Drifting under the canopy in the Mossman River.
Drifting under the canopy in the Mossman River. Contributed

On a magic river ride in tropical north Queensland

Our "tunnel of love” lies in a secluded, almost secret spot in tropical North Queensland.

It spans a lush, dark-green section of ancient rainforest canopy where the trees have stretched up and over to almost embrace each other from opposite sides of the river bank.

This is the natural arbour where our hearts skip a beat and our affection for this unique part of the world blossoms.

We are asked to board our "love train” of red inflatable mattress "sleds”. But this time, the recommendation is to lie on our backs and think of little else than our surroundings.

Moments later, we are swept off our feet by the sense of occasion this grand passage has given us. We succumb to the river's charms as the slow-moving current rocks us gently to a soundtrack of birdsong from kookaburras and wompoo fruit doves under a ceiling of green.

The romance of river drift snorkelling on the Mossman River cannot be diminished by a faint sound of farm tractors or the need to shield our eyes against an occasional shock of bright light as the sun's rays pierce through a gap in stands of alexander palms.

Despite covering a relatively small distance as the cockatoo flies, we've come a long way in our relationship with the many species of fish, birds, insects, plants and trees we find, thanks to the staff of Back Country Bliss.

The flutter of the striking blue-and-black wings of a ulysses butterfly is the first of many intimate "wow factor” moments on this morning snorkel, paddle, swim and river island bushwalk. It's followed soon after by our brush with a saw-shelled turtle making its way downstream.

The jungle perch pay us little heed as we find our feet, quite literally, over the smooth rocks - big and small - scattered across the river bed, reacquaint ourselves with a mask and snorkel, and manoeuvre on to our individual air sleds in the shallow depths.

Back Country Bliss owner Jason Heffernan has come along for the ride with guide Will Hancock. Both came to the area via the scenic route of life but soon their love affair turned to a passion to share their daily delights above and below the water's surface and knowledge of the area with others.

In another life, Jason looked after fish and aquariums in Melbourne and Adelaide for many years before working at the London Aquarium. Now, as a tourism entrepreneur, he plays in this Daintree natural aquarium.

The river snorkelling business was established in 2006 and Jason, who has 10years of guide work on his resume, took over three-and-a-half years ago, adding activities including challenging and easy bushwalks plus explorer tours to the range.

The Mossman River drift snorkelling.
The Mossman River drift snorkelling. Shirley Sinclair

Papua New Guinean-born Will, who has taught primary and high school science in the surrounding Douglas Shire, gets his adrenalin rush from a long-standing love of wild and extreme places that has led to his penchant for hang gliding, mountain biking, kayaking, bushwalking and scuba diving.

Along with other members of the team, they have an almost daily date with the locals - azure kingfishers, platypus, eastern water dragons, eels and even the harmless Macleay's freshwater snake.

But while this is croc country, we are assured we won't be having any up close and personal encounters with crocodiles here. The waters are too clear, cold and shaded for them (this day a brisk 19C).

Part of the love we feel on this final part of our journey is a sense of accomplishment.

From the moment we fumbled our way into wetsuits and booties and laughed at our clumsy early attempts to master our sleds, we were sharing the love of a wondrous experience in a glorious part of Queensland.

The area known as The Cathedral.
The area known as The Cathedral. Contributed

Without another human in sight, yet only 15 minutes north of Mossman, we have felt like pioneer explorers discovering this wilderness for the first time.

River snorkelling may not sound as sexy as a day on the Great Barrier Reef but the rainforest attraction has endeared itself in our hearts forever.

ESCAPE ROUTE

The Back Country Bliss family-friendly activity is suitable for all ages and swimming abilities when the river is calm and relaxing. It is not suitable for guests with limited mobility as they must be able to walk over uneven surfaces and to exit the river over tree roots.

It operates daily from Port Douglas.

Visit www.backcountrybliss.com.au/tours/river-drift-snorkelling, phone 07 4099 3677.



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