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Leave Winter Behind

CAIRNS TO DAINTREE NATIONAL PARK

WHY Want to play Croc Hunter for three days?Drive north along the coast 124 miles from Cairns, Queensland, to Daintree National Park, and you'll find yourself in a wild setting perfect for having your own fair dinkum (translation: authentic) adventure. The Cape Tribulation section of the park is the only place on earth where two World Heritage National Parks meet. Just beyond the sandy beach stretches the Great Barrier Reef, a vast snorkeling and scuba diving Eden teeming with innumerable species of fish and coral. Inland lies the world's oldest rain forest, a 110 million—year—old primordial swath of green inhabited by 20-foot-long crocodiles and five-foot-tall cassowaries, flightless birds that look like a cross between a giant turkey and an emu and can kill a man with a single swipe of a claw. For a closer view of the canopy (from a seven-story tower), visit Daintree Rainforest Environment Centre. ITINERARY North from Cairns on Captain Cook Highway. HEAT FACTOR December is one of the hottest months in tropical Cairns, with an average high of 88 and low of 73; it's also the peak of the rainy season, when the forests soak up nearly 11/2 feet of precipitation per month, through March. MUST-SEE Infused with Aboriginal history, bounded by towering cliffs, and shot through with rock pools and tumbling waterfalls, Mossman Gorge, an hour south of Daintree, is among the most beautiful spots on the continent. Take a course in bush medicine with Hazel Douglas, an Aboriginal guide of the Ku Ku Yalanji people, available through Native Guide Safari Tours (58 Pringle St., Mossman; 61-7/4098-2206; www.nativeguidesafaritours.com.au). PIT STOP Red Ochre Grill (43 Shields St., Cairns; 61-7/4051-0100; www.redochregrill.com.au; dinner for two $65) specializes in creative preparations of Aboriginal delicacies like wattle seed, emu, wallaby, and crocodile. WHERE TO STAY Daintree Eco Lodge & Spa (20 Daintree Rd., Daintree; 61-7/4098-6100; www.daintree-ecolodge.com.au; doubles from $260) has 15 secluded rain-forest bungalows. Splash in the resort's crystal-clear waterfall, sign up for a nighttime bush walk, or just kick back in the spa. If living in the trees, like Tarzan, is more your style, overnight it at Silky Oaks Lodge (Finlayvale Rd., Mossman; 61-7/4098-1666; www.poresorts.com/silky; doubles from $350), a resort-on-stilts at the edge of a crystal-clear river. ON-LINE INFO www.australia.com; www.daintree-rec.com.au.

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