Sponsored by Tourism Queensland
The Daintree Rainforest was one of our favourite parts of Tropical North Queensland. It’s known for its lush vegetation, mossy gorges, and ancient trees.
But it’s also home to another wonder; Cooya Beach.
While Cooya Beach isn’t the most picturesque beach in Queensland, it should certainly not be missed off any Daintree Rainforest trip.
Spearfishing and mud crab hunting are some of the top things to do on Cooya Beach, and we were lucky enough to give it a go. It was certainly one of our highlights of visiting the Daintree on our road trip from Port Douglas.
Want to know how you can do it too? This guide will tell you everything you need to know.
- Where is Cooya Beach?
- History of Spearfishing at Cooya Beach
- What to Bring Spearfishing at Cooya Beach
- Can you swim at Cooya Beach?
- Our Experience Spearfishing at Cooya Beach
- Our Experience Mud Crab Hunting at Cooya Beach
- Final Thoughts on Spearfishing at Cooya Beach
- The Daintree Dreaming Traditional Aboriginal Fishing Experience
- Where to Stay in Cooya Beach
- Cairns and Port Douglas Travel Tips
Where is Cooya Beach?
It’s a 20 minute drive north from Port Douglas, a 10 minute drive from Mossman Gorge and an hour and 10 minute drive south from Cairns.
The nearest airport is Cairns Airport, 37.9 miles away.
The world’s biggest reef just lies out to the horizon and looking back from the best are the rainforest-clad mountains. Just a little further north lies the oldest rainforest in the world, The Daintree Rainforest.
History of Spearfishing at Cooya Beach
Cooya Beach has been an area where spearfishing has taken place for centuries. The beach belongs to the Kuku Yalanji people, the traditional owners, who have been following in the traditions of their ancestors here for many years.
The fishing ground has three diverse ecosystems, beach, mangroves, and a coastal reef. Hunting and stalking is one part of the tradition, but observing wildlife and finding medicinal plants for food and medicine are just as important.
It’s not clear how long the aboriginal people have been spearfishing here, but the traditional methods are still used ot this day.
What to Bring Spearfishing at Cooya Beach
If you’re thinking spearfishing sounds fun and you’d like to give it a try, here’s some items to take with you:
- Sun hat
- Insect repellent
Can you swim at Cooya Beach?
Cooya Beach is more like a mud flat, so it doesn’t have the idyllic white sand you might be thinking of. Far out, it has some gentle waters that connect to a small reef, which is a good place to snorkel and swim.
While many people don’t advise swimming anywhere in Cairns or in certain parts of Queensland because saltwater crocodiles and jellyfish like to live in these waters, the water at Cooya Beach is considered safe to swim in.
Just a short drive South and you’ll reach Palm Cove, which has lifeguards, a safety net, and generally more facilities. If you want to go swimming, we recommend going there instead.
Our Experience Spearfishing at Cooya Beach
I’m wading through knee-deep water on the beach off the coast of Mossman, just north of Port Douglas in Tropical North Queensland.
I’m doing my best to move stealthily through the water, like a cheetah on the prowl. Not making a sound is proving to be very difficult and I feel responsible for the fish quickly scurrying away.
My spear is raised and my eyes peeled on the tops of the water for underwater movement or the glint that indicates dinner ahead.
For the next 30 minutes I see nothing. My guide, Brandon Walker, however with eyes of an eagle sees every slight tail-swish underneath.
You can’t hear him stalking, only the soft thwack of his spear as it leaves his hand and travels far in the distance to land with a soft splash in the water.
“They saw me. Two of them darted off as my spear was mid-air.”
How did he see that?
Brandon and his brother, Linc, are traditional custodians of the Mossman and Cooya lands. I was spending the afternoon with Brandon on his cultural habitat tour learning how to hunt.
“How big do the fish have to be?””
