The challenge set by Kuku Yalanji traditional custodian Juan Walker on his Ngana Julaymba Dungay tour is to catch our own lunch and my children can’t wait to get started. But our first lesson is language and “Ngana Julaymba Dungay” means “we all going Daintree”.
From Port Douglas we reel through fields of cane, fruit and rainforest meshed into a tapestry sitting snugly between the dual World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. As a group of just eight, it feels like we’re riding around in the Walker family wagon, which our guides, Harry and Loretta, explain is how they like to share country – with family.
Our first stop is to taste some bush tucker. While fruit is our first thought, instead Harry presents us with a tangled nest of leaves swarming with luminous lime-green ants. My youngest bravely volunteers to lick her first ant abdomen (okay, bum) and declares it tastes just like her favorite sour lemon warhead. Loretta says ants are used in bush medicine, too, the vapor they give off when crushed inhaled to ease colds, flu, and sinusitis.
En route to the Daintree River, our guides both talk candidly about culture, heritage, hardship, and lore. They point out seasonal indicators revealing what bush tucker is in season, spot crocs basking on banks, and share creation stories that hold deep spiritual significance to their peoples.
The tide has retreated into the horizon for our arrival at Cooya Beach, which is the perfect time to catch lunch, according to Harry. With spears in hand (which immediately becomes the highlight of my youngest daughter’s day), we learn throwing techniques before setting off in search of bush tucker. The first crab we spot is a beauty, but we chicken out while shrieking about getting our tender toes nipped. The second is smaller, cuter, and has little blackcurrant eyes – we couldn’t possibly plunge in our spears.
But all isn’t lost, Loretta reveals, leading us into the rich mangrove systems where we collect periwinkles and butterfly shells that become our delicious shellfish stir-fry lunch alongside double helpings of Juan’s mum’s famous bush damper, which she makes fresh for her tour family every day.
Our final stop is a guided walk of Mossman Gorge, where our guides reveal myriad ways Kuku Yalanji people have used the rainforest for more than 50,000 years as a supermarket, medicine chest, toolbox, hardware store, burial ground, and place of worship.
As the girls are learning how to wash their hands using only leaves, I take a moment to look around this classroom in wonder. It’s the oldest continually surviving tropical rainforest in the world, guided by descendants of the oldest continuously living culture in the world. Goosebumps on goosebumps.
Need to know
Walkabout Cultural Adventures offers half- and full-day tours to the Daintree and Cape Tribulation. Prices start from $230 a person (including morning tea and lunch) for a full day tour and $180 a person for a half-day (including morning tea). Pick-ups from Port Douglas, Mossman and Daintree Village available.
Where to stay
Immerse yourself in the luxurious Daintree Ecolodge Rainforest Retreat in the ancient Daintree Rainforest and try a seasonal menu of native ingredients or relax at the Daintree Wellness Spa. Mossman and Cape Tribulation also have campgrounds, cabins, and boutique accommodation.
This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of australiaexploring.com