“This is the last traffic light on the east coast of Australia,” my driver tells me, wiping a single bead of sweat from his sunburnt brow. “You can drive from here all the way to Cape York, the most northerly point on this continent, without having to stop for another red light.”
Less than 15 minutes after he’s shifted his van back into gear, we’re pulling into Silky Oaks Lodge, and the resorts that line Australia’s east coast seem infinitely distant. Swaying fields of golden sugar cane and infinite sea views have given way to the Daintree rainforest’s profusion of green draping itself over the orogenic folds of the Great Dividing Range.
The Daintree is Earth’s oldest living rainforest, estimated to be about 180 million years old. It’s the last remaining relic of a tropical rainforest that once covered all of Australia. The continent’s distinctive animals began to evolve in this environment. The first flowering plants are thought to have bloomed here, and it’s easy to find species of giant fern that once fed dinosaurs. It is one of our planet’s most wondrous ecosystems.
Most of the Daintree rainforest is protected in a world heritage listed national park, but in the thin sliver between the park’s southeastern edge and the Mossman River, Silky Oaks Lodge nestles itself into this lush environment.
Like every guest, I’m offered welcome drink in the Jungle Perch upon arrival. The stilted gazebo sits high above the river in the rainforest canopy. On Silky Oaks’ restaurant plates and in its glasses, tropical flavors are the order of the day. Notes of citrus and mango dance on my palate, and I survey the tree tops around me, a different blooming orchid spilling into view with each quarter turn of my head.
I take a few minutes to soak it all in. Just a few hours off a trans-Pacific flight, I’m jetlagged and generally exhausted, but my new surroundings have given me the urge to explore.
My home for the next few nights will be a luxurious tree house with a porch that juts into a steep-walled primeval valley below. Countless shades of green overhang the stone paths I navigate through Silky Oaks toward my cabin. It’s virtually impossible to keep the Daintree at bay.
“Keeping the rainforest back is a constant job,” says Paul Van Min, who migrated to tropical north Queensland from the cooler climes of Melbourne to build the rainforest retreat. “It will grow over the paths and boardwalks in days if you aren’t constantly cutting it back.”
It’s easy enough to believe. A tropical cyclone came through the area just a few weeks before I arrived, but any damage that it did to the forest here has already been covered up by new growth. Life bursts forth everywhere.
Silky Oaks staff will arrange for guests to go sunset sailing on the Coral Sea, diving on the Great Barrier Reef and spear fishing with local Aboriginal people, but hiking in the national park on the lodge’s doorstep is what pulls me in first.
Two trails leave directly from the property. The mountain trail climbs steeply into the park, while the flatter river trail leads past a few picnic spots to the thundering Fig Tree rapids about an hour’s walk upstream.
I tackle the river trail first. The Mossman River is fed by a mountain spring high in the Great Dividing Range, and it stays cool even in summer. Along its banks, the river feels like a natural air conditioner. Afternoon rain filters warmly through the rainforest canopy, contrasting with the rush of air cooled by the river. Even hiking in the tropical heat, I stay cool.
After sampling a seafood tapas platter of prawn spring rolls, melt in your mouth reef fish and local barramundi, I’m more than ready for a good night’s sleep. My tree house comes equipped with two beds: one indoor, and one on my oversized porch.
The indoor bed is the larger of the two, but there’s only one of me, and both are equally inviting, crisply made with Macadamia-nut chocolates on their pillows for dessert. Given the chance to sleep with nothing but a mosquito net between myself and this extraordinary rainforest, I take it.
The burbling of a tiny stream nearby is echoed by the roar of the Mossman in the distance, and I fade pleasantly in and out of consciousness for a while. This aquatic soundscape is overlaid with innumerable insects chirping and periodic bursts of birdsong. The jetlag I’d been feeling is lulled away for good as I settle in for twelve full hours of the soundest sleep I’ve ever had.
(Photos from Silky Oaks Lodge)