Our prizes would be later cooked up in Brandon’s family home across the street. After our spear fishing expedition Brandon would us move to the mangroves on the shore for mud crab hunting and mussel collection.
There wasn’t much prize collection coming from me though.
Brandon’s daughter, Faith and his two nephews joined us. Faith wants to take over the business from her Dad.
“She’s fearless.” the pride behind his warm smile obvious
“I chased a sting ray the other day.” she boasted. I’d be boasting that too.
I watched as she dived into the water to pull out rat tails—another new marine creature discovery, a shell with the distinctive 80’s fashion faux pas hanging down the back. Brandon showed me how to follow their snail trail in the sand and pull them out from their hiding place. I kinda failed at that one too.
Brandon pointed ahead. “There see that. There’s a few fish out there.” I pretended to see what he was pointing at through my squint, but all I see was bobbing water and the odd glint.
Again and again Brandon’s spear sailed through the air. Again and again I saw nothing. Only once the spear splashed down did I see the water bubbling over as the fish jumped out of the way.
“Got him.” Brandon victoriously pulled back the spear, but only a few scales were stuck to the end. “Shaved five gills of his head. Still got away.”
Noticing my pretty pathetic hunting skills, Brandon stopped to show me how to throw the spear and give me a little practice. He was patient and supportive and took me through each throw step-by-step until I eventually got it. Sort of.
“Come on we’ve got to get you some dinner Caz. Let’s have a few more gos.”
The end of his spear twanging back and forth in the water showed we finally caught our prize
“”Got him. Right through the heart. It’s a mullet too. Our favourite. Let’s go into the mangroves now.”
“Yes!” The kids raced on ahead.
Our Experience Mud Crab Hunting at Cooya Beach
“Mangroves are great with kids, they can get into all the tight spaces to catch our food.”
We squelched through the soft mud, using our spears as walking sticks, and clambered over tuberous mangrove roots snaking above the mud – it was eerie, the perfect death trap.
Mosquitoes swarmed around us the deeper we went in and the more pungent it became. Mud squelched between our feet and caked our legs. I thought of how soft my skin would be once I washed it off—nature’s perfect free spa treatment.
We were using our toes and feet to feel for the rounded, hard surface of a mussel at the roots of the mangrove trees. Brandon and his children were good at digging them out, Brandon always helping me to dig out my share by pointing with his toe his latest find.
“Gotta catch your own snacks around here Caz.” He pulled a periwinkle off the mangrove and showed me the yellow underbelly. “If it’s yellow you know it’s safe for eating.”
The periwinkles I could catch with no worries and the oysters, which were in abundant supply. We picked a few off for trail mix as we walked trudged on through.
“When I was a kid my mum would bring us in here with hessian sacks and we couldn’t come out until it was full. Kids these days have it easy, especially when it comes to catching their own food. MacDonald’s and fast food are killing off our community. I want to teach my kids to hunt so they can always provide for themselves. Eat well from an early age.”
And Brandon’s kids were eating well. They join him as much as they can on his tours and love to hunt with him. I admired what he was teaching his children and the joy on their faces as they clambered and dug and dived under the water was inspiring to watch. If only all children had such a playground and supermarket to shop in.
“Dad calls me big eyes,” Faith told me. Her big eyes were certainly working as she and Elijah climbed over the mangroves squealing “Found another mussel, Dad. That’s 7.” Mussels and periwinkles were her favourite.
After our afternoon tea bucket was full we walked back onto the sandy beach around the edge of the mangroves. Brandon shared with me more about the area and his culture.
He pointed out an abundance of coastal resources, including the beach hibiscus flower, which prevents dehydration, and the beach lettuce berry, which contains liquid that soothes sore eyes.
Brandon is so in tune with nature. When seasons and tides change, schools of barramundi prawns and sharks come into the mudflats and the rocky headlands around the bay. He knows precisely when they’ll be here and how to catch them.
