One of our goals while we travel is to find the best family friendly activities in Australia, and also to meet other fabulous families on the road at the same time.
Lucky for us we ticked both boxes when we joined a Daintree River cruise with Bruce Belcher. A small family business, Bruce runs daily one hour crocodile and wildlife spotting tours from his home on the banks of the Daintree – about 2 hours north of Cairns in Tropical North Queensland.
Bruce has been running tours of the magnificent Daintree for 28 years and has guided over 40,000 tours of the beauty in his backyard. He has an incredible ability to spot wildlife – gliding down the river he will often spot a snake sliding up a branch on the river bank, a rare bird hiding in the trees or a green tree frog camouflaged on a leaf. He attributes his uncanny ability to his upbringing with the aborigines on Mornington Island, where he learned not only a wide knowledge of the native wildlife but also a love for it.
You may not think that you’d need any help spotting a 4.5metre saltwater crocodile – but one of the scariest things about these magnificent creatures is their ability to blend into their surrounds and move silently about their business. As we sailed parallel to the river bank, Bruce gave us the nod to our left where we glanced around nervously before spotting our first saltie – sunbathing on the sand like he was taking an afternoon nap. If Bruce hadn’t pointed him out we would have sailed quietly on looking at the lovely views and sipping on our complimentary drinks!
Meet the Daintree family
Bruce’s family home lies 12km from the river mouth and in the 5km stretch of river that he cruises there is currently a thriving crocodile community. Crocodiles are territorial – there is one dominant male along the stretch – a 50 year old 4.5m local known as Scarface (you don’t get to be King of the River without taking out a few rivals first!). There are 6 female crocs (you lucky lad Scarface!), including Lizzie, Dusty, Fang and Shazza – the females in the river outnumber the males 2-1. There are also some younger subordinate males – Lumpy and Yoyo are both about 4 metres long, plus an immature 15 year old male named Scooter who will reach maturity on his 16th birthday, and maybe give Scarface a run for his money. Alongside the thriving crocodile community there is an abundance of feathered, scaled and gilled relatives – it is quite incredible the diversity of wildlife lingering just beneath the seemingly still waters or behind the lush rainforest curtain.
We were a little worried about how our 2 year old would go on an hour long boat trip. His personal record at sitting still is about 2.5 seconds, and he has a love for jumping into water at every opportunity. If you’ve been paying attention then you’d know that there are at least 11 crocodiles in this 5km stretch of river, and I couldn’t help but ask Bruce what would happen if any of us were to fall in. While not encouraging anyone to go for a swim, he assayed our fears by letting us know that we would have plenty of time to jump back on the boat before any of them noticed. He encouraged everyone on board to move around the boat, making sure that everyone had a go up on the top deck at the front to get up close and personal with the wildlife. Bruce has a wonderful way with kids and the boys were invited to steer the boat for a while and sit in the captain’s seat, elevating him to hero status in the eyes of our 3 year old!
At the time of writing the cost of the hour long cruise is only $27 per adult (kids 4 and under are free) and there are special family rates available (check their website for up to date rates and availability).
We cruised on the Daintree for an hour, spotting wildlife along the way with full commentary and complimentary use of binoculars. On arrival you can relax in the garden room, sit in cafe seating made from the original Daintree train style boat, browse the souvenir shop then take a mini bush walk through their lush, tropical gardens to the boarding spot. We were also all given a snack and drink before boarding too.
Bruce’s top tip for seeing the most wildlife – book a trip at low tide to see the most crocodiles – the lovely staff are more than willing to tell you the best cruise time of the day when you call up to book.
One of the main highlights for me was seeing crocodiles in their natural habitat. These guys are not disturbed, fed, controlled or kept captive in any way and it makes it a once in a lifetime unique experience to see them in their own domain.
Just don’t bring your swimmers!
For more highlights of our day and to see more of our pics watch our video below.