Australia contains one of the world’s oldest rainforests, which can be traced to the time of the Gondwana supercontinent that existed 184 million years ago.
Spanning 900,000 hectares between Townsville and Cooktown, the Wet Tropics region is where you find most of Australia’s tropical rainforest. Around 15% of the Wet Tropics is protected by national parks with many fascinating animals and plants to see, including large, colorful butterflies, giant birds, hummingbird-like sunbirds, prehistoric-looking reptiles, and giant trees.
In addition to fantastic wildlife, enjoy beautiful scenery with many waterfalls, lakes, rivers, gorges, and rainforest-covered mountains. The area often regarded as the jewel in the crown of the Wet Tropics is the fantastic Daintree National Park, which can be easily reached from Port Douglas just north of Cairns city.
A nature combination rarely found in other parts of the world, one of the fantastic features of this area is that you can tour both the rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef on your stay.
Some of the favorite animals to spot in the Wet Tropics include the large, lightning-blue Ulysses butterflies (often used as the symbol for Wet Tropics tourism), bright-green Cairns birdwing butterflies, giant southern cassowaries, large fruit bats, intimidating crocodiles, and tree kangaroos.
Within the Wet Tropics region, you can find 90 different orchids, close to 370 different birds, including the largest and most colorful species in Australia, around 100 different reptiles, 50 amphibians, and around 100 different mammals, which represents 30% of all Australian mammal species.
The birdwatching in this area is incredible and birders are drawn from the world over to spot some fantastic species, including fig parrots, little kingfishers, honeyeaters, lorikeets, the Victoria’s riflebird, and the imposing southern cassowary.
The aboriginal people of this section of Australia have lived in the rainforest region continuously for around 5,000 years. Each section of the Wet Tropics was an ancestral home of different aboriginal groups and we will mention each on the list of Wet Tropics national parks.
There are many walks through the Wet Tropics that you can enjoy, such as some fantastic boardwalks showing off the mangroves, rainforest, waterfalls, and streams, and longer hikes for the more adventurous.
While exploring the Wet Tropics, remember that estuarine crocodiles are now common and are potentially dangerous. Don’t swim or go near the water unless swimming is specifically recommended. The saying to remember is to be croc wise in croc country.
Within the Australian Wet Tropics, you can find a number of national parks including the following:
The Daintree National Park
The Daintree National Park is the main visitor destination in the Wet Tropics. The area has different boardwalks to spot many different animals, including the large colorful butterflies, small mammals, and reptiles, such as different pythons, Boyd’s forest dragons, and eastern water dragons. You can also enjoy a walk to see the mangroves and walk through the rainforest to see giant rainforest trees. You can also enjoy a tour on the Daintree River to see saltwater crocodiles and many colorful birds.
Located about 100 km north of Cairns, the Daintree National Park is a World Heritage Site and is separated into two sections by the Daintree River. The northern section is the most often visited by tourists, however, the park officially begins near the Mossman Gorge.
The park protects a fraction of one of the world’s oldest tropical rainforests, which is believed to have existed continuously for over 100 million years. The rainforest streams are home the iconic platypus and roaming the forest of an evening are echidnas. Unusually for mammals, both of these Australian icons lay eggs similarly to their reptilian ancestors.
There are many animals to see, such as tree-kangaroos, pademelons, bandicoots, the yellow-bellied glider, and a diversity of other amphibians and reptiles, including various delicate treefrogs. The birds you can enjoy spotting include different kingfishers, various honeyeaters, herons, egrets, flycatchers, and cormorants.
The Silky Oaks Lodge offers one of the most comfortable lodges in Australia’s Wet Tropics and provides excellent tours of the Daintree region. Enjoy luxurious suites, delicious food, tours of the Daintree National Park, and even combine with the Great Barrier Reef on their package tours.
The Barron Gorge National Park
The Barron Gorge National Park is one of the must-visit locations in Australia’s Wet Tropics as a great way to see the park is to enjoy the Cairns to Kuranda cable car. You will then see the Barron Falls, which is a fantastic waterfall to spot on your journey.
