Reining in the Rainforest – easy ways to experience the Australian rainforest

Image of Lucy and small person abovethe canopy at the Daintree Discovery Centre rainforest in Tropical Northern Queensland Australia
High up above the rainforest canopy at the top of the viewing tower at Daintree Discovery Centre in Tropical Northern Queensland

When you think Rainforest then you might immediately conjure up an image that’s more ‘jungle’ than what’s sometimes the case. Now of course parts of the Rainforest in Australia are in the Tropics in Queensland and it can definitely get quite hot and steamy in there, but you still don’t need to be an intrepid explorer to enjoy them.

Here’s my mini guide to how you can ‘rein in’ the rainforest – and when I say ‘easy’ ways to explore the rainforest I mean ‘so easy you can take your baby and small children with you easy’.

So let’s start with the Tropical Australian Rainforest…

You’ll find most of this in Queensland, which is where I’ve just been with 2 small people in tow so there was definitely NO intrepid bush walking going on!

Easy and Obvious: Take the Skyrail
The Skyrail and Kuranda Scenic Railway are probably the most ‘iconic’ tourism images of Tropical North Queensland. Adorning every brochure and tourist information centre you can’t miss images like this:

Image of Rainforest Skyrail to Kuranda from Cairns Northern Queensland Australia
The brilliant introduction to the Australian Tropical Rainforest on the Skyrail near Cairns

or like this:

Image of Kuranda Scenic Railway engine Northern Queensland Australia
Chug your way through the Rainforest on the Kuranda Scenic Railway

But don’t let its obvious ‘tourist’ badge put you off.

The Skyrail is in fact rather a brilliant introduction to the Australian Tropical Rainforest as not only do you get to swoop over the canopy in the cable cars, but the stops on the way with a guided ranger talk around a board walk, and the interpretive centre near Barron Falls are actually pretty good. After ‘flying’ the Skyrail on our first visit to Cairns over 8 years ago I still remember learning about epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants) from the ranger at Red Peak. I got to learn a few more new things this time too (although bizarrely one thing that sticks in my mind is that there exists a mushroom the size of a US county!). Anyway, my point is that you couldn’t find an easier, more exhilarating way to check out the rain forest if you are a ‘beginner’. You do get to hear the ‘sounds’ of the Rainforest as you glide overhead, and yes the view is pretty impressive from up there. You can wheel a buggy (stroller) right into the cable car and it’s all wheelchair friendly too.

The Skyrail might be one of the most well known tourist attractions near to Cairns but don’t dismiss it as ‘touristy’ as it really is rather good.

If you are heading further north than Cairns in Queensland to the Daintree or Cape Tribulation then you’re really entering rainforest ‘country’

The Daintree and Cape Tribulation

While ‘Cape ‘Trib’ is known as ‘where the rainforest meets the reef‘ of course this is technically where rainforest meets the beach that meets the reef — but you get the idea. Along with Mission Beach it’s one of the only places that the rainforest runs right down to the shore and in my book that makes it pretty special.

Daintree is the area around of the Daintree River (not surprisingly!) which is itself about 40 mins north of Port Douglas (so about and hour and a half from Cairns).

The Daintree Discovery Centre

This is definitely an ‘easy’ way to discover the Daintree rainforest, and also great if you want to find out exactly what all those plants (and critters!) are that you can see.

Image of buggy-friendly walkway at Daintree Discovery Centre Northern Queensland Australia
Buggy-friendly rainforest walkway at Daintree Discovery Centre (watch out for the spiders!)

Only a short drive (about 15 minutes) from the Daintree ferry this is great stop on your way to explore the area and its good for people of all ages. The boardwalks are buggy-friendly (although there are steps in between levels for some of them) but for children who can walk, everywhere is easy to reach. If you’re feeling fit it’s definitely worth a climb up the viewing tower to see the changes at every level of the rainforest trees and plants until you reach above the canopy. And with an impressive printed (48 page!) guide to the plants and audio tour available you could spend lots of time here finding out exactly what’s growing in the rainforest. Admittedly with small people it’s pretty unlikely you’ll listen ALL the recordings but they are there if you have time!

With a lovely cafe and shop, the Discovery Centre is definitely worth a stop and it’s nice that it’s up to you to explore for as long as you want (or can!). It’s a very well put together educatinal rainforest experience. I liked it.

Jungle surfing!

