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.
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.
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.
What you can expect to see
- Freshwater Station
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
We 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.
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.
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.
Contact & Bookings
Kuranda Heritage Railway