“Mango season is my favourite. I take the kids and we pick mangoes off the trees and eat them up the creek. When the tide goes down we choose a sandy bank and throw the seeds on it, the crayfish come out and eat the seed and we jump and have crayfish for dinner.”
His grandfather mostly taught him how to hunt and to know what source of food was in the area and when.
“He’s the one that taught me the mango trick. “
His grin widened as he told me about his catch the previous night—turtle. Aboriginal people have the rights to hunt turtle-as they have since the dreamtime beginning. He explained in detail how the turtle had to be killed to ensure that meat was not poisoned by the seeping gall bladder. It was pretty intense.
“Aren’t turtles sacred to the Aboriginal people?”
“Yes. That’s why as a sign of respect, the hunter must be the first to try the meat. He has to test to make sure it is not poisoned so he does not kill the whole village.”
I gasped, “That is some job.”
“I’m very careful with how I kill it, so I feel safe.”
A man walked by with his dog, and they waved.
“If I didn’t listen to the weather man I’d be out on that reef today.” He said. “It’s perfect out there today.”
They both looked out to the horizon line.
“If I wasn’t working today I’d be out there,” Brandon stated shaking his head.
“Why what’s so good today?” I asked—obviously I had no clue about weather, fishing, and reefs.
“It’s so still and calm. The tide is barely moving. It’ll be clear for fishing.”
His spirit perked as he shared the coming evening’s night fishing adventure with his brother and the kids.
“We putt along with the motor and spear fish from the boat. The kids come, and we put mattresses out for them to sleep on. They love it.”
I was in awe. Spearfishing from a boat in the darkness. How the bloody hell does he do it?
Tonight they were hunting for more turtles. Brandon’s cousin’s 35th birthday was the following week. “A turtle can feed 250 people. “
In Brandon’s family, 160 relatives live in the local community.
He pointed to the mountain peak in the distance. “If you come out here every morning and look at that mountain, you’ll know what the weather will be. Forget the weather man, he knows nothing. If it is clear, you’ll have a clear day, it if’s cloudy on top, she’ll blow.”
I trusted Brandon. He was not wrong when he said the water we were wading through was safe from stingers and crocs. Hundreds of years of hunting and gathering practices passed down from generations told him so.
Just like traditional cooking.
“My mum does all the cooking. She taught me how.” His mum’s house was opposite the beach front and was where we went to cook up our afternoon snack. From supermarket to kitchen in 10 steps.
She sat with Aunty and we made small talk over a bowl of fish soup.
“When I’m sick, this is the only thing I can eat.” Aunty told me. “Clears me up straight away. It’s so good”
And it was. Light, fresh and tasty. I wasn’t even bothered that the head of the mullet and its guts were creating most of the wholesome flavour. Indigenous Australians do not like to waste the animals they have been fortunate to use for food.
I watch as he prepares the food in the kitchen.
He breaks apart the still alive crab and points out its small beating heart slowly starting to fade. I feel sadness. He throws it in with the mussels and other tiny morsels of marine life we’d be eating.
How disconnected we become to the cycle of life when we rely on supermarkets to source our food? We pay no attention to where our meat comes from and the sacrifice of one life for our own. I tried to grasp onto the gratitude rather than the feeling that I was a cruel killer.
In the pan, Brandon began cooking the mussels, periwinkles, cockle shells and crab heart with a mixture of butter, chili, garlic and coconut oil. It was creamy and delicious. I’d never eaten fresher seafood and the taste made it more exquisite because I had a hand in catching it.
Next up was his people’s favourite fish: mullet rolled in flour and salt and pan fried. It certainly tasted a million times better than the mullet Mum cooked us when we were young (sorry Mum) Now I understood why it was their favourite.
“The fins are like crackling. Mum and I fight over it.” I left it on the side of the plate not wanting to disrupt the ensuing argument.
It was time to go, but not before Brandon’s shared a plate of pan fried turtle.
