Daintree getaway – exploring my wider backyard

This was my first overnight travel famil in about a year… published in the Cairnseye magazine in The (Cairns) Weekend Post on September 22. Although I already live in such a lovely spot surrounded by rainforest and wildlife (we are spoilt in North Queensland’s Wet Tropics) it was great to have a change of scene and it was a nice reminder to venture further afield more often.

    • So here is the larger story (newspapers are cutting back on words so much these days but I won’t get started on that just yet)…

The chuckling laughter of a kookaburra provides my morning wake-up call as sunlight filters through the natural curtain of greenery outside my room. Torn between snuggling under the covers of my comfy bed and the excitement of what I might find amid the morning quiet, I forgo the slumber and sneak outside. An orange-footed scrub hen and the “woompoo” call of the so-named fruit dove greet me. A majestic milky pine draped in epiphytes glows in the morning sunlight.

The milky pine is a centrepiece of the garden.

Small birds flit among its outstretched branches. Brilliant red flame of the forest and a lady’s slipper vine are also in flower. Buttress rooted trees create a magical walkway further over by the pond, a favourite hangout for kingfishers.

This is the attraction of Red Mill House Bed and Breakfast accommodation in the Daintree Village, about 110km north of Cairns in Far North Queensland. Owned and operated by birding specialists Trish and Andrew Forsyth, the character-rich original 1920s Queenslander caters for up to 12 guests at a time and was named among TripAdvisors’ Top 10 B&B experiences in 2011.

Red Mill House awaits

Breakfast awaits on the sunny upper veranda of the main house. It starts with a delight of fresh local fruits in season including pawpaw, banana, soursop, sapote, strawberry, melons and pineapple, with home-made yoghurt. That’s followed by home-made bread and prize-winning jams (yes, Trish makes it all); and if that’s not enough there’s a full cooked breakfast of local farm eggs, bacon, sausages, mushroom and tomato. It’s a hearty breakfast to keep anyone satisfied for whatever adventures  are planned for the day ahead.

Trish and Andrew are a wealth of information on what to do in the area, from bushwalks to the local waterfalls and river cruises to historical walks around the rural village, barramundi fishing and the attractions of the broader Daintree World Heritage wilderness region. They happily pre-booked us on the two-hour Daintree River Wild Watch sunset cruise with Ian “Sauce” Worcester  (www.daintreeriverwildwatch.com.au)

Little salty croc“Sauce” operates a low-sided open boat from the Daintree Village jetty (not the ferry crossing area) which is ideal for photography and bird-watching. He can get in low under branches and in close to the banks of the Daintree River and knows just where to find the local wildlife. For birders and non-birders it is a real treat. We got right alongside a small crocodile and green tree snake on the riverbank, and could coast in silently on birds like the Papuan frogmouth and a nesting sunbird for some great photos (for those with better photographic skills than me anyway).

The afternoon light provided stunning reflections on the water, and we spotted an azure kingfisher flitting among the ghostly mangrove roots down a secluded side creek.

The sunset cruise has the added highlight of returning to the jetty as flocks of cattle egrets head down the river to roost, passing around us in wave after wave.

Daintree Village is a quiet community of about 50 residents and offers a wonderful getaway about 90 minutes’ drive north of Cairns with a peaceful country atmosphere. Andrew and Trish have built up a reputation among birding circles, even lecturing overseas on the subject, so Red Mill House attracts many international guests keen to learn about the area. The B&B has a stack of reference books and a large timber lounge room where guests can relax and chat in a homely atmosphere.

Andrew explains the Far North is a mecca for birdwatchers around the world, with about 430 of the 730 bird species in Australia found within 200km of Cairns. They have bird trail maps available and bird lists to tick off species as they’re spotted. High on the list for Daintree River birders is the great-billed heron, a massive 1m lavender-grey coloured bird which took my breath away as it took flight out of some bushes as we passed by on the river cruise. At the other end of the scale is the large-billed gerygone which is only 11cm long.

For peace and quiet, the Red Mill House offers a wonderful escape. The owners are welcoming and happily share their knowledge with enthusiasm. So even if you aren’t a birder when you arrive, it’s not long before Andrew and Trish have you reaching for the binoculars.

Red Mill House Bed and Breakfast is at 11 Stewart St, Daintree, Far North Queensland, Australia. (www.redmillhouse.com.au).

(I was a guest of Red Mill House and Daintree River Wild Watch and thank them for their hospitality.)

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