Daintree Ecolodge, a slice of luxury in World Heritage listed rainforest

Moving at 100km/h, a car covers seven kilometres in four minutes and 12 seconds, so it is just four minutes and 12 seconds that shields Daintree Ecolodge from the outside world and what has kept this part of the Daintree a secret to all but a keen few.

Cape Tribulation offers travellers everything, from locally-grown tropical fruit ice-cream, to lively bars by the beach, to zip-line rides through the rainforest, to luxury five-star lodges reachable only by boat. That's why this tiny slice of the Daintree goes almost entirely unnoticed. It's lost in time ... all four minutes and 12 seconds of it.

But I'm ignoring the turn-off to Cape Tribulation and the traffic is not following me – the procession of campervans, 4WDs and Wicked backpacker vans behind me don't care about this place. As I drive with my windows down, I can smell the Daintree close to the road beside me.

There's no older tropical rainforest on Earth and a hectare of it is home to more species of flora and fauna than there is across the forests of Europe and North America combined. Naturalist David Attenborough says his time in the Daintree was "one of the magical experiences of my life". If there's really 12,000 insect species in the Daintree, nothing's keeping them out of this place. Nor the 74 species of reptiles or the endangered cassowary, one of the only species of bird known to have killed humans.

As I arrive at the Daintree Ecolodge, there are no other cars on the road outside though the bird song here would block out any traffic – there's 430 species of bird in the rainforest, including 13 species found nowhere else on the planet. The buzz-saw crescendo of cicadas is deafening as I'm led along a wooden walkway, beside wild ginger and huge ferns, to my canopy bayan, a treehouse open to the rainforest. The Ecolodge's restaurant, Julaymba, sits atop a shaded billabong that's thick with frogs and god knows what, while the Daintree Wellness Spa faces out across the tallest trees of the forest.

Just after my arrival I head to the spa for a massage called Julma at the Waterfall. I am led through forest along a narrow rocky trail to a cascade and on a wooden platform by the falls, a masseur has set up a table for my treatment. I can't swim here – only women are allowed according to the laws of the Kuku Yalanji people who've lived in this area for 10,000 years – but there are no rules about me falling asleep as the Julma mix of Eastern and Western massage techniques works its magic.

Dusk ushers in a brief period of silence that lasts till the frogs begin. A private five-course degustation meal has been prepared for me in the forest, under stars I can just make out through the trees. For this menu executive chef Simone Watts uses ingredients such as rock lobster, lemon aspen, black garlic, green papaya and local barramundi..

Next day I take to the road that stays close to the rainforest, then passes over the Daintree River. Around hairpin corners I look up to mountains on the horizon. "No river reach in northern Australia possesses surroundings combining so much distant mountain grandeur, with local beauty and such wealth of vegetation," wrote George Dalyrmple, who led an expedition here in 1873.

The bitumen ends three kilometres up the road at tiny outpost town, Daintree Village. Its main street is covered in orange-and-white frangipani and red-flowering mangoes, and its residents make their living off the 60-or-so salt-water crocs who occupy the river that passes through town (a Crocodile Express River Cruise, anyone? How about coffee at the Croc Xpresso Cafe? Fancy a croc burger at the The Big Barramundi Cafe?). There's Queenslander homes all just a street-width away from the wildest rainforest on Earth.

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There's not a lick of tar barely 200 metres beyond the village, just winding dirt roads – with corrugations that'll test the shock absorbers in your car – to waterfalls no-one's heard of, such as Tranquillity Falls. The roads soon get unpassable, unless you've got the gall to take on the legendary CREB (Cairns Regional Electricity Board) Track, the only road north from here to Cooktown.

I take a river cruise up the Daintree River with local Alex Powlow. Although he begins the tour by telling me he's recently seen two cows taken by crocs, he's at pains to point out that riding this river is not about spotting crocodiles. "Lots of the plants here date back to the dinosaur era, don't you think that's more impressive?" he says.

There's just one other couple on-board, but Powlow says that's standard round here. We motor slowly up a river flanked by wild hibiscus where swallows perform dive-bombing aerobatic shows. Around each corner, the place gets wilder: there's Thornton Peak, a 1374-metre-high mountain that is one of the wettest spots in Australia, and thousands of egrets fly just a few metres from the boat, centimetres above the water.

"Most of the low-lying Daintree was cleared for farming," Powlow tells us. "Here it's remarkably intact, and the best part is barely anyone ever comes up this far to see it."

On another day I take picnic hampers to tiny coastal settlements down the road, which everyone else passes by, and eat beside green seas beneath coconut trees. There's the odd caravan park on an occasional sandy bay: dream holiday spots for locals who prefer to avoid all us lot.

And then before I know it, I'm back south dodging the crowds of holidaymakers on Palm Cove's foreshore, 75 minutes away, fantasising already about those four minutes and 12 seconds that gave me my own piece of Far North Queensland.

TRIP NOTES

Craig Tansley travelled courtesy of Daintree Ecolodge.

MORE

traveller.com.au/tropical-north-queensland

queensland.com

FLY

Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Qantas fly daily to Cairns. See jetstar.com.au ; virginaustralia.com.au ; qantas.com.au

Hire cars are available at Cairns International Airport and Daintree Ecolodge is 90 minutes' drive north of Cairns.

STAY

Daintree Ecolodge offers 15 bayans (treehouses) among the rainforest from $380 a night. See daintree-ecolodge.com.au

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