While many people will visit the Cairns region specifically for the attractions of the Great Barrier Reef, just as many come to experience the verdant World Heritage-listed rainforest.

Rainforests are defined by high rainfall – 1750mm-2000mm per year – and are home to two-thirds of all animal and plant species on the planet.

Undamaged rainforests are easy for people and animals to access as undergrowth is sparse due to lack of sunlight at ground level. If the canopy is destroyed for any reason, the ground is taken over by vines, shrubs and small trees and becomes jungle.

daintree rainforest national park

There are many national parks in the Cairns region, but the most wellknown is the Daintree Rainforest National Park located about 110km north of Cairns via the Captain Cook Highway, about 40 minutes north of Port Douglas and Mossman.

Around 1200sq km, Daintree is one of Australia’s largest chunks of rainforest. It is said to contain 30 per cent of frog, marsupial and reptile species in Australia, about 65 per cent of Australia’s bat and butterfly species and 20 per cent bird species. All of this is located in a space that is only about 0.2 per cent of the landmass of Australia.

This world-heritage listed region saw huge media interest in 1983 when the then Douglas Shire Council tried to push a road through the rainforest from Cape Tribulation to Bloomfield.

Images of protesters chaining themselves to trees and throwing themselves in front of bulldozers travelled around the world and brought more attention to the area than ever before.

After the road was finally pushed through, a concerted campaign began to list the area on the World Heritage register and to ensure that further development wouldn’t continue. After years of legal battles, the region claimed its place on the World Heritage List on December 9, 1988.

Although the road continues, it is difficult to use during the wet season and many sections need 4WD to pass.

There are many tour operators in the region that can get visitors right into the rainforest and who operate sustainable and eco-friendly enterprises.

>> See National Parks for more information

The Daintree may be one of the best-known and most popular national parks in the region offering views of the tropical and wet tropics rainforest, but there are at least another 24 parks in the Cairns region.

safety in the rainforest

Rainforests are generally safe to visit in the Cairns region but it is recommended visitors stay on designated paths.

Saltwater crocodiles inhabit many waterways in the region and although most well-visited areas carry warning signs, it pays to stay out of the water particularly near river mouths.

When visiting a national park or forest check to make sure you don’t need a permit for camping or visiting. The most popular areas generally have a designated camping ground that will include toilets, water, barbecues etc but will also have areas where camping is not allowed.

tips for visiting cairns rainforests

<b>Up close:</b> Visitors to the Daintree National Park can choose to hike into the rainforest under the protection of guides or take a solo walk. In some areas special boardwalks have been created to protect delicate species. Image by Tourism Queensland.

southern wet tropics rainforest

Although the definition of ‘Wet Tropics’ covers the whole of north Queensland’s rainforest, including the Daintree area, it has come to define the area of rainforest south of Cairns in the Tully, Cardwell and Innisfail areas.

World heritage listed rainforest covers about 900,000 hectares but the surrounding national parks are just as interesting.

Inside the world heritage areas are Queensland’s highest mountains, Mount Bartle Frere and Bellenden Ker and Australia’s longest single-drop waterfall, the 305 metre (1,000 foot) Wallaman Falls west of Ingham.

The area includes about 600km of scenic drives and a huge number of walks – everything from gentle strolls to up-hill all day hikes.

The Wet Tropics Great Walk surrounds the Wallaman Falls and extends for 110km to Blencoe Falls. The Wallaman Falls are part of the Lumhotz National Park with a wide variety of flora and fauna for visitors to enjoy.

>> Go to our National Parks section for more information

licuala state forest & cassowaries

In the same area is the Licuala State Forest with amazing walks through the rare fan palm forests near Mission Beach. These are about half of all fan palm forests in Australia.

Throughout the area are a number of interesting and well sign-posted walks including a specific Children’s Walk as part of the Licuala Rainforest Circuit Walk. There are a number of brochures available including ones on the Cassowary

Cassowaries are large flightless birds native to the area. The Southern Cassowary which is found in the Mission Beach area is the second largest flightless bird in Australia. Cassowaries are frugivorous, eating mainly fruit, but they’ll also eat insects, frogs and snakes.

In recent years as humans have begun to encroach on their habitat, cassowaries have been known to attack people in ‘self-defence’ particularly during the mating season or when breeding.

The Southern and Northern Cassowaries are a threatened species due to the loss of their native habitat and estimates put their population at around 1,500 to 10,000 individuals. There are about 40 birds in captivity in Australia.

The Southern Cassowary is listed as endangered under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999.

The area around Mission Beach is a popular spot for cassowary watching with a number of tours and activities designed around these fascinating birds.

The Mission Beach Visitor Information Centre & Cassowary Information Centre offers a heap of information from historical to environmental aspects.

Visitors should ensure they take a lot of mosquito repellent as the Wet Tropics are home to an abundant supply. Walkers are asked not to share their food with the cassowaries as some birds have been known to accost visitors.

island rainforests

There are snatches of rainforest on Fitzroy Island but for a real island rainforest experience visitors should head to Hinchinbrook Island south of Cairns, just off the coast at Cardwell.

As part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, there are large areas of pristine rainforest on Hinchinbrook Island and an internationally renowned hiking trail.

The Thorsborne Trail is considered to be one of Australia’s best coastal walks and although it is only 32km long it is suggested that 4 days be spent enjoying the intimate experience with the rainforest.

Along the journey visitors will see mangroves, sandy beaches, lagoons, estuarine creeks, rocky mountains, waterfalls and lowland rainforest. This trial is best for experienced walkers and visitors will need to book a permit in advance.

>> For more information go to Beaches & Islands

There are also some easier hiking trails on Dunk Island off the coast of Mission Beach. The rainforest here is quite interesting with a number of bird species and rainforest flora. The island has a substantial resort but visitors can also journey over for a day trip.

>> For more information go to Beaches & Islands