Cassowaries are an iconic resident of the World Heritage Wet Tropics Rainforests, which extend from near Cooktown in the north, to Paluma in the south (which is just the Cairns side of Townsville). These majestic looking creatures are Australia’s largest and heaviest flightless bird and belong to the ratite family, which is one of the most primitive groups of birds on the planet. Cairns and its surrounding Wet Tropics Rainforests are prime locations for spotting the elusive and iconic Cassowary. We consider ourselves fortunate to have encountered Cassowaries in the wild in several locations, including the Bloomfield Track and Daintree National Park, Mission Beach and at its Licuala Lodge, Etty Bay at Mourilyan and on the Atherton Tablelands. We know these big birds are show stoppers and to help increase your chances of seeing one, we’ve prepared this guide on the best places to see a Cassowary in Cairns, based on our own personal experience. Side note – if you are short on time or fail to find them in the wild, then local wildlife parks provide the opportunity for a guaranteed sighting and are very family friendly.
Safety Tips When Spotting Cassowaries: Please note Cassowaries are wild and can be dangerous. While there has been only one recorded Cassowary-related death in Mossman, Australia (in 1926), it’s crucial to observe these birds from a safe distance and respect their space. Never attempt to approach, startle or feed a Cassowary. If a Cassowary approaches you, it is best to back away slowly and place something between yourself and the Cassowary (a backpack or similar); do not run away from a Cassowary, as they are very fast movers.
Birdworld Kuranda has a resident Southern Cassowary, which you can safely see and observe from the pathway. Open Every Day, in Kuranda Village.
Some local wildlife attractions, including Birdworld Kuranda and Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, have Cassowary exhibits, which ensure guaranteed sightings with safety. Birdworld Kuranda is located in the Heritage Markets at Kuranda, the Village in the Rainforest, and is home to over 350 birds. It’s open daily and there are handfeeding and photo opportunities. Kuranda is a 40 minute drive from Cairns and has many other wildlife attractions, boutiques and galleries. Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures is a large wildlife attraction with saltwater and freshwater crocodiles, kangaroos, snakes, koalas, wombats, Cassowaries and more. It is around a 60 minute drive from Cairns. In our opinion it is always nice to see Cassowaries in their natural habitat, but if you fail to find them, then the wildlife attractions provide a guaranteed encounter.
For something different, check out Etty Bay where Cassowaries can be seen on the beach. Fun Fact: Cassowaries are good swimmers and have been seen swimming in the sea at Etty Bay.
Etty Bay is a small beachside community renowned for its resident Cassowary population, which are often seen wandering along the beach or at the nearby caravan park. We have seen Cassowaries 8 times out of 10 times that we have visited Etty Bay, making it a special destination for wildlife enthusiasts. Etty Bay is around a 90 minute drive south of Cairns, and a 10 minute detour from the Bruce Highway. To maximise your chances of seeing a Cassowary here, consider staying a night or two at the Etty Bay Caravan Park, which has cabins as well as powered and unpowered camp sites. We recently had some customers rent our caravan to spend a few days at Etty Bay, where the Cassowaries walked right by the caravan at breakfast time. For a glimpse into these unique experiences, you can view photos on our Facebook page, showcasing the close interactions with Cassowaries at Etty Bay.
Mission Beach is home to a large population of Cassowaries, which can be seen at various locations. Stay a night to increase your chances of seeing one in the wild.
Mission Beach is renowned as the epicenter for Cassowaries in North Queensland, and offers a high chance of spotting these remarkable birds in the wild. We have encountered Cassowaries at Mission Beach on the road into the town, around the Elandra Resort, at Licuala Lodge (see below), and along the Dreaming Trail walking track. To get the latest information on where Cassowaries have been seen, drop into the local Visitor Information Centers in Mission Beach. These centers can provide valuable insights and tips to enhance your chances of witnessing these magnificent creatures in their natural environment, as well as other local information. Mission Beach is around a 2 hour drive from Cairns, making it an accessible and appealing destination for those eager to observe Cassowaries in their natural habitat. To increase your chances of seeing one, consider staying a night or two in the local area. There are lots of hotels, holiday houses, apartments and bed and breakfasts (we have seen Cassowaries at Licuala Lodge, each time we have stayed – see below).
We have a 100% success rate of seeing Cassowaries at Licuala Lodge in Mission Beach. This enchanting bed and breakfast property is adjacent to a Cassowary corridor.
Licuala Lodge is a charming bed and breakfast in Mission Beach, that offers a unique and intimate wildlife experience. We have stayed here three times and on each occasion have seen Cassowaries walking through the grounds and around the rooms. Why are there here? Licuala Lodge backs on to an established Cassowary corridor, which is a pathway used by Cassowaries to navigate different areas of the rainforest. So they are in their element and you can put yourself front and centre by booking a room, which provides the opportunity to observe these birds in a serene setting. If this sounds like something of interest to you, check out the Licuala Lodge website (which we did for them) where you will find detailed information about the property, its amenities, and the unique opportunities it offers for wildlife observation, especially for those hoping to see Cassowaries in their natural habitat.
Keep your eyes peeled in the Daintree Rainforest as we've seen Cassowaries here on several occasions and locations, including the Bloomfield Track.
