Wearing just a pair of shorts, I sit outside our caravan typing on a balmy 29-degree day in the middle of winter. There is a slight sea breeze, and the orioles (tropical birds) are calling. Their melodic clonking signifies to me that I am in the Daintree. Our caravan site is surrounded by lush tropical growth and it’s a few paces from the beachfront, but protected by coconut trees and other tropical foliage.
We are at one of our favourite van parks in far north Queensland: Pinnacle Village Holiday Park, which is at Wonga Beach in the Daintree area. The park is on 30 acres of absolute beachfront land, and all powered sites have slabs, power and very soft, good-quality water. More powered sites have been added since our last visit, which is always pleasing to see. And all the roads are sealed, so there is no swirling dust every time a vehicle passes. Pinnacle Village has a dump point, plus a car and boat wash area. There is reliable Telstra Next G phone and mobile broadband, but TV reception is a bit flaky.
There are two swimming pools – one with a waterslide, spa, and a shallow kids pool, and the other is nicely landscaped with a waterfall and a spa. There are two amenities blocks and, since our last visit, they have been refurbished. New self-contained cabins have also been added, or you can choose to stay in a renovated railway carriage. A large beachfront area is put aside for campers.
The spacious stainless steel camp kitchen is very clean, and includes barbecues, two fridges, hot plates and a full oven, and there is a games and TV room. Kids have a playground and the office includes a kiosk, gas refills and tour bookings. There is a large storage area for vans for those who wish to visit Cooktown or the cape.
This park is central to all the major tourist sites, such as the Daintree township, Daintree River vehicle ferry, Cape Tribulation, Mossman Gorge and Port Douglas.
Free entertainment is provided during the winter months and while we were there, there was a band and choir performance with a sausage sizzle, followed by a guitarist who played for a beach party around a campfire.
Due to the abundance of native birds and animals, including scrub hens, goannas and beach curlews as well as peacocks, Pinnacle Village no longer accepts pets.
You can walk on the beach for miles north to the Daintree River mouth or south as far as you want. We have often found nautilus shells and other interesting flotsam and jetsam and, once, we even found a croc skull.
About 2km north is a creek running into the sea which is home to a large crocodile. We have seen him, and locals will tell you about him, so don’t be tempted to cross this creek if the water
is deep or on an incoming tide.
Fishing is good and we’ve seen huge Spanish mackerel brought in from tinnies. I caught a nice bream from the beach, and almost next door to Pinnacle Village is a barramundi farm where you can fish for your dinner or buy fillets. These are saltwater barra, much better tasting than the farmed freshwater variety.
The World Heritage-listed rainforest areas are easy to access from Pinnacle Village.
Mossman Gorge is just 22km south and it is a World Heritage-listed rainforest. There are swimming holes, rainforest walks and a new boardwalk. The gorge is a must-see.
Port Douglas is just a few kilometres south of Mossman, and you could continue on there for lunch. Several reef cruise boats depart from there – ‘Port’
is the playground of the rich and wannabes.
Cape Tribulation is a favourite place for Denyse and I, as we used to go there frequently when we met in Cairns in 1973. Back then, the road was narrow and corrugated dirt and there were no crowds like there are there these days. Now that the road is sealed to Cape Trib, the rainforest drive is spectacular and all the better for not being covered in dust as it was before. It would pay to catch an early vehicle ferry over, around 7.30am, to miss the crowds.
I suggest driving straight to Cape Tribulation (about 30km) and work your way back – you just might have this wonderful beach, where the rainforest meets the reef, all to yourself, as we did. The parking area at Cape Tribulation can become full of tourist buses later in the morning.
There is plenty to see in this World Heritage area. We saw a cassowary with a chick cross the road in front of us. Check out the mangrove boardwalk, but don’t forget the Rid or Aerogard.
Despite a somewhat awkward turn-off, the view from the Alexandra Range lookout over the mouth of the Daintree River and the rainforest is superb. There are several great walking beaches – Cape Kimberley is a quiet beach overlooking Snapper Island, but the caravan park there is now closed. You may like an ice cream from the Daintree Ice Cream Company, usually including varieties made from exotic tropical fruits. There are several eating places north of the Daintree River so you can splurge on a great lunch or take a picnic to enjoy on one of the beaches.
Another short drive about 20km north from Pinnacle Village is Daintree Village. The drive passes through very tropical scenery and you will pass several cruise operators offering croc spotting tours.
The road is sealed to the Daintree township, but you can carry on further on a dirt section.
CROCS AND WILDLIFE
The Daintree River is full of crocs. There are several wildlife river cruises to choose from and many varieties of birds can be seen, plus pythons and tree snakes. We decided to go with Bruce Belcher, who has had 25 years of experience on this river.
Bruce Belcher’s Daintree River Cruises leave from his private jetty about a 10-minute drive north of Pinnacle Village. They offer free Daintree tea and coffee from their garden room, before a walk through tropical rainforest to the jetty. We saw a Boyd’s forest dragon on the way down to the boat.
Cruises last an hour, and we were each given a pair of quality binoculars (although we were close enough not to need them) to check out the birds, snakes and crocs along the way. Our skipper had a very good knowledge of the wildlife and also various types of trees and mangroves. We had close encounters with several crocs, including babies as well as a large male.
We saw several types of kingfisher, including the brilliant azure. We also saw the rare great billed heron up close. Denyse and I thought this cruise was very good value, even though it was a bit wet and cloudy the day we went.
We love this part of the country and try to get there every year. The Daintree area represents the tropics at its best, and Pinnacle Village is a great base from which to enjoy the ambience of the rainforest and reef.
Winter is the best time to visit, but any time from April through to October is good. It may pay to come in the shoulder season in order to miss the crowds.
- The Daintree area and World Heritage rainforest begin about 75km north of Cairns
- Pinnacle Village Holiday Park is about 90km north of Cairns. The park does not accept dogs and discounts apply for a week or longer. It is located on Vixies Road, North Wonga Beach, Qld 4873, (07) 4098 7566, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.pinnaclevillage.com
- Bruce Belcher’s Daintree River Cruises: (07) 4098 7717, email@example.com or www.daintreerivercruises.com.au
Originally published in Caravan World magazine #513, May/June 2013.