As the crow flies, Cape Tribulation lies 150km north of the Great Barrier Reef gateway town of Cairns. Captain James Cook had no trouble finding it in the late 1700s. His ship ran aground on a nearby reef, now named Endeavour Reef, prompting him to name the area Cape Tribulation. A small community ekes out a living from farming and tourism. You can count the facilities on two hands: a petrol station, two shops and a handful of self-sufficient resorts.
A hippie commune in the 1970s and a violent flashpoint between greenies and the timber industry in the 80s, most of the Cape Tribulation region is World Heritage listed and incorporated into Daintree National Park. It's a Jurassic park for biologists, with primeval rainforest representing 120 million years of botanical evolution.
'Where the reef meets the rainforest' is the Queensland tourist board's catchphrase. It's not wrong: the Great Barrier Reef lies only a few kilometres from the Cape Tribulation beaches - its closest point to land. Veteran cape residents Paul Mason and son Lawrence run rainforest day and night walking tours. Their backyard includes ancient tree species, plus 12 of the world's 19 primitive flowering plants. Cool off in their freshwater swimming hole after taking a tour (www.masonstours.com.au).
Off-road vehicles are recommended if you're heading beyond Cape Tribulation along the coastal Bloomfield Track to Cooktown. Alternatively, take a tour bus driven by a maniacal, sunburned Queenslander. Sugar-cane fields, tropical rainforest and deserted beaches: the scenery is Northern Queensland to a tee.
Clear skies and cool nights are usual from May to October. A dip in a clear stream or waterfall above the Bloomfield Track will bring back to life even the most pink-broiled tourist, but locals advise visitors not to test the waters of the estuaries below the road. 'Big salties', or estuarine crocodiles, inhabit the murky inlets and have even been sighted by fishermen on the reef.
Free-spirited and vaguely feral, the younger residents of Cape Tribulation (many coming from comfortable backgrounds), are always keen to chat and share a pot of Japanese green tea. But the real action lies down at PK's Jungle Village bar, where on most Saturday nights backpackers mingle with the wild-and-woolly bush folk over bottles of cold Victoria Bitter.
The Coconut Beach Rainforest Lodge is the urban Robinson Crusoe's home from home. Privacy comes with your own patch of rainforest at A$370 ($2,174) a night for one of the 27 Daintree Retreats (for three people) or 39 free-standing Rainforest Retreats (four people). The lodge stands in 100 hectares of rainforest a short walk from Coconut Beach (www.coconutbeach.com.au).