Route: Baral Marrjanga-Rex Creek Bridge-Rainforest Circuit Track
Approximate distance: 3.5km
Start / Finish: Shuttle Bus Stop via Mossman Gorge Visitors Centre, Mossman
Highlights: An easy taste of the iconic tropical rainforest of far north Queensland
Rainforests can be a contradiction of exquisite beauty and foreboding dread. They are amazing, living things, jam-packed with anything and everything that can claim a foothold in a spare millimetre of earth. Ferns eclipse ferns, trees envelop trees, fungus flourishes among decaying hollows, leaves expand to gargantuan heights. Yet the density which forms from the flourish of life can begin to overwhelm; the moody subdued light, the lack of a sky, the enclosing, oppressive air, the constant soundtrack of insects waiting to bite you. There is nothing run-of-the-mill about a rainforest.
The tropical rainforests of Far North Queensland make for special land. The very mention of the Daintree will ignite something in the eyes of Australians far and wide, new and old; in the Australian psyche, the Daintree is up there with Uluru. At Mossman Gorge, a snippet of this world is easy to access, possible to penetrate. There are more dramatic gorges, there are more scenic forests, there are more powerful rivers. But there probably isn’t the spirit, the essence, an unfathomable sanctity which permeates the damp earth and heavy air here.
This walk provides a fine opportunity to get a taste of this world, without the need to traverse boggy dirt roads, end up lost, or get eaten by crocodiles. In fact, it all starts rather civilised at the visitor centre which is a few kilometres west of the small town of Mossman, about an hour and a half north of Cairns. Fairly recently built by the looks of things, here you can grab a coffee, peruse some local Indigenous art, and buy a chocolate frog to keep things ticking over while you wait for the bus.
The shuttle bus takes visitors to the Mossman River and start of the walking tracks. This is strongly recommended by the park rangers, the alternative being a four kilometre walk along a nondescript road upon which a bus full of rambunctious tourists may just be around the next corner. Sure, you can walk up the road to save money, but show some respect for traditional owners, support the upkeep and maintenance of this precious place, and take the chance to hang out with some rambunctious tourists.
From the shuttle bus drop off, the Baral Marrjanga boardwalk immediately immerses you into a biome of green. Like bangers and mash and politics and lies, boardwalks and rainforests seem to go hand in hand, raised above the ground, snaking their way through the trees and ferns like a native carnivorous legless reptile. Leading off from here you can take your first few steps down to the pristine clear waters of the Mossman River. Sometimes this spot might be open for swimming, depending on the intensity of the current.
Just a little further on, there’s chance to wobble and take selfies on one of those suspension bridges spanning the water. As such, Rex Creek Bridge might get a little congested and bouncy. But I suspect a lot of people turn around here, whereas the bridge offers those who wish to explore further access to quieter trails on the Rainforest Circuit.
It’s not particularly hard going – a few steps to climb here and there, a vine or two to negotiate, giant waxy leaves the size of a human to comprehend. But take your time, pause, look up and listen. At first what seems an eerie quietness – given this is a place teeming with life – fades. A chirrup in the canopy. A clicking from the ground. Scratching from a bush turkey. Or a feral pig. Or goodness knows what. Perhaps a butterfly, massive blue wings floating with supreme elegance among the ferns.
Marvel at the curtain figs and the stranglers and the knotted vines, intertwined like two snakes cast in a spell. Avoid any stinging trees, an inevitable product of that Australian hyper-aggression in the evolutionary race. Check out the coloured patches of fungus, sprouting along branches returned to the ground, cycling and recycling an ecosystem older than dinosaurs.
Probably about three quarters around the rainforest circuit I unexpectedly came across a sign pointing towards Wurrmbu Creek, a short detour of a couple of hundred metres. Starting to feel the need for lunch and yearning to see a sky again, I almost gave it a miss. And that would have been a mistake of giant fan palm proportions. For here was a spot of unadulterated natural beauty, a sanctuary among the undergrowth.
Of course, such a jewel attracted a few other curious walkers, the more Germanic amongst them suddenly finding the ability to change into swimmers and wade into the water for photos. Thankfully the mobile signal seems lacking here, disrupting the inevitably of FaceTime calls home. And the small pool can barely accommodate a football team that have crashed out of the World Cup, meaning it’s usually a quick dip, a snap, and out again. The rainforest rewards patience.
Leaving the creek as another flurry of walkers discovered its allure, it wasn’t long before the circle was completed at Rex Creek bridge. More bouncing, more selfies and back onto the boardwalk. From the boardwalk a turn left – onto the River Circuit Track – provides a minor alternative final few steps back to the shuttle bus stop, fringing the Mossman River and its natural artistry of smooth boulders set in opal water. An artistry which is timeless, endless, full of life, and full of spirit.
- Just a few clicks away, Mossman doesn’t seem the most happening place in the world (though I did pass through on a Sunday). There is a supermarket and it is also known for its local markets every Saturday.
- The gorge provides a god detour (if time allows) for trips up to Cape Tribulation, where more of the Daintree is discoverable.
- Port Douglas is the nearest place of significant size, and only about 20 minutes or so drive from the gorge. It’s essentially a resort town, so has its fair share of cafes, restaurants, pubs, tours, a rather fine brewery (Hemingways), and numerous boat trip options to the Great Barrier Reef and Low Isles. You can also see crocs on boats meandering down the Dickson Inlet.
- The city of Cairns has the closest airport and a scenic drive north which fringes the coastline in places leads to Port Douglas and Mossman. If in Cairns, don’t miss the Botanic Gardens for your fill of tropical flora to the max!
Mossman Gorge site: https://www.mossmangorge.com.au/
Walk descriptions: https://www.mossmangorge.com.au/experience/gorge-activities
Map of the area and trails: https://www.mossmangorge.com.au/-/media/Files/Configuration/Maps/MG_WalkingTrail_Map_0517.pdf