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Cape Tribulation information and history

Cape Tribulation is situated 36km. north of the Daintree river in the Daintree National Park. It has a colourful history, known as Kurangee by Aborigines for thousands of years and renamed Cape Tribulation by James Cook as this was the place where his tribulations (trouble) began. If Cook had sunk his ship here then he never would have made it futher to claim Australia for the British and the continent would have remained as New Holland.

Read below about the history of the Daintree and Cape Tribulation, and also about local politics and issues.
Despite the place being of magical beauty, even in paradise there can be trouble, and the Daintree community has been treated in a terrible way by many levels of government over the years.

daintree coast accommodation at cape tribulation
Off grid eco accommodation in the Daintree


aerial view of the "town" of cape tribulation, myall beach in the foreground, Mt. Sorrow in the background
Cape Tribulation on the right, Mt. Sorrow in the Daintree rainforest on the left.

History of Cape Tribulation

Gondwana - Cape Tribulation's history starts 120 million years ago when the giant continent Gondwana was covered in dense rainforests and dinosaurs roamed around the jungle. 55 Million years ago this continent split up into several pieces and the piece that we now know as Australia drifted south and amazingly, for the next 120 million years the rainforest in this area survived climate changes and ice ages and that is why visitors to Cape Tribulation nowadays can still see what the world looked like more than a hundred million years ago. Although most of the dinosaurs are gone the cassowary has survived until today ( when you see them walking you will notice the likeness to the creatures in Jurassic Park) and the crocodiles are still around ( they have been around for that long they have seen the rise and fall of the dinosaurs). There are also ancient tree species like the king fern and the Idiospermum, which had been thought to be extinct for millions of years until it was re-discovered by a farmer. Along the coast there are fringing reefs which were living coral reefs long ago when sea levels were higher before the last ice age, now they stick out of the water at low tide and have lost the colorful living coral, to see the real colorful coral you need a boat out to offshore reefs.

the cassowary has survived in cape tribulation for millions of years
the crocodile has survived in teh cape tribulation area for millions of years
The cassowary and the crocodile have survived around Cape Tribulation for millions of years

Aborigines - For many thousands of years, the Kuku Yalangi Aboriginal people lived along this coastline, foraging for rainforest fruits and hunting the rainforest animals, there is no evidence they ever permanently lived in Cape Tribulation but they used to camp here at times and travel back and forth between Mossman (70 km. south) and Wujul Wujul, (35 km. north). This was why there was already a well used track from Cape Tribulation to the Bloomfield River when white settlers arrived in the area. Some of the earliest settlers, the Masons, who lived just north of the cape where now the parking area for Cape Tribulation beach is, frequently had Aborigines passing by their kitchen window as they had, without knowing, built their house on an Aboriginal road. As early as the 1880s a timber cutter called Hal Collins had already used this track to search for red cedar. Aborigines called this place Kurangee, which means place of many cassowaries. For a while the cassowaries seemed to have disappeared but in recent years they have made a comeback in Cape Tribulation.

James Cook - The next chapter in the history of Cape Tribulation is James Cook. He had been sent out from England to Tahiti to observe Venus passing in front of the sun. Thanks to his measurements scientists could now work out the distance between the earth and the sun and a range of other things. But to justify the expense of the journey the British Crown had decided that he was also to take possession of New Holland to expand their empire. Cook sailed up the east coast and did quite a bit of surveying and drew up numerous charts, as so far he only had a fairly basic map from the Dutch explorers that had been here 160 years before him. Things ran fairly smoothly until one night after passing this area his ship struck the reef. The Endeavour came very close to sinking, luckily a large chunk of reef had broken off and remained in the hole and actually worked as a plug, this together with a sail covering the hole, the crew pumping like mad and the dumping of all non vital heavy things like cannons, they managed to keep the ship afloat. So when Cook looked out on the coast at first daylight he was not in the happiest of moods and named a few features with not the most cheerful of names; the cape he could see was named Cape Tribulation (tribulation means trouble) and the mountain behind it Mount Sorrow. The reef the ship had struck was named Endeavour Reef and a bay to the north where they rested while towing the ship up the coast with row boats was named Weary Bay. Finally they found a river to go up and beach the ship so it could be repaired, this one was then named the Endeavour River and that is where Cooktown is located nowadays. After seven weeks of repairs, some run-ins with Aborigines and discovering the kangaroo, they headed further north where they planted the Union Jack and officially took possession of this country. This makes the striking of the reef off the coast of Cape Tribulation all the more significant; had they sunk here they would not have been able to claim Australia later on and it could have still been New Holland nowadays. Cape Tribulation would look very different indeed with windmills instead of coconut trees along the beaches and coffee shops in the resorts instead of bars. And the moisture of the rainforest and the Australian termites would have made short work of the clogs as well.

