If you have the time it is much better to do an overnight trip to Cape Trib. The only extra cost is your accommodation ($25-$30), and it gives you much more time in Cape Trib itself. Typically the overnight tours include everything the day trips include except your lunch. On the way up you might do your croc cruise and Mossman Gorge. They will then drop you off at your backpackers at lunchtime and pick you up after lunch the following day, giving you a whole day to enjoy the beaches, do some rainforest walks by yourself and so on. On the way back to Cairns you do the remaining included tour activities.
Cairns Backpackers Guide
If you come to Cairns you absolutely must go to see the rainforest (that is unless you only have 1 day in which case you should go to the reef!). There are 3 easily accessible rainforest areas near Cairns for a backpacker. The most popular is Cape Tribulation. The 2nd is the Atherton Tableands and the 3rd one is the Mt Whitfield range/botanic gardens area in Cairns City. So which one is best for you? Cape Trib. is the most jungle-like and is the most pristine, but in the wet season it is VERY wet and you cannot swim in the ocean due to the jelly fish. During this season the Atherton Tablelands may be a better choice as there are lakes and waterfalls to swim in and it is not as wet. If you have time do both. The Mt Whitfield area is good if you only have half a day but the rainforest is not as lush as Cape Trib nor are there any swimming areas like the Tablelands.
Cape Tribulation is the lushest rainforest in Australia, and the most ancient in the world. It has more plant and animal species than anywhere in Australia. It has fantastic beaches and boardwalks that make it easy to experience the rainforest. Once you cross over the Daintree River you drive for about an hour through the rainforest which just seems to go on forever just to get to Cape Trib. You arrive and then there is nothing but rainforest, amazing beaches and a few accommodations and backpacker hostels. You can either do a day trip there or an overnight tour where you stay at a Backpackers. The overnight tours are the best if you have the time because the only extra cost is your accommodation, and you get more time to really appreciate the rainforest setting.
A green tree frog in the Cape Tribulation rainforest
This is what is typically included in a day trip to Cape Trib:•Croc spotting boat tour•Guided rainforest walk •Free time at Mossman Gorge•Time at Cape Trib Beach•Your lunchA day trip costs between $99 and $160
The Curtain Fig Tree on the Atherton Tablelands will be every backpackers favourite photo object
The Atherton Tablelands is about an hour drive west of Cairns and is a great place to not just see some rainforest, but also cool off in the lakes or waterfalls, something not easily accessible in Cape Trib. In fact, it makes sense to do the Tablelands rather than Cape Trib if you are here during the wet season not just so that you can take a dip, but also because Cape Trib gets so much rain in the wet season it’s not funny. On the tablelands there are lakes, waterfalls, giant trees, enchanted castles and lots of wildlife. You can drive there or there are cheap tours as well.
Mt Whitfield Ranges
The Red Arrow walk near the Cairns Botanic Gardens.
Mt Whitfield is a rainforest clad hill in the suburbs of Cairns, just a 10 minute bus trip away. In this single area there are 2 rainforest walks you can do; the Red Arrow walk or the Centenary Lakes Boardwalk. The Red Arrow Walk is a steep hour loop walk through rainforest next to the Botanic Gardens, or you can add on the Blue Arrow section and turn it into a 3 hour walk. The Centenary Lakes Boardwalk is an easy 30 minute stroll through swampy palm rainforest that leads to the Botanic Gardens. The Botanic Gardens themsevles are free and are worth seeing and there is a cafe here as well. Many people do the Red Arrow followed by a visit to the Botanic Gardens. To get here catch any bus heading north along Sheridan Street, ask the drive to let you off on the corner of Collins Avenue, then it’s a 10 minute walk along Collins Avenue to the Gardens/Red Arrow.