I knew this was an honour so joined in with eating it as a way of paying my respects and gratitude. The meat was tender and light and I savoured each with respect to the turtle.
Honour and respect. That is what life should be about shouldn’t it? Giving thanks to all that cross your path, animal or plant, for the lessons and the life giving sustenance they provide.
Final Thoughts on Spearfishing at Cooya Beach
Brandon believes so passionately in sharing the traditional lives of his people with those passing by.
It is a uniquely different perspective of the Port Douglas area—a quiet step away from the adrenalin, but a dirty and raw experience that brings you back to basics as you interact with this beautiful land and go about being an active participant in your body’s evolution.
“This is all I ever wanted to do with my life,” Brandon told me, spear in hand as we patiently waited for the fish to come and lose the game.
I walked beside him, wide-eyed and curious, surrounded by land and sea—some of the most stunning in the world. I understood why his heart showed through his smile and eyes sweeping out the reef beyond.
It was a heart that spoke of purpose and belonging. Knowing that you were spending each day overfilling your own cup, so you had plenty more to help fill others.
The Daintree Dreaming Traditional Aboriginal Fishing Experience
This small-group tour has a maximum of 18 participants, ensuring a hands-on experience with your guide.
Choose from two-afternoon options: a guided hike to a water hole; or upgrade to tour the forest with an Aboriginal guide who shares Dreamtime stories.
- Experience a ‘Welcome to the Country’ smoking ceremony by a traditional owner of the land
- Learn traditional Aboriginal hunting, fishing and gathering techniques with the Kubirri Warra brothers at Cooya Beach
- Enjoy a morning tea and a lunch that incorporates bush foods and flavors
Where to Stay in Cooya Beach
If you’re thinking of staying longer in Cooya Beach, you’ll find there are very few accommodation options there, but there are a few in nearby Mossman.
Here’s where we recommend you stay.
Hacienda Cooya Beach Private Vacation Home
We recommend this Hacienda Cooya Beach Private vacation home, which is a rental property in Mossman and a resort all wrapped up in one.
Visitors get the luxury of staying in a secure home with all the comforts of home, such as air conditioning, free wifi, a bathroom with a deep soaking bathtub and separate shower, and an espresso maker or kettle so you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee from your terrace.
It has three bedrooms, each with a garden view. The home is surrounded by lush tropical gardens and has its own huge wrap around patio terrace and a private pool
The home also has barbecue facilities and an outdoor pool so you can enjoy barbecues as a family at night followed by a refreshing dip.
The minimum check-in age is 21, so it’s perfect for those who want to avoid the young backpacker crowd. This will certainly be the place of your dreams!
There’s also free private parking and since it’s a vacation rental, it offers the unique privacy that only a vacation rental can.
Mossman Resort Holiday Villas
If you prefer to stay at a resort so you can mingle with other travellers, then you’ll find comfortable villas at Mossman Resort Holiday Villas.
This would be a great option for families, since you can get family-sized villas. No more hunting for adjoining rooms or worrying about your kids in separate bedrooms!
Some villas come with a furnished balcony, and all of them have access to a kitchen.
Onsite breakfast is served in the casual dining area, and there’s an outdoor swimming pool with a huge verandah to sit on.
Cairns and Port Douglas Travel Tips
Are you spending more time in Cairns and Port Douglas? Then you might find these other guides helpful…
- Guide To Visiting The Daintree Rainforest + Things To Do
- 16 Best Things to do in Port Douglas with Kids
- Kayaking in Paradise – Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforest
- How to Visit The Great Barrier Reef From Cairns: Tours & Tips
- Don’t miss this Cairns Attraction: The Kuranda Scenic Railway and SkyRail
- 11 Amazing Things to Do in Cairns, Australia (Reef & Beyond)
- The Thrill of the Barron River: White Water Rafting, Cairns
Disclaimer: I spent the day with Brandon as a guest of Tourism Queensland, but all thoughts and ideas in this guide are our own.