Sharing The Peapod's Travel Adventures...

Tony's Tropical Tours take us to Daintree Rainforest - part two

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This entry was posted on 3/16/2007 4:57 AM and is filed under Australia.

The Daintree Rainforest is part of a region in Tropical North Queensland called the "Wet Tropics".  When it rains, it dumps for a few hours at a time, then stops.  We crossed several rivers that required our 4WD vehicle.  Smaller cars had to park on the side and wait -sometimes hours - for the water to retreat before crossing.  And our SUV had a tube that went from the engine to above the roof, so if the water level was above the hood, it could still get air in to the diesel engine to keep running.  The water was not that high though - thank goodness, because even though the engine could still operate in that deep water, the whole car could be washed off the bridge if the current was too strong!

At one point we crossed a river on a car ferry.  Because it goes directly across the current, they have to use a cable system to keep it from being swept downstream when the water is raging at full force.  The other problem for the ferry is that when the tide goes out and the rain drops, the water depth drops to half a meter (18") , so you then have to wait for rain to have enough water to operate the ferry at all.

We also went to Cape Tribulation named by Captain Cook, where the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest meet, the only place on earth where two World Heritage areas exist side by side.

The cape is very isolated, though there is one four star luxury retreat hotel up there.  Here is the beach, which struck us with the serene beauty, the water merging with the sky.  There are hardly any waves because of the coral reefs offshore.

To get to the beach, we had to walk through a mangrove swamp, another part of the rainforest, where the trees are actually growing in sand.  Talk about a complex root structure!....

and of course, there is a unique animal life that works in conjunction with this environment too.  Here is one of the little swamp crabs we saw - less than 2" long...

We saw many signs warning us of Cassowaries crossing the road.  Hans said that there are only about 1000 remaining Cassowaries in this area.  (How do they count them?)  The Cassowary is an endangered species and considered to be the sole disperser of the larger rainforest seeds and an important factor in rainforest revegetation.  If the Cassowary die out, many of the rainforest plants will also become extinct.   We wish we'd seen one - they look amazing, though apparently they can be pretty aggressive in person.  Here's a warning sign what to do if you do see one...

And here is a funny sign on the road, that's kind of locally famous.  There are speed bumps along the road, and someone took a magic marker and made the speed bump look like a road-kill-cassowary...

We took a long walk through an area of the rainforest that was privately owned.  Years ago people were able to buy large parcels of this land, though now it is all national park.  When someone came to inhabit the land, they would set up their own on the-spot saw mill and work the trees on the site for housing and furniture.  Here was one of the old ones...

One of the interesting things about all these trees - there are no growth rings like we see in Northern America, because there's no change in how much water the trees get as they grow.  The only two seasons are "wet" and "really wet".  This was the really wet season now.

As we walked, Hans taught us tons about the ecology. 

For instance, the fern baskets that grow high up in the trees...

represent a three-fold symbiotic relationship.  The tree gives the ferns a nice safe place to grow, closer to the light.  The ferns give home to a large ant population.  The ants bring up food, and their metabolic waste allows the fern to do the nitrogen fixing that most plants do in soil.  And the ants live on sap-eating insects, so they protect the tree from other more harmful insects.

Here's another cool example of complex relationships...
This tree is called a strangling fig...

Most of the trees in the rainforest here live to be about 200 years old, and are periodically wiped out by cyclones (a cyclone is a hurricane, except it twists clockwise.  Hurricanes twist counter-clockwise).  These figs though are often over 600 years old, because they have tons of vines that swing from tree to tree in the wind.  They latch on to the top of a tree and grow DOWN from there.  So they get a headstart on the light, instead of most trees that start at the ground and have to struggle up to the light.
When they latch on to a tree, that tree becomes its structural host.  In the photo above, you're actually seeing two trees - the host in the middle and the fig encompassing most of it.

In this picture, you see another one.  Notice how the host tree has died and now only the strong fig remains.  You can actually look right through the middle of it...

We saw many plantations of Daintree Tea growing in this area.  It is recognized by the flat topped bushes that line the sides of the road.  The leaves are harvested every two weeks by machine.  This area is the perfect growing environment for this unique tasting tea.

Daintree Ice Cream Factory was a mandatory stop.  This farm grows exotic fruits and sells 500-2500 ice creams a day.  You have one choice of ice cream for $5 Aus.  It includes 4 little scoops of exotic ice creams.  That day our combo was granny smith apple & cinnamon, passion fruit, macadamia nut and wattle seed (an exotic flower).  Here's a jackfruit (the largest fruit there is) that they sometimes make ice cream from...

and a black sapote..

and while we were there, we met this ohmygawd huge
spider. The hand in the background is there to give a sense of scale.  BIG!

It was a full and marvelous day. 

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