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open mind, empty stomach

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My dissatisfaction with Cairns led me to move my flight up and leave for New Zealand a week earlier than planned. This left me with a day each to see the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. I also wanted to visit Kuranda, but opted to go for Daintree instead. Since I was alone and had just one day to see the forest, I did something I’ve never done before: I booked a minibus day tour.

I asked around town and there seemed to be one option, Active Tropics Explorer. Every previous suspicion that made me avoid such tours in the past was confirmed by this experience. The guide was beyond annoying and did not stop talking the entire day. He held me and 20 other poor souls captive for nearly 12 hours in what seemed more akin to a timeshare sales pitch than a visit to one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

The first stop on the trip, which wasn’t on the itinerary, was the Crossroads Cafe. This was a 20 minute commercial solicitation aimed to get my fellow prisoners and I to buy breakfast and really set the tone for the day.

Next, we went to Daintree Village and did a one-hour crocodile spotting boat tour. The weather was atrocious, but we did manage to see some crocs. The boat dropped us off on the other side of the Daintree River, where the guide was waiting to take us to the rainforest.

The ride was beautiful and the forest looked amazing. It is one of the oldest rainforests on the planet and, like the neighboring Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was the reason I booked the tour in the first place and we ended up spending less than 30 minutes on the ground in the Daintree. The part of the forest that we were walked through had a concrete path, omnipresent signage, and lots of other tourists.

We were then transported to Cape Tribulation, where we were released to walk on the beach for 15 minutes before having a horrible lunch. After lunch, came another commercial solicitation. This was the “optional stop” to the Daintree Ice Cream Company. For $6 we got a small scoop of each of the four flavors of the day. That day’s flavors were raspberry, mango, macadamia nut, and wattle berry. The ice cream was probably the highlight of the day and I’m not that big into sweets.

After ice cream, we visited Mossman Gorge, where we were briefed by an aboriginal cultural practitioner. He was really interesting and explained the significance of the Gorge, told us a bit about his people, and played the didgeridoo. Once he finished telling us about the superiority and purity of the rainforest over the “concrete jungle” of the city, we went on a 10 minute walk around the jungle. The walk was on a shiny new metal catwalk and a concrete path…. There was an option to swim in the river for about 10 minutes as well. Before we left the Gorge, we were taken to the newly opened visitor center and asked to buy things.

Thankfully, the day was nearly over. We stopped at two not-so-scenic scenic viewpoints, then were dropped off at our places of residence. Adding to the disappointment, we didn’t get to see any cassowaries. Cassowaries are rare, giant, flightless birds only found in northeastern Australia and Papua New Guinea.

I honestly would have preferred to skip the rainforest altogether rather than endure the Active Tropics Explorer experience. The sad part is that the Daintree is truly an incredible place and it is being shown to visitors through such a lens. My recommendation would be to rent a car, take a few days, and do it on your own. There is a great deal of useful information available on the official website and several travel forums.

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