On Tuesday, the sky above Queensland's reefs and rainforests will undergo a brief but dramatic transformation. Just after sunrise, a black mark will appear at the sun's edge and expand to cover its entire disc. Darkness will envelop the strangler figs and pencil cedars of the forests below and engulf the angelfish and wrasse on the Great Barrier Reef. Thousands will visit the region to watch the spectacle and see the sun endure "that darkening of his radiant face", as William Wordsworth once described an eclipse. The solar corona and prominences, normally invisible, will be seen flickering against the inky blackness of space: an unforgettable experience.
But those who visit merely to look skywards will miss an equally extraordinary vision – for the landscape that lies below the eclipse's path is one of the most remarkable on the planet: a juxtaposition of rainforest and a vast expanse of gleaming coral. The former, a chunk of forest left over from the ancient supercontinent of Gondwanaland, is more than 110 million years old. By contrast the Great Barrier Reef, in its current form, only started growing a few thousand years ago.
This is a landscape of incredible diversity – though intriguingly the two habitats have links. For a start, they are contiguous: the sea that covers the barrier reef also laps the beaches that edge Daintree rainforest. You can visit both in a day, though I'd recommend a week and would have happily made my trip last months.
To reach the rainforest, you drive north from Cairns, the main town of Far North Queensland, through sugarcane plantations and grazing kangaroos until you reach Daintree River. Beyond this point, there are no mobile phone signals, no mains electricity and no lavish spa hotels. This is a wilderness, the largest chunk of tropical rainforest in Australia, home of one of the world's oldest flowering trees, the idiot fruit (Idiospermum australiense), and one of the last refuges of the cassowary, a 6ft, blue-throated, flightless bird whose powerful legs and claws can inflict grievous injuries on overcurious humans.
At the Daintree Discovery Centre, a huge tower has been erected along with an aerial walkway so that you look over the forest canopy and peer down at the lineas, rattan cane and orchids, as well as the bright blue Ulysses butterflies that flit around them. It is a perfect introduction to the landscape.
Deeper into the forest, I stayed at the Cape Tribulation Exotic Fruit Farm, which gets its rather splendid name from the local cape where Captain Cook's Endeavour struck a reef in 1770 and which was given the moniker Tribulation as a result, along with neighbouring Weary Bay, Mount Misery and Mount Sorrow. Tourism was clearly not a priority for the great explorer.