Masons - the first white settler north of the Daintree river was Andrew Arthur Mason, he first settled in Cow Bay (then known as Baileys Creek) in 1927 and after a failed farming venture he moved to Cape Tribulation in 1932. At that time, he, his brothers and their respective families were the only whites in the area. On a seasonal basis, Aborigines inhabited the coastline. The Masons tried a variety of ventures like fishing, farming of bananas and other crops and cattle grazing. The old Aboriginal road north to Bloomfield was sometimes used to transport livestock, this being easier than walking it south toward the Daintree River. During World War Two, the Masons kept a horse and saddle for each person on the farm, the plan being first to walk north along the Bloomfield Track, then west or south to escape invasion. In those days the Bloomfield Track would have been the easiest way out. Luckily the escape plan was never needed. Descendants of them still live in Cape Tribulation and own the local Cape Trib shop and Mason's Cafe.

mason's tours in cape tribulation
Paul and Lawrence Mason and two others holding a python.

Rijkers - In the early 1960s a Dutch family floated up the coast on a raft and went ashore on Cape Tribulation beach and laid claim to virtually the whole bay and forests in the hills behind it. When you're returning from your reef trip or from the lookout at Cape Tribulation Beach you can see two houses on the hillside, the higher one on the left is the house where the Rijkers lived. They cut all the biggest trees out of the valley and sold the timber, later they sold off blocks of land along the beach, like the one where the Beach House is now located. They were fairly independent minded people and local legend has it that when the father died in 1973 the family put him on a big pile of firewood on the beach to cremate him. The local shopkeeper Paul Mason was not impressed with this pagan ritual and made some calls to the authorities in on his RFDS radio (there was no telephone yet). Later Willem Rijker developed a habit of running around in a dress because he thought it was cooler in summer but was pulled into line by his brother. A few years ago the Rijkers sold their land and moved on as they thought Cape Tribulation had become a bit too developed, also they were in debt to the local council that charges property owners many thousands of dollars in council rates each year for blocks of land that have no sealed roads, power, water, sewerage or garbage collection.

Sub-divisions and hippies - In the 1970s Cape Tribulation was discovered by the hippies and it became the end of the London-Kathmandu-Cape Tribulation overland trail. Marijuana growing, smoking and running around naked on the beaches were the main activities during this decade. Cape Tribulation was also discovered by the property developers during this time. A few enterprising individuals with friends in the right corrupt government places took out large grazing leases, then converted to freehold, and then divided them into about 1200 smaller lots, in Cape Tribulation two hectares is the smallest size but in Cow bay there are many one hectare blocks. Though normally the developer has to provide services like power, water etc. this was all overlooked by the various government departments, either through corruption, incompetence or maybe both. The local Douglas Shire Council opposed the subdivision but was overruled. A nationwide advertising campaign was started and people bought blocks of land for reasons that varied from preservation to intending to live there to investment as all power and water services were promised and many thought land values would skyrocket.

Declaration of National Park - In 1981 the rainforests surrounding the privately owned land were declared Cape Tribulation National Park, under protest from local council and state government who wanted to keep it as a State Forest, so it would be available for logging.

