Thursday, October 10, 2013

To Kuranda by Cableway, Back Down by Rail

Cairns, Australia turned out to be a fun, family trip. After our morning at Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, we next headed up through the Queensland tropical rainforest to the mountain village of Kuranda. One of the best parts was getting there and back. It was a Transportation Vacation! To get up, we took the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway which gave us soaring views over the tree canopy. Our journey back down to Cairns was via the Kuranda Scenic Railway with fabulous views of Barron Gorge.

Departing on the Skyrail Cableway from Cairns with the Coral Sea in the distance

We walked from Tjapukai next door to the Caravonica Terminal to board the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. From there, it's a 7 kilometer ride over Barron Gorge National Park to Kuranda taking about 90 minutes. Don't worry! You (and your children's tiny bladders) aren't trapped in this steel and glass bubble the whole time. The cableway makes two stops on the way so that you can disembark and explore the lush rainforest. Only about 30 minutes is in the air while the remainder is spent walking among the flora and fauna of the area.

As we passed over the McAlister Range, the Coral Sea and the coastline disappeared behind us. It took us 10 minutes to reach Red Peak Station, and the family enjoyed the view of the vast forest below us. At Red Peak, we got off to take a stroll around the 175 meter boardwalk trail. The trees towering over us are so different than the ones in the Malaysian tropical rainforest. My son especially liked a fern that had attached itself halfway up a tree trunk and surrounded it like an upturned skirt. You may even come face-to-face with a cassowary if you're lucky or unlucky, depending on how you view a close encounter with this large, fierce bird. At the very least, you can examine the cassowary droppings on display at the station.

Hint: Read this BEFORE you encounter a cassowary.

After getting back on the Cableway, we once again found ourselves sailing far above the trees that eventually part to reveal dramatic Barron Gorge. This portion of the trip takes about 14 minutes. At Barron Falls Station, you can walk down to a few viewing platforms to enjoy gazing at the falls at your leisure. These powerful falls were harnessed to generate hydroelectric energy back in the 1930s. This stop has about 400 meters of easy trails as well as the Rainforest Interpretation Center. It's not big, but the interactive exhibits were informative and interesting.  Then, it's back in the cablecar for the 10 minute journey to the final stop, Kuranda Terminal.

Heading over the Barron River to Kuranda Terminal

From the terminal, it was a short, uphill walk to Kuranda which calls itself the "Village in the Rainforest." There was so much to do up there! If we had a whole day, we may have enjoyed the walking trails, Koala Gardens, Birdworld, riverboat tours, Rainforestation Nature Park or the Butterfly Sanctuary. However, we only had a few hours until our train departed for our return to Cairns.

First off, we needed lunch as our tummies were growling. The main street of Kuranda has a wide selection of eateries, and we decided on the outside deck of the aptly named Kuranda Rainforest View Restaurant.

We didn't get to the aviary, but we did see a wild cockatoo at lunch.

Afterwards, we had about an hour to stroll up and down the street window shopping at all the arts and crafts galleries, jewelry stores, and little stores. It's no surprise what kind of place caught my kids' eyes. We had time for some sweets and treats before heading to the train.

Kuranda Candy Kitchen

The narrow-gauge Kuranda Scenic Railway departs Kuranda twice a day at 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. We had reservations for the later time and definitely did not want to arrive to see the train pulling out of the station. It takes about 90 minutes to reach Freshwater Station where we got off or 2 hours to get all the way to Cairns. A range of class options are available with the fancier ones offering a dedicated hostess and refreshments. We settled for the budget Heritage Class which was just fine.

Waiting for the All Aboard call

The train makes a brief stop so that everyone can get off for a look at Barron Falls. I thought the view at this angle was quite stunning and much better than from the cableway station on the opposite side. A weir at the top of the falls intercepts some of the water and channels it to a hydroelectric power station, decreasing the volume of water that would have otherwise cascaded down the rocky slope.

Barron Falls cascades down 260 meters to the bottom of Barron Gorge.

As we listened to the clickety-clack of the wheels on the rails, a commentary on the speakers told us about the history of the railway and the area landmarks. We also received a souvenir guide with more information and a map. I will admit that the recently purchased candy also provided some amusement during the ride.

The main engine pays tribute to the Aboriginal dreamtime legend surrounding Barron Gorge and Barron River. The story tells us of Buda-dji, the Carpet Snake who carved out the river and its tributaries. This famous snake is depicted on the engine in traditional Aboriginal artwork.

Buda-dji the Carpet Snake winds down the side of the engine.

As we made our way down from the Tablelands, we had plenty of time to gaze out the windows that were open to let in air. We passed by smaller waterfalls, saw steep ravines and traversed trestle bridges. Near the end, I was quite excited to see a wallaby hop across the tracks. All my Aussie friends are amused that the rest of the world loves kangaroos and wallabies so much, but I thought seeing this animal topped off our outing nicely.

