Images by Hayley Williamson / FIRME Agency, courtesy of Tourism & Events Queensland.
In the depths of the Daintree Rainforest, at the end of a driveway flanked by organic fruit orchards, sits a humble little ice-cream shop. Serving up delectably exotic flavours, from mangosteen to marang, soursop to sapodilla, this is no ordinary ice-creamery. The Daintree Ice Cream Company grows over 20 species of Australian native and exotic tropical fruits - the heroes of their uniquely flavoured ice cream, gelatos and sorbets.
Operating completely off-grid on a 22-acre property surrounded by the jungle, the Daintree Ice Cream Company has been running since the early nineties, with owners Dave Mainwaring and Jenna Rumney introducing a more sustainable and holistic approach since taking over the business in 2015. Before buying the business, Dave already knew the property well as he had been a tour guide in the Daintree for many years and would regularly stop into the ice-cream shop as part of the itinerary.
“We both really liked the concept of creating produce fresh from the orchard, what we call ‘tree-to-cup’, so when the opportunity came up to take over, we jumped at it.”, Jenna says. With science and tourism backgrounds, the world of hospitality and fruit farming was far from their comfort zone, but Dave and Jenna threw themselves at the new challenge with passion and optimism.
In essence, they are running two businesses – the farm and the ice-cream. Being situated in the Daintree, it’s warm and wet most of the year, which means all the fruit trees on the property are irrigated with rainwater, and they often get multiple crops in a season. It’s the perfect spot for a tropical fruit farm, though with so many different species growing in the orchard, the team have to be constantly on the ball. Each species has a different fruiting cycle, and with flavour in mind, they try to pick and harvest each fruit at its peak ripeness.
One of the first changes Dave and Jenna made on the farm was switching to organic farming to reduce nutrient runoff, a major issue affecting the Great Barrier Reef. Sitting just a few kilometres from the ocean, the farm is one of just a few in the world on the border of two UNESCO World Heritage sites, so sustainable practices have become a key focus for the team in recent years. Although this can be quite challenging, they have found some wonderful synergies that exist in nature.
“Since we don’t use pesticides, we get huge numbers of green ants setting up shop in the fruit trees. These little critters pack a punch, acting as guardians of our fruit and protecting them from destructive bugs and birds. This can make picking quite awkward, but it’s discomfort we are willing to endure in the knowledge that we are working with nature instead of against it.”
Then there is the ice-cream. Making and storing ice cream in the tropics can be quite problematic, especially when you factor in being 100% off-grid. They have installed a huge solar array to carry most of the energy load, only occasionally turning to the generator for a boost. There are also mechanical and electronic issues that constantly require troubleshooting and repairing due to the stress of the Daintree’s tropical heat and humid climate. As Jenna says, “That’s just part of the adventure of living and operating a business in a remote wilderness area.”
The signature offering at the ice-cream shop is the ‘sample cup’ – four generous scoops of ice cream featuring complimentary and seasonal flavours that change daily. To ease visitors into the exotic experience, they always try to pair familiar flavours, such as mango or coconut, with something more novel and unusual, such as black sapote or jackfruit. Selecting their fruit based on flavour and texture rather than aesthetics, recipes are designed to showcase each fruit as the centrepiece, not just as an additive. To top off the experience, they offer a free self-guided orchard walk which gives people the opportunity to see and learn about the exotic fruits they are eating.
Nestled amongst one of the world’s oldest tropical rainforests, Dave and Jenna are passionate about sustainable land management and responsible business practices. In addition to their switch to organic farming, and installation of a huge solar array, they have removed all single use plastics from the property and introduced sustainably sourced compostable ice cream cups. Numerous revegetation projects have been undertaken to restore habitat for native wildlife and corridors for transitory species, as well as the planting of native ‘companion’ plants to fix nitrogen. On a private section of the property, they even rescue orphaned kangaroos, wallabies and pademelons to be rehabilitated for re-introduction to the wild – a commitment that has seen them recognised as a Wildlife Land Trust Sanctuary.
Dave and Jenna believe that the Daintree Rainforest is an area of extreme ecological importance and needs to be safeguarded, regardless of the impacts it may have on profits. There is a fine line between having enough visitors to make an area economically viable and overrunning it, and we may have already reached the line. The remoteness of the Daintree Rainforest and the ‘bottleneck’ of the Daintree River ferry, the only way to access the remote Northern sections of the Tropical North, have played a large part in avoiding the threats of over tourism. However, recent lobbying for infrastructure to make the area more accessible may just tip the scales too far. It’s important that visitors to the region slow down and connect with nature, learn about the fragility of the local ecosystems, and look at ways that they too can help protect Australia’s oldest rainforest.