Review: Cairns evening rainforest tours take guests wildlife spotting

The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Queensland Wet Tropics is a major draw for visitors to FNQ, and as you would expect, there are lots of tours on offer. However, only this one combines a journey into the spectacular rainforest with evening wildlife spotting. Review: Julietta Henderson

Cairns evening rainforest tours

Cairns evening rainforest tours: Meet the locals.

5 stars

Cairns evening rainforest tours with Wait-A-While Rainforest Tours

These Cairns evening rainforest tours through the Atherton Tablelands will introduce you to the extraordinary biodiversity of the Queensland Wet Tropics. You’ll have the chance to spot some of the region’s shyest nocturnal animals and enjoy a delicious included dinner. Duration: 8.5 hours (approx.)

Today I’ll see a rare Australian mammal, eat schnitzel in a Swiss-Italian chalet, run around a cow paddock whisper-shouting ‘bubbles!’ and get up close and very personal with a green ant’s, err, rear end – none of which I can even remotely foresee, but all of which constitutes a regular day at the office for my host Paul McLellan.

I’m heading out on a Rainforest Spotlighting Tour with Cairns-based Wait-A-While Rainforest Tours and the 2pm start is a welcome relief from the usual un-holiday-like early starts of a full-day tour. However, we’re still going to squeeze in a full day as we’re not expected back until 10.30pm.

These Cairns evening rainforest tours with Wait-A-While are the only ones that venture into the rainforest after dark, and with 80% of our Aussie wildlife enjoying some pretty vigorous nocturnal activity, I’m excited about what’s to come.

Our guide Paul is bang on time to pick me up and we make a couple more stops to pick up the rest of our small party of eight. The minibus evolves into a microcosm of nations, with Dutch, American, Japanese, and my companion and I the token Aussies of the group.

Cairns evening rainforest tours

Image courtesy of Wait-A-While Rainforest Tours

My slight surprise that these Cairns evening rainforest tours are led by an ex-pat Brit is dispelled within 30 seconds of meeting Paul, whose passion for all things Australian is backed by a 20-year exploration of the country, his wonderfully warm personality and an encyclopedic knowledge of, well, everything!

The bio-diverse North Queensland region is home to the highest density of wildlife in Australia and one of the highest in the world, and Paul explains we’ll be travelling through a number of different habitats.

Cairns evening rainforest tours

Cairns evening rainforest tours. Image: Bigstock

First stop is an outer suburb of Cairns, where we meet a group of agile wallabies hanging out in a paddock and Paul gives us a lesson on using binoculars – the most important accessory for the trip.

It’s also here that he convinces all of us (in varying states of squeamishness) to lick the aforementioned green ant’s posterior, assuring us it’s an indigenous delicacy. I’m here to tell you it didn’t taste half bad (citrusy) and no ants were harmed!

After the twists and turns of the Gillies Range (263 of them, thanks Paul), we arrive at the Danbulla State Forest in the Atherton Tableland and walk the short distance to the magnificent 800-year-old Cathedral Fig, to the calls of whip birds and Paul’s very relatable blend of history, botany, geology and the odd bit of comedy.

Cairns evening rainforest tours

Curtain Fig Tree. Image: Bigstock

Our next stop is the volcanic crater lake, Lake Barrine (created some 17,000 years ago) where Paul serves us afternoon tea that he conjures up from the back of the bus. Even that serves a purpose, with the revelation that we’re sharing our picnic shelter with a colony of bats that live in the roof, and we’re able to get a very close look at them.

We head into the rainforest along the trail that runs around the perimeter of the lake – with Paul pointing out the extensive flora and fauna – to the massive, mind-blowing bulk of the 1000-year-old Twin Kauri Pines. A few of us even enjoy a surreal swing on a massive hanging vine as thick as a leg.

Cairns evening rainforest tours

Lake Barrine. Image: Julietta Henderson

Back in our little bus, we pull up in front of a fragmented grove of rainforest habitat that you’d never look at twice, but which under Paul’s excellent eyesight, turns into a highlight of the tour, with the sighting of several rare tree kangaroos.

Buoyed by that sighting, Paul’s contagious enthusiasm is in full flight by the time we reach our platypus viewing site (a private creek running through a paddock, complete with cow pats).

Cairns evening rainforest tours

Cairns evening rainforest tours. Image: Julietta Henderson

Binoculars in hand we scurry around the banks following Paul’s shouted whispers of ‘over there, bubbles!’ – learning that platypuses have around 45 seconds of underwater time before emerging for a breath.

Luck and the gods of the Tableland are on our side and we enjoy multiple sightings of these very cute animals, together with an absolutely breathtaking sunset – a highlight of these Cairns evening rainforest tours.

Cairns evening rainforest tours

Cairns evening rainforest tours. Image: Bigstock

After a delicious dinner at Nick’s Restaurant (itself a very different kind of microcosm of the Italian-Swiss persuasion!) we head off for our wildlife spotlighting.

Firstly though, under crystal clear skies we’re introduced to another of Paul’s passions as he guides us through the Milky Way, planet by planet, star by star, with our feet planted slap in the middle of a dead quiet, deserted bitumen road in the heart of the rainforest. It is, for me at least, an absolutely magical moment.

We wander along the road and through the forest, Paul’s eagle-eyes and spotlight alerting us to active possums and other nocturnal wildlife for almost an hour, before calling it a night.

Cairns evening rainforest tours

Image: Sourced

Paul’s commitment to providing an ‘experience’ rather than just a tour never wavers – and our journey back down the Gillies is set against a soundtrack of all-Australian music, which is hugely nostalgic for my companion and I and fabulously bemusing for some of the others!

Cairns evening rainforest tours

Cairns evening rainforest tours. Image: Julietta Henderson

As a North Queensland local, I thought there wasn’t much I didn’t know about this spectacular rainforest habitat and its wildlife, but thanks to Paul’s knowledge, hospitality and generosity of spirit on these Cairns evening rainforest tours, this fantastic experience has left me understanding just how much I still have to learn.

Julietta travelled as a guest of Wait-A-While Rainforest Tours.

Additional images: Bigstock


About the writer

Julietta Henderson is a travel and feature writer. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying 10 years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. She has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and Russia, and believes the keys to a great travel experience are an open heart, an open mind and an open-ended ticket. Apart from travel, she writes on subjects as diverse as photography, business, and well-being, and is halfway through her first novel. An avid lover of cold weather, Julietta’s master travel plan of never having to sweat again has somehow slipped out of synch and she’s currently on her third consecutive year of non-stop summer.

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