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Custodians of the rainforest

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Tucked away in the rainforest-clad hills behind Cairns lies thousands of years of history. The Djabugay people have called these green slopes their home for generations and the story of their existence can now be experienced with a fascinating trip into their world below the treetops.

Jumping on board one of Skyrail‘s gondolas always gets my heart racing more than it should. Why after all of the adventures I’ve had does a little bit of height get my blood pumping? As the door closes and our journey starts, the view suddenly takes over and my mind has something else to focus on – the beautiful tapestry laid out in front of me.

Skyrail gracefully whisks us up to a height of 545 metres above sea level at the summit of Red Peak. Its near-silent operation allows the sound of the jungle to penetrate our gondola as we enter another world temporarily. Once we stop at Red Peak Station it’s time to venture deeper, the canopy blocking out all but the most persistant sunlight, the heat of the day lost for a while.

Wandering the boardwalk makes you feel very small. Trees tower above, vines twist off to infinity and the sounds from afar fill your ears with new, alien noises. It’s somewhere to stop and listen, a chance to step back in time. Not much has changed here since rains started falling here thousands of years ago.

Long before Skyrail and way before Captain Cook the Djabugay people lived and fed in this forest. They followed the seasons to different parts when the time was right to harvest from the land.

Aaron is one of the guides whose fore-fathers lived here. They’ve decided to open up their history, language, culture and traditions to others with their new Djabugay guided tour. We headed off into the forest to learn more.

Winding our way through the undergrowth we stop to learn how seeds and nuts are harvested then processed to remove harmful toxins. It takes hours until the right recipe is achieved. Scraping, shredding, washing and cooking until finally a suitable meal is created. When I ask how the system was tested, Aaron answers “trial and error” – in other words if you got it wrong, you’d be lucky to see sunrise!

We learn about how to build the perfect shelter, learn how to make fire and what wood is needed to build the perfect weapon – essential for protecting your territory.

Aaron leads us to a very special place in the eyes of the Djabugay. A stunning clear-water creek that forms a deep pool hidden from view until you’re almost on top of it. The place is so picture perfect it could be man-made for a Hollywood movie with huge boulders, a bubbling waterfall and rays of sunlight piercing the canopy. This is a place where few are privileged to have been.

This type of indigenous tourism is a gaze back to centuries gone by. It has a huge place in our world today and acts as a welcome reminder of how cultures harnessed the natural environment around them. Now it’s so easy to stop at the local shop to fill our table with supplies. Aaron and the guides are proud of their story and so they should be, for me it’s a enchanting journey into another world.

We continue our Skyrail experience with the final five kilometre trip to Kuranda station, passing the dramatic Barron Falls on the way. The train winds its way along a carefully built track over 37 bridges and through 15 tunnels. Forging the path back in 1890 must have been one heck of a mission.

Passing sheer drops, dramatic waterfalls and finally thorough dusk-lit sugarcane plantations we level out at Freshwater Station. As we arrive at our destination my feet come back to terra firma and my heart rate finally returns to its resting beat. I was always meant to be a ground dweller comfortable on the forest floor.

Ben 🙂