Despite this being advertising as being suitable from ages 3 to 103 I decided that our small person (who is 3) was perhaps not quite up to zip-wiring through the rainforest canopy just yet! Looks fab though, and for the less adventurous (or vertiginous!) there is also the option of a 2-hour nighttime Rainforest walk which, depending on your sensibilities, could be more or less scary!

Other more sedate options in Cape Tribulation are the numerous (free) boardwalks which range in length from just a few hundred metres to longer, and bush walking trails of a few kms, and all are great options to get close to the Rainforest. Most boardwalks you can push a buggy on or are short enough for small people’s legs to cope with the walk. All boardwalks are signposted from the road, or grab a local map.

Here are some more ideas for tours in the Daintree and Cape Tribulation. If we’d had more time (and possibly better with older children unless you take the private tour) the Coopers Creek Wilderness tours came highly recommended.

And of course there is always the horseback option for exploring the rainforest which I appreciate doesn’t necessarily qualify for the ‘easy’ category unless you’re equestrian-ally inclined! I loved it though – Ride the Beach takes you through the rainforest to reach Wonga beach for a great canter on the pristine sand.

Image of Lucy on Ride The Beach horse, Wonga Beach, Northern Queensland Australia
Enjoy a fab horse ride through rainforest to Wonga Beach (tropical rainforest behind me!)

If a day trip or short walk in the rainforest is not enough of course you can also stay there. There are lots of different options to stay in the Rainforest, ranging from the more exclusive options in Daintree and Cape Tribulation (such as Silky Oaks) to simple cabins or camping such as Lync Haven.

Or why not stay on a rainforest covered island like Dunk island? It’s easy to reach Dunk island by sea from Mission Beach (or you can fly direct from Cairns). Here most of the island is covered in tropical rainforest and there are lots of marked trails to walk through it (or just admire it from the spa of peace and plenty – which is beautiful).

We stayed in the rainforest at Rose Gums in the Atherton Tablelands (about an hour and half from Cairns), which allowed us to experience our own private patch of rainforest from the comfort of a posh Treehouse! Having breakfast surrounded by rainforest was rather special. And if you want a similar experience but are travelling in Northern New South Wales or near to Brisbane, head to the Amazing Wollumbin Palms retreat in Murwullimbah.

Image of breakfast on the balcony overlookig rainforest at Rose Gums treehouses, Northern Queensland Australia
Breakfast in the rainforest – our treehouse balcony at Rose Gums. Sound effects supplied by birds!

Both of these are very special places and allow you to experience the rainforest right up close. Watching the sun rise from in the rainforest is rather special. Rose Gums is very family-friendly (so friendly they even lend you toys!) whereas Amazing Wollumbin Palms is grown-ups only. Having breakfast at Rose Gums was one of the highlights of our recent trip.

If you fancy staying at Rose Gums, Silky Oaks, Dunk island or another beautiful rainforest immersed place, do have a chat with the lovely people at Bridge & Wickers. I wouldn’t have discovered Rose Gums if they hadn’t suggested it!

Blue Mountains

Don’t forget there are also rainforests to explore much further south in Australia, as the Blue Mountains just an hour or so from Sydney are also Rainforest (temperate as opposed to tropical). The easiest way to enjoy the Blue Mountains (especially with children in tow) is to visit Scenic World – glass bottom cable car, furnicular railway and plenty of buggy-friendly boardwalks. Yes it’s a lazy option, but there are also plenty of short bush walks that are suitable for children in the area too so you don’t have to be ‘tourists’. We stayed at the The Falls Mountain Retreat and there was a great bush walk from here that ended up the fab Conservation Hut Cafe with incredible views. Always a good option!

Image of glass-bottomed cable car at Scenic World, Blue Mountains New South Wales Australia
The glass-bottomed cable car at Scenic World, in temperate rainforest, Blue Mountains, NSW

Other national parks across Australia will offer walking trails, camping and tours. There is even rainforest as far south as Tasmania. Apparently the ‘creepy crawly trail‘ in the SouthWest National Park of Tasmania is ‘well worth a visit’ (hmm!).

You should be able to explore and enjoy the rainforest at your own pace no matter where you are in Australia. With the exception (hopefully obviously!) of the outback, most states in Australia can offer you a rainforest experience – just don’t expect it always to be Tarzan-like loincloth weather. In the Tasmanian rainforest in winter you’ll definitely want a coat!

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