Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Day 15 - May 10, Into the Daintree

We began our adventure today with a 2 hour ride up the coast and into the rainforest. On the way, we observed a field of hundreds of wallabies grazing, just like our white- tailed deer. We passed through Port Douglas, and Mossman, arriving at the Daintree River.  The Daintree is truly a special place, as it is a World Heritage Site of great significance. It is the world's oldest rainforest, containing over 1500 species of tree (not counting any of the vines, ferns, and other plants of the understory).  For reference, our guide explained that the average forest back home might have 50 tree species. The vast diversity of plant and animal life is just staggering!
  We embarked on our river cruise in search of crocodiles. A few meters from the boat landing, we spotted our first wild crocodile!  Before the day was done, we counted at least 5 crocodiles, including a hatchling that was less than a foot long. They were mostly sunning themselves on the riverbank, with their mouths open to help them thermoregulate. Signs are posted all over Northern Queensland warning people to stay away from river edges and beaches because of the danger of crocodile attack.
     The trees of the Daintree are enormously tall, and often have epiphytes, plants that grow on other plants. We saw pods of the matchbox bean, the world's largest legume, and flycatchers, orchids, Apple mangroves, cycads, fan palms, vines, basketferns, and the spiny "wait a while" plant that is named for the large spines that can tangle you up and make you " wait a while " until you can extricate yourself. We saw King Fern, the largest fern in the world with fronds over 6 feet long and dating back 300 million years. Students were pleased with the photogenic lizards that posed for them, and not so enamoured of the giant orb-weaving spiders that also posed for pictures. The tensile strength of their webs is unmatched by other spiders.
  Moving on, we crossed the river and ended up at a small place where we had a delicious BBQ and interacted with 2 populations of rescued animals; the swamp wallaby and the agile wallaby. After lunch, we drove deeper into the rainforest and stopped at a high mountain stream for Billy's tea, damper bread, and fresh tropical fruit. We sampled fruit that you just don't see at home, at it doesn't travel well. We sampled dragonfruit, custard apple (soursop or guanana), star fruit, pineapple, tiny, extra-sweet bananas, among others.  We drove along Cape Tribulation where Captain Cook had some troubles back during his coastline mapping days. One of our last stops was a chance to try unusual tropical ice cream flavors. Today, there was a selection of macadamia nut, plum, passion fruit, and wattle seed ice cream. Wattle is another name for acacia plants, and this particular wattle had a very interesting vanilla/coffee flavor that was really nice and different.
  One student was lucky enough to glimpse a rare, flightless rainforest bird that stands around 5 feet tall and has powerful talons; the cassowary. All these experiences made today one of the best days we have spent in Australia so far!  Tomorrow is a free day for students to explore and have their own adventures, so stay tuned.

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