Most people who visit Cairns make a trip to Kuranda, whether by car or on the Kuranda Skyrail and Train. So what is best? Are the Kuranda Skyrail and Train worth the money? This guide and review will help you make your mind up.
I would like to respectfully acknowledge the Djabugay People, the Traditional Owners, and First People of these lands. I would like to pay my respects to the Elders past, present, and future, for they hold the memories, the traditions, the culture, and hopes of the Djabugay People.
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Should I travel to Kuranda by car or Skyrail and Scenic Train?
It’s an easy half-hour drive from Cairns into the hinterland to the small town of Kuranda. Yet, the best reason for visiting this pretty place is the journey. This is where the real experience lies.
Location and how to get to Kuranda Skyrail from Cairns
Kuranda Skyrail departs from Smithfield. This is a 15-minute drive north of Cairns, in Queensland‘s tropical north. If you don’t have transport, Skyrail offers a transfer service. These depart from Cairns, the northern beaches, and Port Douglas. There is also a transfer available from Yorkeys Knob marina when cruise ships are in.
There is plenty of parking at Smithfield. Note that if you are returning by train, it arrives at Freshwater train station. A bus will take you from the railway station back to Smithfield.
The Smithfield terminal has toilets, coin lockers, a gift shop, and the Canopy Café.
The best way to experience Australia’s Wet Tropics World Heritage Area is to take the Skyrail one way and the scenic train the other. This offers the best views and different perspectives of the world’s oldest surviving rainforest.
There are a lot of different tour options, some of which include transfers from Cairns. As we had a hire car, we drove to the Skyrail terminal at Smithfield and returned via the scenic railway. The train journey is more relaxing, so we opted to do that on the return leg.
When the 7.5km Skyrail Rainforest Cableway was built in 1995, it was the world’s longest cableway.
The 90-minute experience takes you over the ancient landscape with views of Barron Gorge and a sweeping panorama out to the Coral Sea. The aerial view of the treetops of Barron Gorge National Park is incredible to see as you soar above the rainforest canopy.
If you’re looking for an extra thrill, try the Diamond View glass gondolas. They have a glass floor to allow views down onto the landscape below.
Red Peak is the first station you arrive at. Make sure you get off here for guided tours, which leave every 30 minutes. Explore the rainforest floor on the boardwalk trail and take in the beautiful views from the lookout. Knowledgeable rangers explain about the rainforest, which hasn’t changed much in 130 million years. I found it astounding how the 400-year old Karri tree sheds its bark which stops the ferns clinging to it.
We were amazed by the beautiful ferns’ patterns, the tall palms, and how we felt dwarfed by the imposing rainforest giants. It was such a contrast from the coast and, despite it being a hot day, there was a coolness being under the rainforest foliage.
I would allow about 20 minutes at Red Peak Station before climbing back on board the Skyrail.
Barron Falls is the second stop on the Skyrail and the last stop before Kuranda.
Here you will get panoramic views of Barron Falls from The Edge Lookout. The waterfall is best seen in the wet season (December to March) when it is in full flow. We visited in June, and it was quite dry, as you can see below.
At the Barron Falls stop, you can also visit the CSIRO Rainforest Interpretation Centre. Also, explore the Historical Precinct to discover the stories of Barron Falls.
Once back on board the Skytrain, the last stop is Kuranda. The location of the terminal is near the Barron River and a short walk into town. If you are looking for things to do in Kuranda, I’ve listed a few attractions further on.
Kuranda Scenic Railway
The return train journey starts at the heritage-listed Kuranda Train Station, close to the Skyrail terminal. This station is one of the prettiest I have seen, with a stunning array of tropical plants and flowers.
The historic Kuranda Scenic Railway opened in 1891 and features refurbished vintage carriages. The 34 km journey has an English commentary as you descend from the lush rainforest down to Freshwater station. There’s a short photo stop at Barron Falls before climbing back onto the train for the rest of the trip.
As you travel along, it’s hard not to be impressed at this incredible engineering feat, including 15 hand-made tunnels, 37 bridges, and steep ravines. Stoney Creek Bridge, built on a 4-chain (260 ft; 80 m) radius curve, is one of Australia’s most photographed bridges due to its stunning location.
We had Heritage Class tickets, which are the standard seats in timber carriages, some of which are over 100 years old. The seats were comfortable and, as we travelled in winter, the carriage was the perfect temperature. I have read that the carriages can become very hot in the humid summer months due to the lack of air conditioning. Cold refresher towels are provided during these months, and water is available in all coaches.
There’s an option to upgrade to Gold Class with individual lounge seating and Victorian-inspired décor. The ticket also includes:
- Morning or Afternoon Tea featuring a selection of Queensland and local Tablelands produce such as Gallo Dairyland Cheese, Skybury Coffee, Wondaree Macadamias, Mango to Go (100% pure mango treat), fresh muffins, Sirromet wines, and Great Northern Brewing Company Super Crisp Lager
- Welcome tropical mocktails served in the pavilion area, 20 minutes before the arrival of the train when boarding at Freshwater Station in the morning
- Welcome drinks served onboard the train, 20 minutes before departure, when boarding at Kuranda Station in the afternoon
What to do in Kuranda
Kuranda was first settled by Europeans in 1885 and surveyed by Thomas Behan in 1888. Construction of the railway from Cairns to Myola started in 1887, and the line reached Kuranda in 1891. The completion of the current railway station was in 1915.
Today tourists fill Kuranda’s main street. This popular day trip in the Atherton Tablelands attracts visitors with its markets, art galleries, gourmet foods, and walking trails. So, it can be a bit “touristy” and expensive. As long as you are prepared for this, it’s a great day out.
We browsed the markets and shops, then went to the Kuranda hotel for lunch. It was jam-packed, and we only just managed to get seats on the balcony. The pub was built in 1890, so it has plenty of character, and it was relaxing sitting on the outside deck listening to the birds while enjoying a cold beer.
If you are looking for more things to do, try the Kuranda Koala Gardens to get up close to some of Australia’s unique wildlife or the Kuranda Bird World, where you can view over 60 species of birds in a natural rainforest habitat. This Kuranda Wildlife Experience Thee Attraction Pass is great value with entrances to Kuranda Bird World, Kuranda Koala Gardens, and the Butterfly Sanctuary.
For more things to do in Queensland, check out this Queensland Travel Guide.