The drive from Daintree River to Cape Tribulation is one of the best places to potentially spot a Cassowary. We have seen them here on several occasions, walking beside or crossing the road. With dense vegetation on either side they can quickly vanish back into the bush, so it’s wise to drive slowly and keep your eyes peeled, to increase your chances of a sighting. There are also several boardwalks in the Daintree National Park, which also provide the opportunity for a Cassowary encounter. These include the Jindalba, Dubuji and Madja Boardwalks: we did hear the rumble of a Cassowary on the Jindalba Boardwalk, but didn’t see them. There have been frequent sightings on the Dubuji Boardwalk. As an added treat, a visit to the Daintree Ice Cream Company offers the chance to not only see a Cassowary in the wild, but also to taste some delightful ice-cream and sorbets. How can you get to the Daintree National Park? You could hire a car or book one of many Daintree Tours departing Cairns and Port Douglas such as this tour – https://www.ilovecairns.com.au/cairns-daintree-tour
Cassowary on the move, we snapped this lucky photo of a Cassowary on the Waterfall Circuit on the southern Tablelands near Millaa Millaa.
Firstly, can we say we are fairly sure there are lots of Cassowaries living in the Wooroonooran National Park, which is a 798Km2 area of Wet Tropics World Heritage Area connecting the Tablelands with the lowlands of Cairns. That being said, this rainforest is both dense and remote and so your chances of seeing a Cassowary here are low. We have only ever seen a Cassowary on the Atherton Tablelands once and this was on the Waterfall Circuit road, around the Mungalli Tea House area. There have been other recorded sightings of Cassowaries across the Tablelands (not by us) in a range of locations including the Windin Falls walking track, Mount Hypipamee National Park, Skyrail’s Kuranda Falls Station and along the Kuranda Range.
This map is based on data sourced from the Queensland Government’s WildNet database, which has been authorized for public release. It accurately reflects reported Cassowary sightings in Northern Queensland. While you’re welcome to form your own opinion on where you might best spot a Cassowary in the wild, I personally recommend the area around Mission Beach as an excellent location for Cassowary sightings. PS I think the Cassowary in the ocean is an error 🙂
The short answer is ‘yes’. Cassowaries are considered one of the most dangerous birds in the world, however, the only recorded human fatality in Australia was a 16- year-old boy near Mossman in 1926. He was running away from the Cassowary and tripped over, the Cassowary severed his jugular vein with its claw, when running over the top of him. Generally speaking, Cassowaries are not overtly aggressive and will avoid contact with humans. There is an exception to this at Etty Bay, mentioned in this story, where Cassowaries will sometimes initiate contact looking for food.. The time Cassowaries are most dangerous, is when they are with their chicks. If you do come across a Cassowary in the wild you should not initiate contact. If they approach you, you should back away slowly and try to put something between yourself and the Cassowary (like a backpack or similar). Do not run away from a Cassowary, they can chase you and they are very fast moving. If a Cassowary does attack you, it will kick with both of its legs in a horizontal position and the ‘danger point’ is the large (and very lethal looking) claw on the back of its foot.
In Australia, Cassowaries live in the Wet Tropics Rainforests of North Queensland, which extend from near Cooktown in the north, to Paluma in the south (which is just the Cairns side of Townsville).
Cassowaries have been recorded eating over 238 species of plants. Although they prefer fallen fruit, cassowaries also eat snails, insects, fungi, flowers and some dead animals. They are also very good swimmers and have been recorded catching and eating fish.
No – Cassowaries can not fly and are Australia’s largest, flightless bird.
An adult cassowary can reach 1.8-2m in height although most are about 1.5m. Females are bigger than males. The largest on record weighed 85kg, making it Australia’s largest land animal. Weights of 60kg are not unusual for females while males weigh in at 35kg.
Cassowaries are good swimmers and can cross deep rivers. It is also possible that cassowaries enter the water to go fishing, in rivers and the sea. A nineteenth century scientist observed a Dwarf cassowary in New Guinea immersing itself in a river with its feathers spread. After 15 minutes it closed up its plumage and walked on to the bank. It then shook its feathers and ate several fish which dropped out! There is also one report of this happening at Mission Beach after Cyclone Winifred. It is quite possible that the cassowary’s feathers resemble water weed in which the fish normally hide.
No – is the short answer! Cassowaries are a protected species and a keystone species to the Wet Tropics World Heritage listed Rainforest in Australia. They are not on the menu and should not be eaten.
Interesting Historical Note: Cassowaries were a traditional food for Aborigines and explorers with the Kennedy expedition (of 1848) shot one and recorded that ‘the flesh was eaten and found to be delicious; a single leg afforded more substantial food than 10 or 12 hungry men could dispose of at a single meal’.
Cassowaries are an icon of the Wet Tropics Rainforest and as such, considerable research has been done on these birds over the years. For some fun facts and interesting information on the Cassowaries, you can down load this Cassowary Fact Sheet from the Wet Tropics Management Authority.
Encountering a Cassowary is undoubtedly a special experience, and during our travels in North Queensland, we’ve had the privilege of seeing many. It’s important to remember to respect these wild creatures and maintain a safe distance. For me, Cassowaries are among the top wildlife attractions in Far North Queensland, along with Clown Fish (like Nemo), Boyd’s Forest Dragons, Crocodiles, and Green Sea Turtles. We plan to blog about these magnificent animals as well. Spotting Cassowaries can be challenging, so to avoid disappointment, consider visiting Bird World Kuranda or Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, where sightings are assured. Additionally, the Southern Cassowary’s natural habitat is the stunning rainforest, one of the oldest surviving tropical rainforests on the planet. Even if you don’t spot a Cassowary, you’ll still have the opportunity to explore this breathtaking environment and potentially encounter other amazing wildlife.
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