The national park is about very close to Cairns and Kuranda, and the park can be crossed using the cable car system already mentioned, but is also to be enjoyed on the Kuranda Scenic Railway that passes through the park. In addition to observing the Barron Falls, you can also enjoy scenic cruises on the Barron River.
There are different animals to spot within the park, including the freshwater crocodiles, colorful butterflies, cassowaries, scrubfowl, large fruit bats, northern quolls, and even the Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroos. The park has some fantastic scenery and is covered in lush tropical rainforest.
Surrounded by tropical rainforest, the main feature of the park is the Barron River. The river crosses the Atherton Tablelands before running through the park and crashing through the Barron Gorge to form a spectacular waterfall, the Barron Falls. However, if planning the best time to visit, the falls are most spectacular over the wet season. To view the falls, you can visit the small tourist village of Kuranda.
The Djabugay people are the traditional inhabitants of the Barron River area and many different historical walking tracks have been opened up in collaboration with the Djabugay. The tracks have been placed to follow the traditional routes the Djabugay took through the rainforest.
Kuranda & the Kuranda National Park
A much-loved area for visitors, Kuranda can be reached from the Skyrail gondola cable car over the Barron Gorge National Park or the scenic railway through the Barron Gorge National Park. You can also enjoy the scenic drive from Cairns, which takes around 40 minutes.
Sitting in fantastic tropical rainforest, Kuranda is an especially loved destination for birdwatchers and nature lovers, and there are different accommodation options for visitors looking for a longer stay. The area has different museums, a butterfly sanctuary, a reptile park, and a wildlife sanctuary. There are also lots of places to buy souvenirs, such as local shops, markets, and art galleries.
Covering just under 30,000 hectares, the Kuranda National Park begins just north of Kuranda, but extends all the way along the coast from Palm Cove then merges with the Mowbray National Park and Macalister Range National Park.
The Kuranda National Park has different walking tracks throughout the forest to enjoy some spectacular scenery. The park protects the southern cassowary, lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo, and a great many birds. The park is regarded as a very important wildlife corridor and is home to a number of iconic animals.
The Wooroonooran National Park
The Wooroonooran National Park sits just north-west of Innisfail and extends up to about halfway between Innisfail and Cairns. The park covers around 80,000 hectares of tropical forest and includes two of Queensland’s highest mountains, Mount Bellenden Ker and the slightly higher Mount Bartle Frere.
This is often regarded as one of the best areas of the Wet Tropics to see attractive scenery and features. One of the favorite attractions of the Wooroonooran National Park is Josephine Falls, which can be viewed after enjoying a fantastic walk through the rainforest. Take care on the walk as the rocks can get slippery.
An area rich in waterfalls, you can also enjoy walks to see many others in the park, including Tchupala Falls, Nandroya Falls, Whites Falls, Clamshell Falls and Wallicher Falls.
Another favorite feature is the Mamu Rainforest Canopy Walkway, which provides a great experience of the rainforest canopy where you can spot different birds and see life from the treetops.
The wildlife you can see in the national park includes many different birds, such as azure kingfishers, buff-breasted paradise-kingfishers, cassowaries, orange-footed scrubfowl, various honeyeaters, the rainbow bee-eater, olive-backed sunbirds, different parrots and bowerbirds. The mammals to spot include red-legged pademelons, Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroos, the spotted-tailed quoll, and echidnas.
In addition to the canopy walkway, many forest walkways, hiking trails, and waterfalls, there are a number of other recreational activities, including mountain biking, canoeing, and camping areas to fully enjoy the park.
The Tully Gorge National Park
Located just south of Wooroonooran National Park, Tully Gorge National Park is a great place to enjoy camping, walks, hiking trails, scenic lookouts, and even white-water rafting for the more adventurous.
This is an important area for Wet Tropics wildlife and, like many protected areas in the Wet Tropics, has been recognised by BirdLife International for the different species you can see. Especially important are the birds you can see in Tully Gorge National Park that are endemic to the Wet Tropics region.
