The Kuranda SkyRail and Scenic Railway

A visit to Far North Queensland is not complete without visiting the Kuranda SkyRail and Scenic Railway. Both will take you on a breathtaking journey through the rainforest, where you will be privy to some amazing views, waterfalls and treetop canopies. Not only do you get to see the rainforest in a unique way, there is also the option of visiting the popular village of Kuranda. A short stroll into the township will keep you busy for a couple of hours with rainforest walks, the heritage markets and a hands-on wild life experience.  

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Typically most people will begin their journey on the Heritage train at either the Cairns or Freshwater Stations and then take the SkyRail back down. It is important to note that the SkyRail does not finish at Cairns and you will need to organise transport from Smithfield. There is also the option of doing both the SkyRail and the Scenic Railway in reverse. 

Kuranda Scenic Railway

The Kuranda Scenic Railway is nothing short of an engineering feat. Where many immigrants (mainly Irish and Italian) put their blood, sweat and tears into making this railway line a reality. 

During the time of the gold rush, the mountainous area flourished with little townships. However during times of extreme weather conditions, the towns would become isolated from the main chain of supply. In desperate need of a rail link, excavation and construction began in 1886, in what has been called the most challenging railway project in Australia’s history. Anyone wanting work, were required to supply their own tools and live in tents for weeks, months and some even brought their families. 

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The journey begins either in Cairns or Freshwater Stations, picking up passengers for the 37 km ride through 15 hand carved tunnels, 55 bridges and 98 curves. The journey takes 2 hours from Cairns to Kuranda and there are only two departure times per day (both early morning). The carriages themselves are a step back in time, with the earliest built in 1909. Throughout the carriages, photographs adorn the walls serving as a memoir of those who worked on the railway line. The photographs, along with the journey itself, gives you a sense of the enormity and hard labour required to cut through the land. There is commentary throughout, giving you information and facts at each point of interest. 

The scenery as you pass begins with fields of cane trees, then as you approach the mountains, the lush rainforest comes to the fore. The train will slow right down at certain times to enable you to get some photo opportunities. In particular the 180 degree bend is impressive, the waterfalls and then a chance to disembark the train to take in a scenic lookout. If you are lucky at this point you may even get to see a few of the famous pretty blue butterflies native to the rainforest. I saw a couple but I was not quick enough with my camera at the time.

The journey concludes once it reaches the Kuranda station, with the SkyRail terminal just a short walk away. There is a cafe at the station where you can purchase some refreshments or there is also the option of exploring the village of Kuranda, which I highly recommend.

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What you can expect to see

  • Freshwater Station
  • Redlynch
  • Horseshoe bend 180 degree curve (great photo opportunity)
  • 15 Tunnels
  • Stoney Creek Station
  • Stoney Creek Falls
  • Spectacular Views over the Coral Sea and Cairns
  • Glacier Rock and Red Bluff
  • Robb’s Monument
  • Barron Falls Station
  • Kuranda Station 

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SkyRail Cable Car

Firstly, if you are afraid of heights this will certainly test your nerves. The SkyRail cable car journey is a 7.5 km ride through the rainforest tree tops. There are two great stops along the way at Barron Falls and Red Peak Station. This allows you to exit the cable car and enjoy short walks in the rainforest.

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Each cable car holds 6 people or you have the option of upgrading to the diamond view if you are brave! The diamond view holds 4 people and offers a glass floor to view the rainforest below. The height is extraordinary and I must admit, I did feel a bit nervous on this ride. I have also done a similar cable car ride in the Swiss mountains and this felt a lot higher. Nonetheless, it does give a superb view over the rainforest and the Barron River. Once you reach the terminal at Smithfield, you will be asked to smile for the camera before you exit and you have the opportunity of buying a photo memento of the ride. 

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On exiting the cable car and leaving the terminal, you will need to have organised transport back to either Cairns via the pre-booked shuttle bus or by taxi. As we were staying in Palm Cove we decided to call a cab upon exit of the terminal. 

Kuranda Village

The village of Kuranda is around a 5 to 10 minute walk from the train station and is well worth the visit. Here you will have the opportunity to explore the rainforest that surrounds the village. There are 4 short walks each offering something different. The Heritage markets is another attraction for the area, offering local arts & crafts, Aboriginal artwork, souvenirs and hippy style clothing. Also within walking distance are opportunities for wildlife encounters with the Koala gardens, the Butterfly Sanctuary and Birdworld.

Kuranda+Heritage+scenic+railway+train+skyrail+rainforest+Queensland+Walk+Village+KurandavillageWe spent quite a few hours in the village before our scheduled SkyRail booking at 3.30 p.m. We arrived just after 11 a.m in the morning, so we had around 4 hours to explore. When you figure stopping for lunch into the equation, time can easily escape you. We wandered around the markets until lunch and then planned on going to the Koala Gardens and the Butterfly sanctuary after. Unfortunately we ran out of time to do the rainforest walks. 

There are plenty of places to stop for a bite to eat and we did discover a little gem, called the Petit Cafe. They served the most delicious traditional French crepes, along with the enticer of a jug of Sangria. Actually the Sangria was what first caught our eye! This place was hidden deep into the market and for those in the know, made it very busy.  

