‘Too cold for crocs’: freshwater snorkelling in the Daintree rainforest

‘Too cold for crocs’: freshwater snorkelling in the Daintree rainforest

Christine Retschlag is equally at home in the pristine tropical rivers of north Queensland.

We stroll through cane and Croc country on our way to a river-drift snorkel in the Daintree, the oldest rainforest in the world.

Harrowing? What about the crocodiles that live in the river itself?

Artemis, named after the goddess of hunting, assures that this section of Mossman River is too cold to support crocs.

They may inhabit the tropical north Queensland, but they would be insane to swim in water that is, at best, 24C during summer and, at worst, 16C during winter.

On this cold winter day, tourists like myself are not so sane to be standing by the riverside, wriggling into wetsuits.

Artemis gives us each a red river sled and a mask. This will be our chariot for this merry journey. Our sleds resemble Santa’s reindeer as we trek through the rainforest. With my red nose and my tendency to be clumsy, I am pretty sure that I am Rudolph when it comes time to dive into the river’s crisp water.

In my wetsuit boots, I stumble over river stones as if I were stumbling down a European cobblestoned laneway in heels and tipsy.

Artemis gives us directions for the journey to come and reminds us that the river is like life in the sense that it’s best to “go with the flow.” She says to ignore instincts and to “lean in” if we are heading towards a rock or tree. This will prevent us from crashing into it or rolling.

This speech is becoming a motivational one.

Artemis warns us not to touch the stinging trees if we do not want to suffer excruciating pain. Before I even think about the crocs, there are so many things in this river and rainforest that could kill you.

We stop at a massive mahogany, and I hear rapids gushing in the background. Gushing? The brochure did not mention this.

On the riverbank, I look back to Artemis and point out the rapids, whipped up by the La Nina rainy season.

“We aren’t going through that?” I asked incredulously.

Don’t worry. They’re only level 5 rapids.

Level five rapids? My river sled suddenly doesn’t seem so solid. She can see the horror on my face. “Oops, I mean 0.5 metre rapids.”

I exhale as a humpback.

We snorkel in a calm area to search for turtles. Freshwater fish. Water dragons. And the elusive platypus.

I see a lot of fish. The river is full of splashes of silver and dashes of color, which are darting around the logs. I’m encouraged to look under them.

This river contains at least eight different species of goby. One of them is endangered. In that river, there are many kinds of goby.

On this trip, I did not see any saw-shelled Turtles. I was told that there were even turtles named after their serrated shells. Blue Ulysses butterflies are seen fluttering like prima ballerinas in the brochure.

The rapids are as thrilling as sugar cane. We then float back down the river to our starting point. We are told to relax and let go of our worries at the end as we glide beneath the rainforest canopy.

The two-hour journey comes to an end in peace.

When I order a margarita with a thick rim in the Palm Cove bar, I am closest to feeling salty all day. From croc stories to cocktails, I survived to snorkel another day.

Back Country Bliss offers half-day River Drift snorkeling tours twice daily, starting at $120 for adults or $395 per family of four. Hotel transfers are available.

You can stay in Palm Cove, a smaller version of Port Douglas that is without pretense and price tags. Beachfront Campsites begin at just $50 per night. Or at Paradise on the Beach Resort, where rooms start at as low as $300 a day.

Cairns is the closest airport to Palm Cove, and regular flights are available from all capitals. While several shuttle services operate from Cairns to the Palm Cove region, it is best to rent a vehicle.

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