The Wet Tropics World Heritage Area stretches from about 200 kilometres north of Cairns to some 300 kilometres south. About 3,000 plant species from 210 families are found in the Wet Tropics. Twelve out of the world’s 19 families of primitive flowering plants grow here and within these families, there are at least 50 species found only in the Wet Tropics. While many of the plants in the rainforest have been around for millions of years, there are ferns that have been around longer.
The Wet Tropics region is also home to about a third of Australia’s 315 mammal species – as well as relatively common mammals like the platypus and wallaby, the Wet Tropics is home to 13 mammal species, which are found nowhere else in the world. Some of the Wet Tropics rainforest species have close relatives in New Guinea and Southeast Asia.
Rainforest Aboriginal people are the original owners of the Wet Tropics rainforests with more than 20 Aboriginal tribal groups having ongoing traditional connections to land in and near the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
To Rainforest Aboriginal people, the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area is a series of complex “living” cultural landscapes. This means that natural features are interwoven with Rainforest Aboriginal people’s religion, spirituality, economic use (including food, medicines, tools) and social and moral organisation. Story places (natural features such as mountains, rivers, waterfalls, swimming holes, trees) are parts of the Wet Tropics landscape that are important to Rainforest Aboriginal people as they symbolise features that were created during the ancestral creation period (sometimes called the “Dreaming” or the “Dreamtime”).
Many eco-accredited tour operators will take groups on day trips into the rainforest, either the Cape Tribulation / Daintree Area or the Kuranda / Atherton Tablelands Area, explaining the complexity of the rainforest eco-system. Night safaris, when the rainforest really comes to life, are also available.
Cape Tribulation, where the rainforest meets the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, is an area north of Daintree, at the end of the bitumen. The Daintree Cable Ferry provides access into the Cape Tribulation area. This area is accessible by conventional vehicles except during periods of heavy rain when it is recommended access by 4WD only be used. Travelling north of Cape Tribulation on the coastline road to Cooktown (Bloomfield Track) is for 4WD vehicles only.
Access to the Tablelands is via a scenic 30 minute drive northwest of Cairns to Kuranda or to the south access via the Gilles Highway to Yungaburra or the Palmerston Highway to Millaa Millaa, All roads link to the towns of Malanda, Atherton, Herberton and Mareeba and to Lake Tinaroo.
Kuranda is the aboriginal for ‘village in the rainforest’. There are three spectacular ways to visit Kuranda – the Kuranda Scenic Railway, the multi-award winning Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and Kuranda Range Road. Atherton is the “capital” of the lovely Tropical Tablelands, a land of beautiful lakes, waterfalls, rich red soil and tropical rainforest. Tea, Coffee, vegetable and tropical fruit crops (mango, lychee, banana, rambutan, mangosteen etc), dairy farming all feature in the local economy. The area also has a number of natural attractions such as the Curtain Fig Tree, Millaa Millaa Falls, crater lakes and amazing rock formations, all of which are easily accessed.