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North Queensland, Australia travel guide: Visit David Attenborough’s ‘favourite place’

Simon Calder’s Travel

In Australia’s Cairns airport, David Attenborough looked down on us as we collect our bags. His familiar smiling face is on a huge billboard, with some of his equally huge quotes. They adore Sir David in this part of the world and it’s not hard to see why. He has described tropical North Queensland as his favourite place in the world.

“It has for a naturalist, everything” he said. “An amazing rainforest, which is quite unlike any other rainforest in the world”. Not only that, he added, “down on the coast it has the Great Barrier Reef”.

I concluded that if it’s good enough for one of the world’s most travelled men, then it is more than good enough for my wife, two kids and me.

We were desperate to explore both reef and rainforest, two Unesco World Heritage sites side by side, but it was on the river where our Attenborough adventure began.

“Guys, don’t ever go in the water,” said Marc as he guided us up the Daintree River in his solar-powered boat. We were on the hunt for Scarface, notorious king of the crocs, five metres long, with half a dozen girlfriends and thoroughly cold-blooded (literally).

The Daintree River is home to a huge crocodile known as Scarface (Jonathan Samuels)

Suddenly there he was, his giant body slipping through the water with a slow flick of the tail, no ripples, no noise, just menacing eyes. “He’s fine with us being here,” said Marc, “as long as we stay out of the water”.

With those words ringing in our ears, the very next day we did the unthinkable. We got in the water.

North of Cairns, in the heart of the Daintree National Park, is Mossman Gorge. Its beauty is as hard to comprehend as its ancient origins – up to 180 million years old.

Read more: Why you should book a holiday to Ningaloo, Australia’s ‘other reef’

Under the rainforest canopy, electric blue Ulysses butterflies flit past and camouflaged Boyd’s forest dragon reptiles (which are only found here) cling to the bark of ancient trees that strain, stretch and compete for the sunlight.

We were quite simply in awe as we ran our fingers through soft moss and gazed up at strangler figs wrapped around red tulip oaks. The vegetation was a juicy hundred shades of green after a particularly wet period. There are 3,000 species of flora here, 700 of them unique to the Daintree, and thousands of birds, mammals and…

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