The journey to the rainforest village of Kuranda is even more stunning than the destination. Just 25km out of Cairns in the Atherton Tablelands, Kuranda has attracted visitors for over a century for its beautiful location in the rainforest and it’s proximity to the majestic Barron Gorge. Today, Kuranda is a destination famous not only for it’s stunning natural surroundings, but the artisan markets, the world’s largest butterfly sanctuary, Birdworld Kuranda, scenic rainforest tours and the koala sanctuary.
There are two ways to get to Kuranda. The first is the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway, as much of an engineering marvel today as it was when it was completed in 1891. The railway passes through 15 handmade tunnels and over 37 bridges through the World Heritage Listed tropical rainforest, into Barron Gorge and past waterfalls.
The modern addition is the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, which lets you glide just metres above the ancient rainforest canopy in comfortable six-person gondola carriages.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
We went up on the privately-owned Skyrail, which makes great case for the positive power of private enterprise. An entrepreneurial spirit met with a desire to do good made a viable business that offers visitors one of the most spectacular rides of their life. The company was very careful to the minimise environmental impact of the Skyrail, and even built the entire system off-site, hiring enormous Russian helicopters to lift each section into place. I felt so grateful that a company had the initiative and guts to pull off such a big project as I was swept over the ancient rainforest canopy.
From whichever way we looked, we had jaw-dropping views. Between the treetops, the mountains, Barron Gorge and all the way out to sea, our eyes were glued to the scenery unfolding all around us.
My fear of heights kept me busy behind the camera, making me focus on the spectacular views through my lens rather than the sheer drop below me.
Despite my racing heart as we swung over the treetops, I preferred the gondola to the Scenic Railway. The views were unparalleled to anything I have ever experienced before and there were two rainforest stations where we could hop off and walk around rainforest boardwalks to learn more about the region and enjoy some great lookouts.
We joined a free tour by a rainforest guide for a little while, as he showed the group the “Wait a While” vine, a long, stringy vine covered in little sharp spikes. Brush past it, and you’ll have to wait a while as you unhook yourself from it’s sharp grip. As I’d find out later in the day on the Rainforestation Tour, Wait A While is the least of your worries in the tropical rainforests.
From the gondola, we could see the Scenic Railway snaking its way through the mountain. We reached Kuranda at around 10am and took the 4pm train back down the mountain, which gave us plenty of time to visit the markets, go on a rainforest tour and visit the Kuranda Butterfly Sanctuary.
Kuranda Scenic Railway
By the afternoon, the humidity had really set in. Knowing what I know now, I would take the train in the morning and the Skyrail in the afternoon.
We were already sweating when we reached the train, eager to find our seats and descend down the mountain in climate-controlled comfort while enjoying rainforest vistas from our windows.
Once we boarded the train we realized that the railway was really sticking to it’s original set up. There was no such thing as air conditioning in 1891 when the railway opened, and there wouldn’t be one now.
“Oh well, there will be a nice breeze once the train gets going,” I offered hopefully.
Our seats were along a leather bench seat, which seated four or five. We were knee to knee with the passengers on the opposite bench, a Scottish couple in their late fifties. The woman hardly moved. They appeared to be coping with the heat even worse than we were, their faces flushed and sweat running down their cheeks. They looked fairly miserable, but I saw a glimmer of childlike wonder in the man’s eyes as he raised his camera, angling it between the bars on the window to take a photo.
Of course, air conditioning is a privilege, not a right. However, Cairns and most of Tropical North Queensland could very well be the air conditioning capital of Australia, as not even the locals enjoy sweating through the humid days. I’m part of the small camp of those who prefer heat to the cold, and even prefer humid heat to dry heat. Even a heat-seeker like me had to admit that this was deeply unpleasant.
The train started, but there was no breeze. For a start, our seats were facing away from the direction of travel, which put as at a disadvantage. I peeled my upper torso off the back of my leather seat and twisted behind me, in hope of finding some breeze on my face. No luck.
The interior of the train was made from honey-coloured wood, with framed sepia photographs around the cabin of workers as they built the railway. Maybe this was a polite suggestion for us to quit our internal grumbling. If riding the railway was sweaty, building it must have been like toiling in the inner circle of hell, especially for immigrants used to a European climate.
Luckily the unbelievable views at every turn more than made up for a little discomfort.
The train wound slowly down the mountain, for about an hour and twenty or so minutes. There was a photo stop, which I took as a welcome reprieve from the oven-like carriage. At the lookout, I was hit by the enormity of my surroundings.
Across the gorge, the side of the mountain is blanketed in towering trees. It’s so simple, but the sheer enormity of the gorge leaves you standing there slack-jawed. In a sharp photo, you can see the thousands of individual, enormous trees that look like shrubs on this mighty landscape.
If you look closely, you can see the bright green gondolas floating in front of the trees, they look the size of pinheads. You can’t even see the cable that they float on.
Despite the humidity, it was a beautiful journey. I’ve got some wonderful photographs and I’m glad I did it. I recommend taking the train in the morning before it gets too hot!
Tips for visiting Kuranda
- Take the Scenic Railway in the morning before it gets too hot
- Take the Gondola in the afternoon – it is not air conditioned either, but should be cooler and will at least be roomier
- On a hot day, you should drink at LEAST two bottles of water – the humidity is very dehydrating!
- Book with a company that will provide bus pick up & drop off to your accommodation, the station to Kuranda is a long way out of Cairns
What’s the most scenic journey you’ve been on?