Seeing Green: Daintree's rainforest canopy, as seen from the top of the observation tower (Nathan Borchelt)

Where’s a cheap place to stay in Australia’s Cape Tribulation?

Where is a good place to stay in Australia's Cape Tribulation without breaking the bank? Karin Olympia, Wa


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You’re right to want to go to Cape Tribulation, Karin. Cape Trib—as it’s known locally—sits within the Daintree Rainforest, part of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Wet Tropical Region of Queensland, which covers over two acres and stretches for 280 miles along Australia’s northeastern coast. The hour-and-a-half-long drive from Cairns to the Daintree River—the rainforest’s southern border—is reason enough to visit. You leave the urban bustle and head north, hugging the honeycombed coastline as the aquamarine Coral Sea glimmers on the horizon before turning inland and zipping through rolling fields rife with banana, orange, and sugarcane crops. Then you reach the river, cross into the rainforest on a rickety, cable-pulled ferry, and enter another world.


Daintree Seeing Green: Daintree’s rainforest canopy, as seen from the top of the observation tower

Envision a dense, vibrant-green maze with walls made of monument-sized trees, sinewy vines, beach blanket-sized leaves, 4,500-foot peaks, and voluminous sheets of rain, interspersed with all manner of wildlife, gurgling rainforest rivers and waterfalls, and pockets of pristine beachfront. Though exact measurements are hard to calculate, experts peg the Daintree at around 135 million years old. It’s inhabited by the world’s largest population of plant and animal life, including 430 bird species and 30 percent of Australia’s frogs, marsupials, and reptiles—all within a landmass that’s 0.2 percent of the size of its host continent. Oh, and then there’s that little thing known as the Great Barrier Reef. Cape Trib is the only place in the world where two World Heritage sites meet; mangroves actually grow out from the inner fringes of the coral reef system on Cape Tribulation Beach, and you can take daylong jaunts to a variety of offshore dive sites—making rainforest hiking and world-class scuba diving a same-day option. The world’s largest barrier reef system alongside the world’s oldest rainforest? Sometimes superlatives say it all.

Unlike the Daintree’s biological complexity, logistics in the Cape Trib region are refreshingly simple. Whether in a car rental, on one of the day trips run out of Cairns or nearby Port Douglas, or by bus charter with Coral Reef Coaches (+61.07.4098.2800; www.coralreefcoaches.com.au), there’s only one real thoroughfare. After disembarking from the ferry, the road cuts east, linking up with Cape Kimberley Road, and then twists north through the village of Cow Bay and alongside several beaches before reaching Cape Trib—but the entire region is really just a smattering of shops, accommodations, restaurants, national-park boardwalks, and gob-smacking overlooks and beachfronts.

The range of accommodations varies considerably. At the lowest end of the spectrum, you can bed down at Noah Beach, five miles south of Cape Trib proper, which accommodates campers, mobile homes, and tents—just keep in mind that the region has distinct wet and dry seasons, and even during the dry (from May to November), the Daintree gets lots of rain.

For a firm shelter over your heads at a reasonable price, try PK’s Jungle Village (+61.7.4098.0040; www.pksjunglevillage.com.au), which offers inexpensive backpacker-style accommodations in a variety of setups (four-person cabins, dorms, and campgrounds) nestled into a stretch of the rainforest. It’s got a pool, the beach is a short walk away, and the Jungle Bar is the best (okay…the only) thing going in terms of Cape Trib nightlife. The crowds are your expected mix of vacationing Aussie students and globe-hoppers.

If you want to live large, there are two luxe accommodations: The three-star Ferntree Rainforest Lodge (+61.2.8296.8010; www.ferntreelodge.com.au), and the high-end Coconut Beach Rainforest Lodge (+61.2.8296.8010; www.coconutbeach.com.au). The former has low-pitched buildings that blend into the surrounding landscape and manicured gardens that attract the surrounding wildlife. The latter has either deluxe, duplex-style rooms with private decks literally surrounded by the rainforest, or Rainforest Retreats—freestanding buildings nestled further into the Daintree. Both are pricey, but they’re also both entirely eco-sensitive, should that placate the guilt of splurging for an overnight stay. And even if you don’t stay at either hotel, be sure to grab a sundowner—or hit the breakfast buffet—at the Cape Tribulation Restaurant and Bar, which is opposite the Coconut Beach Rainforest Lodge. You enter via a wooden boardwalk that weaves through a stretch of rainforest, and the dining room looks out at the rainforest-lined beachfront.

Regardless of where you stay, consider reserving some of your budget for one or two of the many day trips on offer, from sea kayaking and jungle treks with indigenous Aborigines to sunrise yoga on the beach and 4×4 safaris to hidden swimming holes and waterfalls. And if you want to get out to the Great Barrier Reef, you’ve got two options: Rum Runners (+07. 4098.0061; www.rumrunner.com.au) and Odyssey H20 (www.coconutbeach.com.au/odyssey-h2o), who are affiliated with Coconut Beach Rainforest Lodge. Rum Runners appeals more to the backpacking crowd, with a max of 44 passengers aboard a 40-foot motored sailboat that reaches the reef in 75 minutes. Odyssey H2O’s motorboat reaches the reef in 45 minutes, and caps its groups at 30. And because of the nominal depth at these reef systems, it’s possible to scuba dive without certification; a 45-minute orientation gets you under the surface for up to 20 minutes. Information on all outfitted trips is available at your accommodation, or at PK’s Jungle Bar.

One word of caution: don’t let the Daintree overwhelm logic. Salt- and freshwater crocs ply the river estuaries, poisonous plants are part of the rainforest, and deadly box jellyfish bob off Cape Trib’s coast from October to June (one sting typically triggers shock—and drowning—before you can reach the shore). In short, don’t go wandering in the forest or into the water on your own. If you’re fixated on low-cost alternatives, chill at Cape Trib and Myall beaches, explore the boardwalk paths and marked hiking routes (especially the one-mile Dubuji Boardwalk that links the road to Myall Beach), and drop in on the Daintree Discovery Center (www.daintree-rec.com.au), just before Cow Bay. The name may sound more like Disney than genuine Aussie, but it has several boardwalks through the rainforest, an 82-foot-tall observation tower that ascends to the rainforest canopy, and a variety of exhibits to help you wrap your head around this biologically complex land. Don’t expect to learn everything about the Daintree—naturalists in the region admit they’ve barely tapped the surface of the many mysteries in the rainforest—but this orientation will make you want to delve deeper into its many wonders.
—Nathan Borchelt

For more information on Daintree and scuba diving off Cape Tribulation, read “The Rainforest and the Reef.”

For additional info on all things Aussie—including a personalized guide to the Outback, feature articles, screensavers, photo galleries, and more, check out our Interactive Guide to Australia.

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021 Lead Photo: Nathan Borchelt