Blockade of the Bloomfield Track - Cape Tribulation really became famous when in 1982 the Douglas Shire Council began bulldozing a track north of Cape Tribulation in 1982. Protesters came from everywhere and tried to stop the road, leading to several arrests by the army of policemen. The protests were unsuccesful in stopping the bulldozing of the forest to clear a road but did lead to the nomination and subsequent inclusion of the area on the World Heritage List because of the publicity surrounding the issue. The protest leader, Mike Berwick, stood for mayor of the council he protested against and won! Incredibly, he lasted for many years, until in 2008 the state government was so tired of his dysfunctional council that they amalagamated the shire with Cairns.

World Heritage Listing - In 1988 UNESCO declared Cape Tribulation National Park a World Heritage Area because of its outstanding value and beauty, once again local and state government protested to no avail.

Backpackers - In 1985 the Jungle Lodge, the first backpackers hostel, was built in Cape Tribulation. The huts where it used to cost $5.- a night to sleep are now part of Ferntree resort on Camelot Close and now you pay around $180.- in the same huts, though they have been upgraded a bit. Cape Tribulation, in particular PK's, developed a reputation as a major backpacker party place amongst the crowds that shag and drink their way around Australia. Highlights included drinking games, limbo competitions, dryer riding (see pics), beach bonfires, all washed down with copious amounts of sex and alcohol.

PK's Jungle Village entertainment
PK's Jungle Village entertainment


Solar power subsidies - In 1996 the Queensland state government offered residents north of the Daintree river (who were demanding that the government fulfill its promises to install an electricity grid) a subsidy to install solar power.
Many residents took up the offer, soon to find the limitations of solar power in a rain forest; shading trees and many days of rain are not conducive to efficient power generation. People also found that the systems only last for a certain time, the expensive battery banks only last up to seven years, many other components also need to be replaced from time to time, and the management was too difficult for many.

Exclusion from electricity distribution area - In 2000 the Queensland government played a very nasty trick on the Daintree community and exluded the Daintree from the electricity provider's distribution area. This devalued all property in the area but nobody received any compensation.
The ultra-green Mayor Mike Berwick who lives north of the Daintree river in one of the few houses that were linked to mains power via a cable over the Daintree river, had managed to convince state government to put this draconian measure in to place to discourage settlement of the Daintree, this is normally done with town planning.
The denial of a mains power grid to the Daintree has had a devastating effect on the local economy, residents and businesses struggle on living in energy poverty, a term defined by United Nations as spending such a large part of your income on energy that it has a major detrimental impact on your quality of life. Residents have had to leave their home when they ran out of money to pay for generators, fuel and other costs. Many businesses have gone bankrupt, some re-sold and some still closed. Hundreds of generators roar in an environmentally special area, yet the government does not care. Residents have campaigned for years to get some grids built, this is not too difficult to organize, there are 34 remote small indigenous communities in the outback and Torres Strait runing on this system, but so far no results.
The Daintree community suffers under a conspiracy in government to try to drive them out of this area, and that is why just about all services are denied to them.

Flood - 1996 also saw some very wet weather, in february 1996 1500mm of rain (yes, one-and-a-half metre) of rain fell in 36 hours in the Daintree river catchment area and the river rose that high the cafe at the ferry crossing only had its roof sticking out of the water and the current was that strong that the ferry cables on the north side broke and the ferry would have washed out in to the ocean had it not been for the cables holding on the south side. When the water subsided again the ferry was sitting high and dry on the riverbank and it took a week to get it back in action again. Meanwhile the reef trip operator in Cape Tribulation used his boat to ferry tourists out to Port Douglas and food back up.

Rainforest Hideaway - June 2000 saw the opening of Rainforest Hideaway, the best place to stay in Cape Tribulation.

