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The best things in life come as pleasant surprises, even if they are not free, and such was the Daintree ferry.
We did a drive from Cairns north up the coast to the Daintree tropical rain forest but did not really know what we would be doing when we got there. Tourist maps tend to highlight the features that earn money; but we were not looking for eco-retreats, just wanting to spend a day experiencing the different nature and scenery the area had to offer.
We had lunch in Daintree Village, and took a pleasant boat trip on the Daintree River from there, looking for crocodiles, but seeing none. (But crocodile burgers were on the menu at the lunch eatery.) Checking the map, we realised we had time to continue north, and that involved taking a ferry over the river.
The ferry ramp seemed a bigger operation than we had expected. But in retrospect, this is the only way across the river unless you add several hours by sweeping inland on Route 81. The second surprise was the cost of the ferry$47 return for our car for just a 5 minute river crossing. Probably the most bucks-per-metres I’ve ever paid for a ferry. I had actually thought that as an essential link in a significant public road it might have been free for all users, as is the case in many places. But not here!
But it was a fast and efficient crossing in a chain operated boat with no waiting, and we were soon heading north again. We needed to drive back to Cairns for the night, and as it was a Saturday we worried that the return ferry might be busy and have a long wait; what had been a glorious, winding coastal drive north in the midday sun, would be a pain to do in full darkness.
Conscious of the timing we headed for Madja Boardwalk just shy of Cape Tribulation itself. This was a fun walk through several different habitats in the tropical rain forest, leading down to a lookout over the Noah Creek. The area around there is prime cassowary habitat with frequent signs on the road warning to slow down to protect the endangered birds. We watched hopefully as we drove, and “may” have seen a young one crossing the road ahead. Or maybe not!
Our day’s outing was not crowned by any one outstanding memory, but was an excellent experience from beginning to end. The drive north from Cairns on the Captain Cook Highway was constantly interesting, frequently taking us close to the sea around rocky outcrops, with long vistas to the north and south. We did not see any crocodiles on the Daintree River, but we did see one by a bridge on the way up and back. Perhaps we should have skipped the river cruise to allow us to see more north of the ferry?
By the time we had reached the Palm Cove area on the return trip it was almost dark and we got our final surprise of the day, as there was a brush fire lighting up the sky. At one point the flames were right down to the road and we felt the blast of heat as we drove past. There were a lot of fires in Eastern Australia during our visit. We came close to a couple, but were fortunate that our travels (and more importantly our safety) were not affected.
And we were lucky in other ways also, as less than a month after we were in that area, Northern Queensland, and especially the Cairns and Daintree, areas suffered horrendous flooding and winds from Cyclone Jasper. Roads that we had driven and enjoyed were washed out. The Daintree River rose 4, and vast areas were flooded and cut off. Even as I write this a month after the cyclone, the Daintree Ferry is still operating a restricted service for locals and emergencies only, due to conditions on the Raintree River, and long sections of the Captain Cook Highway remain closed.

Cape Tribulation Road over the Daintree River:
The crossing
300 in about 5 (15 including loading and unloading)
Operating from 5 to midnight, year-round
A priority lane for locals operates between 94:30 during peak season (July – November) when long queues can be expected.
The boats
Chain operated, 43 long
Capacity about 27 cars
AUD $47 return for a car and passengers (2024). (Free and concession fares are available for locals)
Owned by Douglas Shire Council operated by TNQ Transport Services
When I crossed
November 2023

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