Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail
One of the favourite tourist activities in the Cairns area is a visit to Kuranda Village in the hinterland, via the Kuranda Scenic Railway and/or the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. It is one of those attractions where the journeys there and back are just as entertaining and informative as the destination.
The usual way of getting to Kuranda is to take the Scenic Railway in one direction and the Skyrail in the other. As we had a rental car, we did not need the pick-up service available to take tourists to the terminals. We left our car at the Skyrail terminal at Smithfield, a Cairns suburb, and were shuttled across to the Freshwater rail terminal, so we would have our car handy when we arrived back on the Skyrail.
The Freshwater station with its tropical gardens and hanging baskets boasts authentic heritage carriages and a waiting area on the platform where you can have a cuppa and snack while waiting for the train. It also includes a museum, and pioneer cottage which provide visitors with an interesting and educational experience. The train is powered by a 1720 Class Diesel Electric Locomotive, attractively decorated with indigenous art and colourful heritage-style carriages.
During the hour and a half journey up into the Kuranda ranges there are periodic announcements describing the origin of the 120 year old railway and various other points of interest. Construction of the Cairns-Kuranda Railway was, and still is, an engineering feat of tremendous magnitude. It was extremely arduous and dangerous due to steep grades, dense jungle and aboriginals defending their territory. Sickness, poor working conditions and accidents claimed many lives.
There are 93 tunnels and many bridges over ravines and waterfalls giving fantastic views of the valleys below out as far as the coast.
A couple of short stops are made along the way at Stoney Creek Falls and Barron Gorge for photo opportunities. Kuranda Station is renowned for its tropical gardens and historic significance, while Tea Rooms at the station offer a great range of souvenirs and refreshments.
From the station it is only a short uphill walk to the village. Kuranda is a quirky, colourful rainforest town “famous” for its markets – and there are several different types – as well as the Butterfly Sanctuary, Birdworld, the Koala Gardens and the indigenous Tjupakai Tours.
The Heritage Market has been going for over 20 years and sells souvenirs, local arts and crafts and clothing, and has various places where you can settle down with some food and drink. In the main street of town are another couple of market areas selling similar products. There is no shortage of cafes and pubs there as well.
The curtain fig trees in the main street are a source of amazement in their structure.
After we explored the markets we settled back for a leisurely lunch at the Kuranda Hotel, near the Skyrail terminal. The Skyrail is the term for the cable car transport which carries tourists high over the Barron River and only metres above rainforest canopies, with stops at Red Peak Station and Barron Falls, right back as far as the Smithfield terminal, 7.5 km away.
The stops allow for Ranger-guided rainforest boardwalk tours and visits to the Rainforest Interpretation Centre, lookouts and historical displays.
Views of the valley and coast below on the final descent are simply magnificent. This is truly an hour and a half of travel that will have you riveted and camera clicking.