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Birdworld and Koala Gardens

My first priority when in the Village of Kuranda was to visit the Koala Gardens and get the chance to hold a koala. If you ever want the opportunity to hold and cuddle a koala then this is the place to visit (holding a koala in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and the Northern Territory is illegal). You will be required to pay an extra fee to hold a Koala and have a souvenir photo of the experience. Each koala is only allowed to be held by three people before being put back to rest and these are done at scheduled times. The rest of the koala gardens have of course koalas, but also have many other Australian native animals. The Koala gardens are not huge, so it’s easily explored within an hour.  

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Australian Butterfly Sanctuary

Not far from the Koala Gardens is the Butterfly Sanctuary. I was so taken by this place, that I could have spent hours there, and in fact I nearly missed the SkyRail because I lost track of the time. There are over 1500 tropical butterflies in the enclosure and many with some fabulous colours. A little tip, if you want a butterfly to land on you, be sure to be wearing white. Butterflies are attracted to white and in fact anything that glows in UV light, as it reminds them of flowers. 

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Contact & Bookings

SkyRail 

https://www.skyrail.com.au

Kuranda Heritage Railway

http://www.ksr.com.au/Pages/Default.aspx

Kuranda Village

www.kuranda.org

7 COMMENTS

  1. I had no idea there was anything like this in Australia Wendy. It has so many elements I love including old period trains, waterfalls, crepes and butterflies. Anyplace with a Butterfly Sanctuary is gold for me. I don’t suppose they have Dragonflies there as well? I can’t even tell you how much I’d love to hold a Koala providing it didn’t stress them.

    • Hi Dale, I didn’t even know about the the SkyRail & Railway and I live in Australia! My parents told me about it and suggested we take a ride on it. It was a great and unique experience. I’m a lover of history so this was right up my alley, with the old world feel of the train. The butterfly enclosure was brilliant but no dragonflies in there. Holding a koala has been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, it was a brief experience but none-the-less another unique experience. They do look after these koalas’ and keeping them stress free is the priority, hence limited times and how many are allowed to hold each koala.

      • Hi Wendy, I think it’s pretty cool that we can still make discoveries like that in our own backyards. I’m lover of history as well and have always been fascinated to learn the stories behind the places I visit. Do you have a favorite historical period or place? Your photo of the train going across the trestle bridge reminded me so much of the railway at HellFire Pass at Kanchanaburi, Thailand. It really brought back some strong memories for me. I’m glad to know they prioritize a stress free environment for the Koala’s. Sometime ago, I read about a sanctuary in Australia where Koala’s rescued from forest fires and human encroachment were cared for by volunteers. I’ve always thought that would be about the best volunteer job possible.

        • Yes I love the ancient Roman times, so anything that involves ancient ruins is something I will want to go see. One place I never got to see was Pompeii, as the day I was meant to visit there was an industrial dispute so it was closed. I’ll have to get back there some day, and for the fact it’s not far from the Amalfi Coast which I also love. I can see how emotional a visit to Kanchanburi would be. I watched a film called the Railway man (coincidently on a flight to Thailand) which left me really affected by the atrocities this man went through. What an awful time in history.

          Koalas are just fascinating, no matter how many times you see them, you still feel excited to see one. They are in epidemic levels in Victoria where I live and unfortunately they were having to be culled (relocation wasn’t an option) as they were dying of starvation. We do indeed have a lot of koala rescue places and I agree those jobs would be awesome.

          • Ancient Roman and Greek times are indeed fascinating Wendy and there so many cool ruins in so many different places. Although I’ve been to Italy quite a few times, I’ve also yet to make a successful trip to Pompeii for one reason or another. Certainly not for lack of interest or trying. The Amalfi Coast is just magic! Turkey apparently has tons of amazing Roman ruins, but I haven’t made it there yet either. It’s on my short list however. I’m not sure the Roman influence in Petra really counts since virtually all the cool stuff is Nabatean, but it’s still a wonderful place to explore.

            Railway Man was a good film and a little hard to watch. Seeing it on your way to Thailand sure was serendipitous. I’m always amazed by those kind of coincidences when you’re traveling. It’s hard to imagine living through those experiences and that time. Here’s a link to an article I wrote about the experience shortly after the fact – http://www.gopher-baroque.com/hellfire-and-the-real-bridge-on-the-river-kwai-part-2/ . Sad to hear that Koalas, or any living thing would need to be culled like that. I sure would love to hold one or help someday.

  2. Turkey is an amazing place to visit and I’m so glad I had the opportunity last year. They have a saying in Turkey and that is ‘there are more Roman Ruins in Turkey than there are in Rome!’ I still want to go to Gallipoli as anyone I know that has visited say it’s such a sombre and emotional place, particularly for Australians. What I find interesting is that there is a respect between Aussies and the Turks and this was even displayed during the war (they would gift each other in the trenches, swapped hats and even called an armistice day where they collected the dead side by side each other). Yes history is fascinating and I could just go on!

    • I’ve heard that about Turkey and can’t wait to visit. You’ve written some wonderful posts on Turkey that I’ve really enjoyed reading by the way. Gallipoli would be another powerful place to visit – especially for Australians as you mention. I wasn’t aware of it until I saw the movie some years ago, but since then have done a little historical reading and research. That the young Aussies and Turks could still find connection and humanity amid such carnage speaks legions for the human spirit. The whole thing breaks my heart to think about. Ironically, the book I’m currently reading about the 1921 and 1924 Mallory/Irvine Everest expeditions (Into the Silence by Wade Davis) prefaces these with a detailed account of WWI including Gallipoli. It never fails to amaze me how the events and decisions made in place and time, can have such profound consequences in many other places and times. The threads and connections of history are indeed fascinating.

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