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Cairns in Far North Queensland is best known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and whilst this is true, there’s a lot more you can see and do when you make the trip north. The Reef itself is extraordinary, offering biological diversity unmatched by any other World Heritage Area and the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem.
The world’s oldest tropical rainforest, the Daintree is the largest area of tropical rainforest in Australia. Like the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree National Park is a World Heritage Site and part of the unique Wet Tropics area.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are two of the world’s oldest continuous living cultures. The land between Cairns and Port Douglas was originally the home of the Yirrganydji people, who utilised the resources of both the rainforest and sea for their needs.
Your visit to Cairns will incorporate elements from all three of the above, unlocking secrets to an ancient world and a unique culture, and their connection to the natural environment.
Our adventure begins immediately on arrival with a road transfer to Emerald Creek, our home for the next two nights. Although we are only one hour from Cairns, we have climbed several hundred metres in elevation, to a climate much cooler than that on the coast. Here we will enjoy the feeling of freedom that being in nature invariably brings.
Our time here and in Davies Creek National Park includes learning about navigation and the practical application of those skills in the outdoors. We will work in teams, navigating our way through various checkpoints to our next campsite, where we will again enjoy the beauty of the bush and the nearby creek.
Various day hike options are available within the National Park, and schools have the opportunity to design a program to suit their own requirements. One of the options is a 20km hike from Davies Creek to Crystal Cascades in the suburbs of Cairns, a delightful spot offering opportunities for cooling off at the end.
We then commence our education about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and history, with a visit to Mossman Gorge, an interactive ecotourism experience introducing us to the rainforest and the indigenous communities who have lived here for centuries. We also have the opportunity to learn how to throw a spear, hunt whilst stalking and observing wildlife, and how to find plants used for food and medicine.
And as if this wasn’t enough, we head from here to the Great Barrier Reef to experience this wondrous ecosystem, one of the best known and most complex natural systems on earth. In addition to snorkelling and viewing some interesting sea life, you will learn about how the health of the reef is determined, actually assisting with data collection and water quality testing. This two day visit also provides the opportunity to learn about the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre and Reef Restoration Project.
We are collected in Cairns and transferred by bus to Emerald Creek. On arrival we will set up camp and explore our campground. This is only one hour from Cairns but quite remote – there are toilets but no other facilities, so we must make do for ourselves.
Today is our navigation training. We will spend the morning learning the theory we need, including how to use a compass, read a topographic map, route planning, nutrition and more. After breaking for lunch, we will have the opportunity to consolidate what we have learned, in a supported and controlled environment.
What we learned yesterday will be put into practice today, as the group is broken into teams and given maps and instructions. Working together, we will make our way from our current campsite to our next one, finding and recording all check points along the way. Teamwork is really important here – we all need to get to the same place!
After a good night of sleep in our tents, we set out today on the first of our day hikes, to Kahlpahlim Rock along the Lambs Head Range. This is a 12.6 kilometer loop trail offering the chance to see wildlife and enjoy some great views. It is not a technical or extremely difficult hike, but good fitness is required, so you will be grateful for the training you have put in.
Our second day hike leads us to a rock feature known as Turtle Rock. The trailhead begins over flat ground before a steady and reasonable climb, including something of a scramble to the actual rock. The eastward path down is shaded by sheoaks and a creek crossing, a wonderful place to cool off towards the end of the hike.
This morning we will break camp before setting off on a 21km hike through varying terrain to Crystal Cascades, in the suburbs of Cairns. Enroute we have the opportunity to visit some rock art sites and learn about this ancient means of story telling. On our arrival we can cool off in the creek before travelling by bus to our hotel.
A day of connection with our First Australians, as we head to Mossman Gorge, a gateway to the Daintree Rainforest. In addition to showcasing the world’s oldest continually surviving rainforest, Mossman Gorge Centre offers connection to the Indigenous community and protects a vulnerable ecosystem. From here we head a little further north to learn about the three diverse ecosystems – beach, mangroves and coastal reef – that are connected to each other by the ever-changing mudflats and tidal lagoons.
We transfer by ferry to Fitzroy Island, part of the inner Great Barrier Reef. We are accompanied by a marine biologist who will ensure we have an understanding of the stunning fish and coral we will see during our snorkelling this morning. We will learn how to identify different types of coral, record signs of bleaching and will actually collect data for the CoralWatch database. We will camp overnight on the island.
Our day begins with a steep but relatively short rainforest track that gives way to dry open forest and scenic vistas. At trail’s end stands an historic lighthouse where views of the sparkling Coral Sea stretch to the horizon. More snorkelling follows before visiting the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, where a collection of volunteers help save sick and injured sea turtles by looking after them until they are ready to be released back into the ocean. We return to Cairns on the last ferry, and check into our hotel.
All good things must come to an end, and we need to collect our things together this morning and transfer to the airport for our homeward journey.