Saturday 1 June 2019 / Kuranda QLD 4881, Australia

Kuranda Village, Skyrail and Scenic Railway

Imagine a village in a wild west-themed adventure park; one with saloons, wide pathways and shops full of trinkets which are probably the same stock that failed to sell in 2001. That's what Kuranda felt like to me. But not in a bad way. More of an amusing, novelty way. You can just tell the village is geared for tourism - it hits that nail firmly on the head - but unlike other tourist attractions I've visited on the otherwise modern east coast of Australia, it provokes a nostalgia for the theme parks I visited when I was a child.

If you're staying in Cairns, which was my first port of call on my east coast Australia road trip, you can access the Skyrail to Kuranda via the suburb of Smithfield. It's also easily accessible if you're staying in Port Douglas or Palm Cove. Buses to Smithfield run pretty regularly from these locations, but if you're not confident taking the bus you can book a tour which will pick you up from or near your accommodation. Click here to visit the Kuranda Skyrail website to view the available tours.

I booked the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway & Kuranda Scenic Railway with return transfers from Cairns & Beaches for $128 (approximately £70 at the time of writing) and it was worth every. Single. Penny.

The Skyrail

I was picked up by a friendly driver who detected my accent and was quick to tell me he had relatives in the UK (as many Aussies do). He whipped the tour bus out to Smithfield in around 20 minutes, dropping us off right outside the Skyrail terminal. From there, I just flashed my tour pass and received my ticket for both the Skyrail and railway.

As I travelled during off peak season, I got a whole gondola to myself. These big green pods can carry five people, so I was pretty content with the ample space and lack of bodies spoiling my view. And what a view it was.

My advice is to face backwards for the first 10 minutes of the Skyrail. You'll get an amazing sight of the sparkling coastline, rainforest shrouded hills and Cairns' suburbs. After that, you'll glide into the far reaches of the rainforest - a sea of greenery as far as the eye can see.

Red Peak and Barron Falls

The first stop is Red Peak, a small station in the rainforest with a free guided tour on an elevated walkway. I had already been on a rainforest tour earlier in the week, so I decided to traverse the walkway alone, which took me less than 10 minutes. There's plenty of signage telling you what's what, and a few birds flitting around to keep your attention piqued.

Barron Falls by Jen Lou Meredith
Barron Falls

Get back on the gondola and fly over some more rainforest before descending through the canopy once again. This time, you'll land at Barron Falls. This, for me, was the highlight of the trip. Walk out onto the manmade viewing platforms to see the falls in all their glory, breathe in the wondrously fresh air and listen to the endlessly relaxing sound of water gushing over the crest.

Barron Falls almost seems like it shouldn't be there. It's like a giant has scooped out part of the rainforest, leaving thousands of litres of water to cascade down bare stone into the river. In fact, local Aboriginal lore depicts the journey of Buda-dji, a carpet snake who travelled from the coast to the Atherton Tablelands, carving out the river and its creeks in his wake. It really is a breathtaking sight and I highly recommend viewing it from the glass platform located 160m above the Gorge.

Kuranda village

The Skyrail takes you over the mighty Barron River on the approach to Kuranda Skyrail Station. You'll get your mug snapped by a photographer as your gondala arrives, and you can purchase the shot as a memento when you disembark. There's a nice shop at the station which sells lots of locally-made souvenirs; I bought a handkerchief for my grandma and some ground coffee for myself to enjoy when I get home.

Barron River

The Skyrail station is located right next to the railway station, so if you're short on time and can't explore Kuranda, you can just hop on the train straight back to Cairns (or wherever you need to get off).

If you do have time to explore, however, simply take a three minute walk into the village centre, where you'll find lots of little shops, cafes, walks and wildlife attractions.

I started off by exploring the Jumrum Creek Conservation Park, Jungle Walk and River and Esplanade Walk - altogether just under 4km of walking, so make sure you take good shoes. If you have to do just one of these, I recommend the Jumrum Creek Conservation Park walk - halfway through you'll come to a very pretty creek where the light filters through the trees and makes for beautiful photography.

Jumrum Creek

If you've walked about as far as you can manage in the North Tropical Queensland heat, head to the shops and cafes for browsing and refreshments. There's lots of art available here, including Aboriginal art, as well as handcrafted items and hippy-style jewellery and clothing.

Past the shops, you'll find the famous Kuranda markets, which are open seven days a week, as well as a butterfly sanctuary, tropical bird aviary and koala park. Although zoos and parks masquerading as 'sanctuaries' make me feel a little uncomfortable, I decided to visit the koala park as I heard that it had a good reputation. Unfortunately, the visit was a let down as the koalas had a really small shared enclosure with just a couple of trees, and 'hold a koala' sessions were being offered, which I personally disagree with for the sake of animal rights.

Koala at the Kuranda Koala Park

The Kuranda Scenic Railway 

Make sure you head back to the railway well in time for your train, as you'll probably want to snap a photo at the iconic Kuranda railway station. Opened in 1915, this station retains much of its vintage charm, and secures its Instagram-worthy aesthetic with the abundance of tropical potted plants lining its platforms. While you're here, you can nip round the tourist shop or grab a snack and drink for your journey.

Kuranda Railway Station

Once it was almost time for my train to leave, I hopped on and sat down. I thought I had an entire booth to myself, when a large family came and sat down beside me. I'm not really a huge fan of kids, so I stuck my headphones in and focussed on the beautiful view, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. One of the staff roaming the train spotted that I was on my own, and very kindly ushered me to my own booth further down the train, where I could watch the view without interruption.

The Kuranda Scenic Railway

The journey is complemented by a commentary on the railway's dramatic history and notes about the landscape. To give you a very brief sneak preview, the line opened in 1891 after nearly 10 years of planning and building, lost contracts and strikes. Tragically, 32 men died in construction accidents while building the railway and its 15 tunnels and 37 bridges.

The journey is 23 miles (37km) in length, stretching from Kuranda all the way into the Redlynch suburb of Cairns. We stopped at one final lookout point for Barron Falls, as well as Freshwater Station where there is a tourist info centre, gift shop and a cafe inside of an old train carriage.

Overall, the whole trip, including exploring Kuranda, took just over six hours. It was a beautiful journey in both directions, with views that I'll never forget and photos that mean so much more than just an Instagram post. 

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