 million years, they have slowly dried out. Over the last 500,000 years large amounts of rainforest have been lost, mainly due to the effect of the ice ages.”

At the platform to get back on the gondola, there were some signs about local animals and critters. One sign read, “Beware! Poison-eating caterpillar! In summer Birdwing butterflies lay their eggs on Dutchman’s Pipe vines in the rainforest. These vines are poisonous – but not to the Birdwing caterpillars. They store toxins from the vines within orange spines on their backs…a warning to predators that they are NOT a tasty treat!” Excellent – I also need to avoid eating poisonous caterpillars and touching the poisonous vines.

I got back on the gondola and enjoyed the views as it started to descend back to Cairns. I had a gondola all to myself and was in love with the rainforest. There are more than 3000 plant species in the forest – 395 are listed as rare or threatened. The rainforest is 12,000 square kilometers (7,450 miles).

When I arrived back at the bottom of the gondola station, I boarded the shuttle and was dropped off at my Airbnb. I ordered some Thai food and relaxed. I was thrilled to be in Cairns. It’s the only place in the world where two World Heritage Sites meet (The Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest). I still had several days to explore the area, and I couldn’t wait! 

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Published by Christy

I quit my corporate job and sold my house in Los Angeles so I can travel and write. I grew up in St. Louis, MO and moved to the Los Angeles area after college. I worked in the business world for 15 years. Follow along to see pictures and hear stories of people I've met along my journey so far - driving to Alaska.

5 thoughts on “The Oldest Tropical Rainforest in the World

  1. Looking at that map of Australia with western Europe nestled inside, made my jaw drop! It really put it into perspective. I’m also making a list of things that can kill you from the things you’re mentioning, for if/when I ever get there. lol

    How did the kangaroo taste, if you could compare it to something?

    1. Right?! Australia is huge, especially western! That’s too funny about your list! 😂

      The kangaroo is lean so to me, it was dry and tough. Almost like a really lean beef.

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