Day 3: Mossman Gorge Dreamtime Walk

Where Else But Queensland?

Day 3: Mossman Gorge Dreamtime Walk

Words by Andy. Photos by Chris (

A little sleep-in this morning, enjoying the yowls of the local birdlife as we stirred from our sleep we set off just after eight am for Mossman Gorge. We met Chris’s long-time friend for breakfast at the cafe inside the visitor centre, with a snack on damper and toasties before meeting our guide for the walking tour.

Andrew, a Kuku Yalanji man led us to the mini bus that was to ferry us to the national park. It’s only about 5 minutes away, and it’s a condition of the local community that visitors aren’t allowed to walk past the community itself, which the bus passes on the way.

A bit further on from the bus stop at the entrance to the national park is where our walking tour began with a smoking ceremony and Welcome to Country in Kuku Yalanji language after which we started along the trail.


Andrew’s dad has been a tour guide for several decades and helped to create the current walking track with other Indigenous rangers; a loop that winds uphill and around a small valley to the river and back to its starting point.

One of our first lessons, thankfully not a practical demonstration, was how to identify a common stinging plant. It’s pretty common around the forest and causes a pretty uncomfortable burning sensation if touched, and only gets worse if you try to wash it. The small needles keep up their campaign of pain for about two hours, and I’m happy to report nobody fell prey to the friendly looking heart-shaped leaves.

There are lots of artifacts to be found throughout the forest, with hunting tools and grinding stones amongst them. We stopped at a red cedar tree that had been used possibly hundreds of years ago to make tools. Andrew also demonstrated how visitors to the area communicated their entry by knocking the back of the tree with a rock, which echoed a deep cracking sound through the forest and vibrating the ground. It was also an effective way of attracting wildlife when hunting, with different knocking rhythms.


There was a boomerang at the tree, not a hunting tool that originated in this area, but entered as part of trade with another tribe. There was also a long plank of wood shaped into an oblong paddle that was used to hunt wallabies. It was very heavy, made to deliver a quick and fatal blow to the animal when hunting.

There’s so much we don’t know about the land we live on and the sustenance it provides. Thick vines running from the treetops to the ground look like irrigation pipes tangled on the forest floor, and are a good source of drinking water when cut open. Native ginger also grows amongst the trees and vines, its leaves used in Indigenous cooking to wrap food, and its root used for flavour.


Something you can’t eat is the cassowary plum, which is a hard blue fruit the same shape as, but a little bit smaller than, an avocado. Only cassowaries can eat them. They drop to the ground from above and are scattered randomly through forest floor.

A little bit further on we looked into a small valley, dotted with ferns. Andrew told us this is a sign of water underground, so would be where Kuku Yalanji people know to dig for fresh water.

The lichen grows like it’s on steroids in the Daintree. Large boulders are scattered throughout the area, covered in their own little forests of green. Magic(al) mushrooms grow from old logs. The mushrooms are hallucinogenic, and would be used medically as a type of anaesthetic if somebody was in pain. Amongst the boulders is a rock shelter, providing a space to take refuge out of the elements, and a short distance ahead we started to hear the rush of water.


The Mossman River bubbles and froths as it rushes over boulders, stones and river pebbles. The water wasn’t as cold as you’d normally expect from a river, but we weren’t there for a swim today. According to Andrew, overcast days like today are commonly when the river swells and catches visitors unaware as they swim, sometimes requiring them to be rescued. He told me about when he was younger and would go to the river on similar days with his cousins and how they would watch for twigs flowing downstream. This is a signal that the water will soon rise. They’d then tell their family so they could safely get of the water with plenty of time to spare.

On our next stop Andrew showed us how ochre is prepared by rubbing it on a flat, wet rock. He also had clay inside a coconut shell and invited us to paint ochre on our skin. He demonstrated on his own arm, painting two white stripes to signify the river banks, a large dark dot to signify his grandmother’s people and a lighter large dot to signify his grandfather’s people. He also showed us how a cluster of small white dots signify the forest.

In front of Andrew, who was standing at the edge of a natural spring, were sassafras leaves which, when rubbed between the wet palms of your hands, lather up to form a natural soap, which we used to wash the ochre away.


Our final stop was at a shelter constructed out of branches and leaves. Families slept in together in these close quarters as the moved about according to the seasons. Andrew called out into the distance from here to signal our return and the staff at the start and end point called back. They had damper and tea ready for us to enjoy at the end of our walk before heading back to the bus.

From Mossman, we decided to head back into Port Douglas. The pair of shorts Chris bought yesterday had a broken zipper, which were easily exchanged. The woman in the shop was super super friendly, and had a great sense of humour, even when the eftpos machine wouldn’t connect for another small purchase and she ended up in the street trying to get a signal, which is a pretty common event for the retailers in the Main Street, thanks to the marvellous NBN technology.

We decided to have a lazy wander around, looking through a few shops and stopping for lunch at Iron Bar. Chris had the chicken and asparagus salad and I opted for the half rack of spare ribs. We also ordered a bowl of prawns to share. Chris had a G&T and I had an Elvis Presley cocktail, made from peanut butter whiskey, banana liqueur and cream with chocolate shavings. Not keto friendly, but pretty darn nice!

After we ate, we wandered down to Rex Smeal Park on the water, where you can see the sugar wharf and a cute little old wooden church: St Mary’s by the sea.




We’re off to the reef tomorrow, so drove down to the wharf to make sure we knew where we’re going. The catamaran looks HUGE, so hopefully will iron out the waves for my sea-fearing travel companion. The marina has wide gangways and set out nicely for anyone wanting souvenirs or food… there’s always more food!

We’re eating in tonight. I need some vegetables and our credit card will be grateful for a rest, because it’s got plenty of work ahead!


    • Andy Le Roy

      You’re gonna love it! We just found out today the best time for the reef is actually in October/November… the trade winds this time of year make things “interesting” on the water..

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