Tully Gorge National Park is another fantastic place to see waterfalls and the main one is the Tully Falls, which is better viewed in the wet season. The Tully Falls is 300 meters high and there’s a walking trail to get above the falls and a viewing platform easily reached from the road. The park is also home to a picturesque picnic area called the Alligators’ Nest.
The Black Mountain National Park
The Black Mountain National Park is a smaller protected area in the Wet Tropics than the others on the list. Sitting just south of Cooktown, the east coast’s most northern town, the national park has some fascinating features and wildlife.
The park is dotted with giant granite boulders and is great place to enjoy beautiful scenery. Be warned that many people have gone missing while exploring the boulders and mountain. However, you can stop at the lookout on the Mulligan Highway, which has signs with information on the area.
The boulders are solidified magma that formed millions of years ago under the Earth’s surface. After the land above the magma eroded, the granite was exposed and now has blue-green algae growing on the surface, which gives the boulders their blackish color.
Given the area’s unique appearance and features, the mountain and area is very significant for the Kuku Nyungkal people who are the ancestral inhabitants of the area. Within the national park are different sites of spiritual importance, including rocks that resemble animals native to the region.
The park is where the rainforest meets the dry savanna woodland and it’s the mixing of habitats that creates homes for many different animals, including a number of amphibians and reptiles that don’t live anywhere else.
The Edmund Kennedy National Park
Named after the mid-nineteenth century explorer who encountered the area, the Edmund Kennedy National Park is part of the Wet Tropics and contains coastal rainforest, swamplands, eucalypt forest, mangrove forests, and melaleuca woodland. The ancestral people of the area are the Girramay.
Within the national park, you can find the usual wildlife from the Wet Tropics region, such as southern cassowaries, saltwater crocodiles, lace monitors, and similarly to other areas of the region, the park was recognized as an important area for different birds by BirdLife International. The birds you can find here include scrubfowl, butcherbirds, honeyeaters, orioles, and many others.
There are different walking tracks you can enjoy that take you through the different habitats and forest types. You can spot different plants and animals on the trails and some of the favorites are the bright red mangrove crabs you can spot on the mangrove walkways.
The Girringun National Park
The Girringun National Park is one of the more southern national parks of the Australian Wet Tropics. Located just southwest of Ingham, the park is mainly wet sclerophyll forests, but there are pockets of rainforest throughout. The are many different walk in the national park from day walks to mutli-day hikes
The area contains fantastic wildlife, including the endangered Sharman’s rock-wallaby, platypus, water dragons, crimson rosellas, and many other birds. There are a few different waterfalls to see like the Blencoe Falls that stands 90 meters high (four wheel vehicles only). However, the most popular waterfall in the park is Wallaman Falls, which is Australia’s largest single drop waterfall at 268 meters high.
Other attractions in the Girringun National Park include the impressive Mount Fox, which is an ancient volcano and dotted around the park are granite boulders a meter wide from an eruption over 100,000 years ago. The traditional owners of the land are the Warrgamaygan people.
The Paluma Range National Park
The southernmost park of the Wet Tropics region and located just 80 km north of Townsville and Magnetic Island, Paluma Range National Park is a great place to visit to enjoy different waterfalls and the much-loved Crystal Creek section of the park for the swimming holes.
The main attractions of the national park include Crystal Creek, Jourama Falls, and Lake Paluma. There are many different walking tracks throughout the park to see the forest, waterfalls, water holes, and wildlife.
The area is regarded as important for wildlife and has been identified by BirdLife International as the Paluma Important Bird Area because it is the southern limit for different Australian species, including the southern cassowary iconic to the Wet Tropics region. This is also where you can find the rare golden bowerbirds, many different birds of prey, red-tailed black-cockatoos, superb fruit-doves, zebra finches, the red-backed fairy-wren, olive-backed sunbirds, and various honeyeaters, parrots, colorful kingfishers, herons and egrets.
Another of Australia’s iconic animals, platypus can be seen within the Paluma Range National Park and a great place to see them is in the Hidden Valley area.