The sugar cane, explains my tour guide Artemis, is “harrowing” meaning it is in flower and ripe to cut.
We are ambling through cane and croc country, en route to a river drift snorkel in the Daintree – the world’s oldest rainforest.
Harrowing? What about the crocodiles in the actual river?
Artemis, aptly named for the goddess of the hunt, assures me this Mossman River section of water is too cold for crocs.
Sure, they inhabit these parts of tropical north Queensland, but these rapturous reptiles would have to be crazy to swim in waters which are at best 24C in summer and at worst 16C in winter.
Not so sane are the tourists, including myself, who are standing on the riverbank wiggling into wetsuits on this winter’s day.
Artemis hands us each a snorkel, mask and red river sled, which is to be our chariot on this jaunty journey. We trek through the rainforest with our sleds, resembling Santa’s reindeer. When it comes to submerging ourselves in the crisp river water, I’m pretty sure I’m Rudolph, with my red nose and aptitude for clumsiness.
I tumble over river rocks in my wetsuit booties as if I’m stumbling in heels, tipsy, down a cobbled European laneway.
Artemis gives us instructions for the journey ahead, reminding us that with the river, like life, it’s important to “go with the flow”. She tells us to ignore our instincts and “lean in” should we be headed for a tree or rock, to avoid crashing or rolling.
This is turning into a motivational speech.
Artemis advises us to avoid touching the stinging tree if we don’t wish to experience excruciating pain. There’s so much in this rainforest and river that could kill me, before I even consider the crocs.
We pause at a gargantuan mahogany tree and I can hear gushing rapids in the background. Gushing? This was not in the brochure.
On the riverbank, I point at the rapids – whipped up by this La Niña season of heavy rainfall – and look frantically back at Artemis.
“We’re not going through that, are we?” I ask incredulously.
“Don’t worry, they’re only level five rapids.”
Level five rapids? All of a sudden my river sled doesn’t look so sturdy. She sees the look of horror flash across my face. “Oops, I mean 0.5 metre rapids.”
I exhale like a humpback whale.
We snorkel a calm section in search for turtles, freshwater fish, water dragons and the elusive platypus.
I see fish, lots of fish. Splashes of silver and dashes of colour darting in and around logs in the river, under which I am encouraged to look.
In this river alone there are jungle perch which measure 45cm long, eastern rainbow fish, Pacific blue-eyes, yellowfins and at least eight species of goby, one of which is endangered. There are so many types of goby in that river.
I’m told there are even saw-shelled turtles, who get their name from their serrated carapace, but I do not spot one on this journey. Up above, blue Ulysses butterflies flutter like prima ballerinas – those they do mention in the brochure.
We tackle the rapids, which are about as harrowing as the sugar cane, and then begin a flirty float down the river back to our starting point. Towards the end we are instructed to relinquish our worries and relax on our backs, observing the rainforest canopy as we glide gracefully beneath.
Our two-hour adventure comes to a serene stop.
The closest I come all day to a salty is back in a Palm Cove bar when the margarita I’ve promised myself arrives with a heavy rim. From croc tales to cocktails, I survive to snorkel another day.
Back Country Bliss runs twice-daily, half-day River Drift Snorkelling tours, priced from $120 per adult or $395 for a family of four, with hotel transfers available.
Stay in Palm Cove – a smaller version of Port Douglas without the pretence or price tag – where beachfront campsites start for under $50 a night or at Paradise on the Beach resort where rooms start at under $300 a night.
The nearest airport to Palm Cove is Cairns, with regular domestic flights available from all capital cities. While several shuttle services operate from Cairns, the region is best explored with a car.
The writer travelled to tropical north Queensland at her own expense.