When walking through a rainforest, the usual view is one from the ground with just glimpses of what’s happening high in the canopy. The tallest trees reach towards the sun, their trunks seemingly never ending. Lianas swing from on high, looping down and turning up again. Fern fronds reach out to catch raindrops before they reach the ground.
It’s possible though to see the Daintree Rainforest in far north Queensland from a different perspective – looking down instead of up, from the aerial walkways and canopy tower at the Daintree Discovery Centre.
We began our rainforest journey on the aerial walkway, starting outside the coffee shop and rising quickly into the canopy. Even though there were several people on the walkway everyone seemed awed by their surroundings and the only sounds were those of nature. The treetops whispered as the wind blew gently past, the water in McCleans Creek bubbled over the rocks and unseen birds called to each other.
The tropical rainforest of the Daintree region is the oldest in the world, with some parts aged at more than 150 million years. Thirteen of the world’s most primitive plant species survive in the forest and the oldest trees are known as green dinosaurs. As he strolled along the walkway, a young man whistled softly to himself; the theme to Jurassic Park was the perfect choice in this ancient landscape.
The aerial walkway led us to the canopy tower, which rises 23 metres over five levels above the floor of the forest. At the third level we leaned over the railing to peer into a bird’s nest fern growing on a nearby tree, hoping to catch a glimpse of the amethystine python which often rests amongst the leaves. He wasn’t there but looking down to the forest floor we spotted a bush pig searching for food, with four fat, brown piglets following closely behind.
As we climbed to the fourth level we came across a man sitting alone. His family had gone to the top of the tower but, daunted by the height, he was patiently waiting for them to return. His young son bounded down the steps with encouraging words and, reluctantly rising to his feet, the man mustered his courage to climb the last flight of stairs. “I will come up but I might never be able to come down again,” he said. His effort was rewarded as he tentatively arrived at the top platform. He avoided going close to the railing and sat for a while on a bench in the middle. “Now I’m here, I may as well relax and enjoy the view,” he said. It was a view well worth enjoying, over the treetops to the forest clad mountains in the distance.
Back down at the base of the tower, in the Display Centre, we found some elusive inhabitants of the forest, including the cassowary. This large flightless bird, related to both the Australian emu and the New Zealand kiwi, is native to the tropical forests of northern Australia and New Guinea and although we’d been looking carefully we hadn’t seen a real one. Other residents of the forest, including bearded dragons and pythons, live in the Reptile House next door.
The Indigenous Bush Tucker Trail gave us another unique perspective on the rainforest. By following the interpretive signs along this boardwalk on the forest floor, we learned how the indigenous people of this area used rainforest plants for food, tools and medicines; and it wasn’t only the aboriginal people who found sustenance in the forest. Metal sculptures half hidden in the undergrowth depict the giant ancestors of today’s much-loved native animals, which roamed the forests in the time of the dinosaurs.
Luckily, the only creatures we came across were butterflies and birds, flitting from one tropical plant to the next. In the heat of the day the rest of the forest’s residents were unseen. Perhaps we need to visit the rainforest at the Discovery Centre again, early in the morning or in the late afternoon, to see not just the flora from this unique perspective but the animals of the forest as well.
Our visit was hosted by the Daintree Discovery Centre.