Enjoying the passing landscape

We had gone to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef, so spending an excellent day learning about Aboriginal culture and then riding both cablecars and train carriages was an unexpected bonus. I highly recommend it!

  • Package tours including Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, the Skyrail Cableway, and the Kuranda Scenic Railway are easy to find. You can do it early online at a discount or at one of the many tour operators with storefronts in the touristy part of Cairns or at your hotel once you get there. They are available both with our without transfers from your hotel.
  • If you drive yourself, keep in mind that the Skyrail Caravonica Terminal in Cairns and the Kuranda Railway Station in Cairns are about 15 minutes away from each other by car. You will need a way to get back to where you parked your car if a transfer is not included in your ticket.
  • You can also go the opposite way taking the Kuranda Railway up (2 morning departures) and the Skyrail Cableway back down. However, you may not have time to do everything at Tjapukai. 

Related Posts:
A Visit to Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park
Why My Kids Love the Sydney Opera House
The Allure of Uluru (Ayers Rock)
It's the Great Penguin, Charlie Brown (Kangaroo Island)

This post is part of "Travel Photo Thursday" on Budget Travelers Sandbox, "Oh, The Places I've Been!" at The Tablescaper, and Sunday Traveler at Ice Cream and Permafrost. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.


  1. This is so interesting. Amazing sights. I would be afraid of heights on the cable car but maybe the sights would be so beautiful I would forget where I was. Quite an adventure!

  2. My kids love going on the cable car too. Beautiful scenery!

  3. Looks like a superb way to spend the day and your kids seem to be enjoying it.
    I've heard about how nasty the cassowarys can be - but didn't appreciate that they's warrant a warning sign.
    You have done some very interesting trips lately.

  4. Looks like a great day! I've never heard of a cassowary - don't think I want to meet one!

  5. Excellent post, i'll have to remember this when/if I get to visit Queensland in the future, looks like a fun way to enjoy nature and the native culture/history there.

  6. Loved the photos and I never met a train ride I didn't like. This looks like fun -- all except the cablecar!

  7. Wow, that paint job redifines "the crazy train" huh, Michele? ha ha! That is awesome that Skyrail makes stops and you can get out and explore for a bit and take pictures. But, the ride itself sure provided an eagle's view for sure! Good post :)

  8. What a fun day!! The view from the cable car looks amazing and the scenic train looks like so much fun - but a wild cockatoo at lunch - Wow!!

  9. It sounds like a great way to spend the day! Loved the views from the cable car and the train ride looks like it offered some pretty great views as well. Makes me want to jump off this couch and explore...thanks for the virtual tour!

  10. I love how colorful the train car is!

    I'm probabaly never going to actually be in danger of accidentally encountering a cassowary in the wild, but I memorized those instructions. Just in case.

  11. Breath-taking view, must be a memorable trip :)

  12. I must get back to visit Cairns. It's such a magical spot.

  13. A magical post and you've made me want to go back to Cairns. We didn't do the Sky rail which was a mistake as we took the train to Kuranda both ways. But Kuranda was wonderful and I spent a good few hours wandering around up there. You've included some very useful tips too Michelle. Great post.

  14. You're seriously making me consider a stop in Cairns next summer. What a fun trip for the whole family. Those views are amazing especially the Barron Falls. How cool that you got to see a wallaby in the wild. It's always a joy to see the sceneries from the sky.

  15. Cairns does look like a fun place to visit. I like the views and of course, I'm a big waterfall person.
    I've never ever heard of a cassowary until I read your post. They look so beautiful, too bad they're so aggressive.

  16. That is a stunning railway ride -- and maybe a little scary over the the river! I love rides like that and the scenic railway you took. It certainly looks like everyone in your family was having a good time, too.

  17. What an interesting place, I adore that train, so colourful! :)

  18. The cassowary does not seem like a pleasant bird! What a nice place to visit - the views and photos from the cableway are beautiful.

  19. I love the views! It would be amazing to take a cable car ride there!

  20. This sounds like a very interesting tour with lots of incredible sights. And how about a 90 min ride in a cable car - that sounds a lot! But it sure offered some beautiful views.

  21. I did this trip many years ago (eek, I was twelve at the time) and just had the best time. Thanks for bringing back some great memories!

  22. This looks like a lot of fun! I'd love the views. Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler :)

  23. This looks like so much fun! I think it would be amazing to see a cassowary in the wild (and that sign reminded me of the "Great Emu War of 1932"). Thanks so much for sharing!

  24. This looks like so much fun! I think it would be amazing to see a cassowary in the wild (and that sign reminded me of the "Great Emu War of 1932"). Thanks so much for sharing!

  25. What an interesting way to spend a day! I love how you have two different options to get to the top and it's not just the same view. At first I was shocked to read that it took 90 minutes by cable car! Thank goodness there are stops along the way. Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler!


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