Sealing of the road - In April 2002 the last section of road was sealed. It had taken the local council no less than TEN years to surface the 36 kilometres of road from the Daintree river ferry to Cape Tribulation. When you consider the 6700 km. long Great Wall of China was also built in ten years, at the rate of a mile a day, that does make you wonder about the productivity of their council employees a bit.....

Building moratorium - In 2004 ultra-green Mayor Mike Berwick and associates suddenly slapped a ban on all building permits on the Daintree. Many people's lives were turned upside down and put on hold, some properties were years later allowed to build again with restrictions and some can never be built on, some people received some compensation, many others did not. At Rainforest Hideaway we received a letter from council that if we did not like the new changes we could leave and sell our land to council, for the price of $55000.- !!!
Where else in Australia would you buy a B&B on five acres for that?
Only in China or Zimbabwe would you expect people to get kicked off their freehold land, not in a western country.

Amalgamation - The Douglas Shire Council led by ultra-green Mayor Mike Berwick was always involved in controversies, scandals and court cases and being investigated, so in 2008 state government decided to amalgamate this shire with Cairns and get rid of this dysfunctional council that had wasted so much of their time over the years.
Residents of the Daintree were relieved to be freed from this council that had kicked many people off their freehold land and made their life hell.

De-amalgamation - Mike Berwick and his associates did not like losing their jobs and influence and convinced state government in 2012 to allow a vote to de-amalgamate again. With various sentimental tricks and brainwashing by the local radio they convinced enough Port Douglas residents to say yes, to over rule the 76% of Daintree residents that voted no to being dragged back to the local council that had mistreated them so badly in the past.

Electricity! (nearly....) - The Labor government that ruled Queensland for many years was thrown out spectacularly in 2012 and the LNP came to power. They had promised an electricity grid a long time ago so the Daintree Power Committee was formed by residents to campaign for a grid. Late 2012 the Daintree Power Bill was thrown out, a discriminatory piece of legislation that had prohibited any grid in the Daintree, even neighbours were not allowed to share power. But thanks to the energy minister being obstructive and saying if you want a grid built it and pay for it yourself little progress was made, until November 2014 when local MP David Kempton and Premier Campbell Newman got involved and the Premier committed to paying from his own discretionary fund the costing for the grid, and state and federal government to share the costs of the construction of the grid. They had finally come to the conclusion that in a modern country in the 21st century it is simply not acceptable to have hundreds of generators roaring in a national park, and to deny hard working tax payers the basic service of electricity that is so vital to economic activity.
Residents celebrated, but disaster struck soon after, the January 2015 election saw an unexpected result, Queenslanders voted the Labor Party back in! Even the Labor Party themselves had not expected this and were not really ready. So far the new Premier has refused to do anything for the Daintree and so the residents struggle on.

Blockade Two - 2015 could see another blockade (the first one was in 1984 to attempt to stop the bulldozing of the Bloomfield Track).
National Parks does not like to spend money in the Daintree (like all other government departments) and is scaling back their services.
The toilets at the beautiful Marrja Boardwalk were burned down by vandals and were never replaced.
The gas barbeques at Dubuji Boardwalk were removed and never replaced. Residents were not happy but life went on.
No attempt of rebuilding is visible at the Cape Tribulation Beach toilets, five months after vandals burned them down.
But the sudden disappearance of the toilets at Cow Bay Beach at the start of the 2015 tourist season really got local residents fired up. A meeting was held with local council and national parks, with little result.
And then shortly after Cape Tribulation residents exploded when they found out that national parks is planning to demolish the 1200 metre loop of the Dubuji Boardwalk!
No public consultation was held with local residents, only with day tour operators, who found that their customers take too long to walk around the loop while they try to see the whole Daintree in a couple of hours, so a new boardwalk straight from the car park to the beach will be built.
Cape Tribulation residents, already frustrated with being denied services like power, water, broadband internet, garbage removal etc. were fed up with this final insult and vowed to blockade the boardwalk to stop demolition crews from taking the boardwalk away.