Devil’s Thumb climbing track in Daintree National Park to have restricted access

A traditional owner group in far north Queensland is pleading with visitors not to climb to the summit of a popular hiking trail in the world’s oldest surviving tropical rainforest. 

Manjal Jimalji offers a gruelling 10.6km trek up a peak in the Daintree National Park.

Its spectacular panoramic scenery from the summit attracts hikers from around the globe.

But the site is expected to close to the public altogether in the coming months as Eastern Kuku Yalanji traditional owners restrict access because of its sacred cultural significance.

“Don’t get me wrong, we want to encourage our visitors to explore our beautiful country as much as they can,” Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation chair Michelle Friday-Mooka said.

Licensed guide cancels tours

Manjal Jimalji’s cultural significance is such that even many Eastern Kuku Yalanji people are not allowed to access it.

The summit in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Daintree National Park, which was handed back to traditional owners at a ceremony late last year.

a woman wearing a red top
Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation chair Michelle Friday-Mooka says Manjal Jimalji has cultural significance to Indigenous people.(ABC Far North: Christopher Testa)

Elders are also asking visitors to respect their wishes to restrict access to a waterhole in the Daintree rainforest, considered a sacred birthing place and women’s healing place.

People have continued to access that waterhole despite the installation of a boom gate and signage.

“There is a reason why we’re the oldest living culture, practising our culture in the oldest living rainforest,” Ms Friday-Mooka said.

“There is something to respect there.”

Non-Indigenous guide Jason Heffernan said he had decided to stop tours to the Manjal Jimalji summit, known popularly as Devil’s Thumb, even though he held a valid permit to do so.

Ms Friday-Mooka said traditional owners applauded Mr Heffernan’s decision, which took them by surprise.

Lessons to be learnt

Jabalbina Yalanji and Mr Heffernan’s company, Back Country Bliss, are confident they can develop other culturally acceptable tourism products for those wanting to hike in the Daintree.

Mr Heffernan has questioned why Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service did not inform him of the elders’ views about Manjal Jimalji when he applied for his permit in 2018.

a man wearing a grey and navy t-shirt at the summit of a forested peak
Jason Heffernan has decided to stop running tours to the summit of Manjal Jimalji in accordance with traditional owners’ wishes.(Supplied: Back Country Bliss Adventures)

“It does take a lot of time, a lot of energy, and a lot of money to develop new products and that’s what our region is great for,” he said.

“It would just be nice to know there is some confidence in the system that we have to go through.”

A Department of Environment and Science spokesperson said the service was “not aware of any specific concerns expressed by Jabalbina Yalanji” at the time.

However, Ms Friday-Mooka said elders “quite clearly said from the start they want that area restricted”.

an image of a panoramic view showing a river reaching the sea in a tropical rainforest
About 160,000ha of land including the Daintree National Park was handed back to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji in 2021.(ABC Far North: Christopher Testa)

Ask before walking

The national park is now jointly managed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and traditional owners.

Public access to the trail remains open and signage will be installed once a restricted access area is declared.

Ms Friday-Mooka encouraged anyone considering hiking the trail in the meantime to approach traditional owners or Jabalbina for a conversation first.

“I’m not going to say that we’re all going to understand it, but I hope a majority will,” she said.

“And they’re the people we’re going to embrace and share our culture with.”

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