After many months of staying home, I recently joined eight other travellers one of Intrepid’s first Australia trips since the coronavirus pressed pause on the travel industry – the new 5-day Daintree Retreat.
Retreats are an entirely new type of trip for Intrepid, focusing on slowing down and immersing yourself in a specific region. For the locals who live in the area, Retreats are a great way to inject some much-needed tourism money into the hyperlocal economy, and for travellers they provide a different way to explore our own backyards and uncover the uniqueness of a region closer to home.
Our group was made up of true Intrepid travellers – nearly everyone had been on multiple trips (in one couple’s case, more than 20 Intrepid trips each!), so we were excited about the prospect of experiencing the things we love about the Intrepid style of travel – interacting with locals, educational and cultural experiences and really good local food, whilst also looking forward to experiencing a new style of travel – one where we based ourselves in the same accommodation the whole time, providing us with the luxury of only having to unpack once.
In Queensland, life and COVID-19 are co-existing fairly seamlessly now thanks to an extremely low transmission rate and businesses evolving and making changes to keep people safe. Sanitiser is readily available in public places, restaurants and cafes have instigated ‘traffic flow’ markers on the floors so that patrons can only travel in one direction to aid social distancing and leaving your name and contact details anywhere you eat or drink for contract tracing purposes in the event of an outbreak is now the norm.
Not surprisingly, Intrepid had also made changes to ensure our safety on our trip. During our welcome meeting, our leader asked us to fill out a short online self-assessment form. She also explained that our group would become our own little travel bubble – meaning we would eat at the same table and share the same vehicle, but we would socially distance from other people and of course, sanitise and be responsible for our own health and wellbeing on this trip.
After all the formalities of the welcome meeting were out of the way, we jumped in our van and headed to the super cute village of Kuranda, also known as ‘village in the rainforest’. With a beautiful rainforest boardwalk, waterfall views, and an eclectic mix of eateries and markets, Kuranda put us all straight into holiday mode and provided a great setting to get to know some of the other members of the group.
After our time in Kuranda we continued to Port Douglas, where we arrived just in time for sunset drinks and a welcome dinner. After sharing stories and many laughs, we went to bed knowing that we had a full day in the Daintree Rainforest to look forward to tomorrow.
The next day, after driving for about an hour and a half, we arrived at Cooper Creek Wilderness in the heart of the Daintree, where we met our local guide, Angie. She has been living in the rainforest for over 20 years and really knows her stuff – the history, the flora and fauna and the challenges the conservationists face.
She told us that the Daintree is the oldest living rainforest in the world, in fact it’s tens of millions of years older than the Amazon. And that it only covers 0.1% of Australia but it’s home to over 65 per cent of Australia’s butterflies, thousands of birds and a large number of our iconic Aussie animals like echidnas, platypuses, possums, wallabies and kangaroos.
However, it was her personal stories of marrying her husband and bringing up her children in the Daintree and both the challenges and magical moments of living amongst cassowaries, snakes and other animals that brought the region to life for me. She was exceptional at pointing out insects and spiders that camouflaged so well they were nearly impossible to see! The combination of Angie’s knowledge, stories and spotting skills made me realise that a trip to the Daintree without a local guide would be such a waste, as without her I wouldn’t have learnt or even seen half as much as I did.
After saying goodbye to Angie and stopping for lunch at a secluded beach, we headed out on a Crocodile Cruise. We spotted several crocs, the biggest being just over four metres long. Despite having grown up in Australia, seeing these amazing creatures in the wild was still humbling and definitely not just an experience for international tourists.
We ended the day with a stroll along the headland at the famous Cape Tribulation, a beautiful UNESCO World heritage site where the rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef. Once back at our apartments, we were all exhausted from a big day, so instead of heading out we opted for wine, cheese and a sing-a-long thanks to one of the group members who had brought along her ukulele.
The next day was a well-timed free day. Some of us chose to simply take it easy and explore the local markets in Port Douglas, while others took part in the optional snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. Before the trip began, I was a little concerned that maybe the locals wouldn’t want us visiting – but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Far North Queensland relies so heavily on tourism that everyone we encountered were grateful to welcome us (plus, it was brilliant for us, because everywhere was a little quieter than it would normally be). The boat that took the snorkellers out had only 13 travellers onboard, whereas normally they would have over 100!
The last full day of our adventure began with a beautiful two-hour walk through Mossman Gorge. This is a must-do while in Port Douglas – it’s super lush, has great birdlife, and some beautiful swimming holes. We then headed to a local café for lunch before making our way to Kuyu Kuyu (Cooya Beach) for a First Nations experience with a local member of the Kuku Yalanji people.
This was an absolute highlight for all of us – learning about the Kuku Yalanji’s connection with land, their history with the Daintree, how to throw a spear, and both the dangers and the medicinal values of plants and animals made for a really memorable afternoon. Who knew that certain ants can help sinus issues?
Visiting Kuranda, exploring the Daintree, hiking Mossman Gorge, spotting crocodiles, swimming in beautiful waterholes, dining out in Port Douglas, learning about the First Nations people of the region – we fitted all of this and more into just a few days and everyone in the group said we felt like we were away for much longer than we actually were. Personally, like many others, I had been feeling overdue for an adventure. And while this might have been a short getaway closer to home than I’m used to, I really did have a big adventure… and better still, no jetlag!
Ready to slow down and immerse yourself in a region closer to home? Explore our new range of Intrepid Retreats.
All images c/o Yvette Thompson.