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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kuranda skyrail and train in station

Should I travel to Kuranda by car or Skyrail and 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.

an aerial view of a river surrounded by rainforest

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.

Kuranda Skyrail and Train

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.

aerial view of rainforest canopy

Red Peak

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.

aerial view of a cable car up high above the rainforest

Barron Falls

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.

a waterfall cascading over rocks
A dry Barron Falls

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.

historic wooden train carriage in a beautiful tropical railway station

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
Best Selling Kuranda Skyrail and Train Review 2021

Kuranda Skyrail and Train Tickets & Tours

As mentioned before, there are several different options for the Kuranda Skyrail and Train. Click on the following links to see the current prices:

Self-Drive Kuranda Experience: Skyrail and Scenic Rail

From Cairns: Self-guided Kuranda Experience with Scenic Rail & Skyrail

Skyrail and Scenic Rail Experience with transfers

Skyrail & Gold Class Train from Cairns with discounted entry into selected Kuranda attractions

Kuranda Rainforest Full-Day Tour (with Skyrail, Scenic Train, Army Duck Tour, Pamagirri Aboriginal Dance Show, a Dreamtime Walk, Koala & Wildlife Park, and BBQ buffet lunch included).

Reasons for booking with Viator, Get Your Guide, and Klook

We use Viator, Get Your Guide, or Klook to book our tickets because of:

  • Free Cancellation on most activities (up to 24 hours before)
  • Instant Confirmation
  • Mobile Tickets
  • No Booking Fees (prices are the same as direct)
  • Skip the queue

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.

What to take on your Kuranda Skyrail and Train Tour

  • Camera (I love my Nikon D7500)
  • Insect repellent (we use either Bushman or Aeroguard) for the rainforest mosquitoes
  • Wear comfortable shoes for walking around Kuranda village (I wear either Adidas Ultraboost or Asic Gel Quantum trainers)
  • Sunscreen like these from Nivea are a must in Australia
  • Hat & sunglasses to protect from the hot, bright sun
  • Water Bottle like this Vacuum-Insulated Stainless-Steel one from Takeya keeps your water cold all day
  • A lightweight rain jacket (I recommend ones from Marmot), especially in the wet season
  • Motion sickness tablets if you suffer from nausea on trains and a small first aid kit
  • Snacks are a must if travelling with children

Flights

plane flying over a beach

I use different sites to try and get the best possible price for flights.

First I visit matrix.itasoftware.com to get an idea of the cheapest dates, but you can’t book through this site.

Next I compare the cost of flights with Trip.com and try different routes.

Accommodation

Best Selling Kuranda Skyrail and Train Review 2021

I mainly use Booking.com for accommodation as they consistently have the lowest rates with free cancellation on most properties.

Car Hire

black car

To compare rental car company prices, I use Rentalcars.com. They are world’s biggest car rental site, comparing all main brands including Europcar, Budget, Ace, Hertz, Avis, and Alamo.

Travel Insurance

Best Selling Kuranda Skyrail and Train Review 2021

Don’t travel anywhere without travel insurance, it’s not worth the risk.

Travel insurance: simple & flexible

You can buy and claim online, even after you’ve left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from over 130 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.

Travel Information & Guides

This Australia Travel Guide, which includes all essential information and tips, will help with the planning of your holiday to this beautiful country.

For more things to do in Queensland, check out this Queensland Travel Guide.


If you found our Kuranda Skyrail and Train Review helpful, please consider booking through one of our links. It won’t cost you anything but will help towards the cost of running this site.

a vintage train with words review & guide to kuranda skyrail & train

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28 Comments

  1. Vanessa Shields says:

    I’d love to go on the SkyRail! What amazing views and such a lush rain forest. I had no idea it was the oldest in the world! Even though it was dry season, that’s still a beautiful waterfall. And I can’t believe how zen and pretty the train station is with all that foliage! I’ve never seen that before!

    1. Kuranda train station is so pretty and the rainforest is spectacular to see.

  2. We loved Kuranda. It is one of the highlights of the whole area. We took the skyrail one way and the railway back and it definitely is the best choice! And that railway station is the best one we have ever seen! Your post makes me pine to go back there and TNQ

  3. Great memories of going on this. I
    remember being so intrigued by how it was hand built, A great piece of history. And those stunning views would never be forgotten.

    1. Yes it is! Most places in Australia are far asway from Perth 🙂 The rainforest near Kuranda is breathtaking.

  4. I would totally love to do this trip! It gives me these retro vibes with stunning views 😍

    1. The train was pretty cool although not the most comfortable. The train station was really beautiful and tropical.

  5. John Quinn says:

    Again I’m learning about something completely new Wendy. Definitely a place to leave the car and enjoy the train. I’d love this, I’d even give that glass floor one a try for excitement. Loved your little departure from usual.

  6. Wow! I ddidn’t know about this when I was in Australia. I’d probably be the last person on the train because I would be so mesmerized by the birds and koalas. I definitely would have made the extra trip to see so many natural wonders in one place!

  7. We made this trip several years ago when we visited Australia and absolutely loved it. The cable car journey was spectacular and Kuranda had a fabulous vibe with wonderful art galleries. The train ride was really memorable too. I recall they gave us post cards to write and posted them for us so people at home received them! I would definitely do this again if I am in the area. Did not know about those glass bottomed gondolas though. What an omission! Another reason for going back.

    1. The glass bottom ones weren’t there when we went either. I agree, a good reason to return and do the Kuranda Skyrail again.

  8. Wow – always learning new things about Australia. Did not know there was a Wet Tropics World Heritage Area!! You think of Australia and wet tropics does not come to mind at all lol. But I do like a scenic train. 🙂

    1. Queensland has such diversity and wet tropical rainforest is one of them.

  9. Really enjoyed this post, not least because there’s a heritage railway in it 🙂 and by the looks of it, one I would love to go on. But the scenery looks beautiful too – I had no idea the oldest rainforest was in Australia. Awesome.

    1. We enjoy rail journeys too and this train ride went past some stunning scenery.

      1. This is so wonderful discovering a part of Australia. I’m sold with the sky rail and the train. It would be fascinating traveling Victorian style at the Gold coach!

  10. I want to go here!! Looks so relaxing & absolutely stunning over the treetops. Especially like the waterfalls- even in dry season it looks lovely! Great post as usual Wendy.

    1. Thank you so much Cindi, we really enjoyed the Kuranda Skyrail and Train.

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