Glide silently above the oldest tropical rainforest in the world with Skyrail Rainforest Cableway then spend the day exploring the heritage town of Kuranda.
Kuranda is part of the Wet Tropics, a UNESCO World Heritage Protected region that includes the oldest tropical rainforests in the world. It was one of the places we knew we had to include in our itinerary for this trip.
We’ve been travelling in Tropical North Queensland with our partners Jetstar Australia and as our flight came into land we watched the turquoise waters of the Great Barrier Reef below us switch to the verdant green of the rainforest. Climbing down the stairs to the tarmac in Cairns those lush rainforests were right there behind the plane and we couldn’t wait to drop off our luggage and get out exploring this amazing region.
Table of Contents
- The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway Experience
- 10 Things to do in Kuranda
- 1. Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
- 2. Take a riverboat ride
- 3. Bird World
- 4. Relax over lunch or a drink
- 5. Explore the walking trail that starts in Kuranda Village
- 6. Try the icecreams, gelato and sorbet from Gelocchio
- 7. Browse the Kuranda Markets
- 8. Check out the galleries and artisan products
- 9. Kuranda Koala Gardens
- 10. The Kuranda Scenic Railway
- A day exploring Kuranda
The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway Experience
We decided one of our first adventures in Tropical North Queensland should be the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. We’d organised a rental car for our stay so we drove from our base at Palm Cove to their lower terminal. We prefer the flexibility of having our own transport but there’s a variety of tour and transfer options from Cairns, the northern beaches and Port Douglas.
If you do drive there’s plenty of free parking space at the Smithfield terminal just off the Captain Cook highway and given the beautiful blue day we’d woken up to we wasted no time in exchanging our vouchers, collecting our tickets and getting in the queue for our gondola up the mountain. Each gondola can seat up to 6 people but we never had more than 4 and were allocated one to ourselves on several of the segments which is a bit of an extra treat because you can switch sides to take in both views.
The cableway was opened in 1995 after 8 years of planning and development and has an extremely safe and modern feel to it. We didn’t feel any real sway in the gondolas even when shifting sides and it’s so peaceful as you float along up there.
The environmental impact was a key consideration of the design and build and that priority continues to exist today. Skyrail hold an Earthcheck Master Certification which means that everything from the solar powered communications systems down to the loo paper puts the rainforest first and works in harmony with the surrounding region.
It must have been an amazing exercise when it was being built and would have been fabulous to have seen it under construction. Only a 10 x 10 metre clearing was made for each tower, many were placed in natural gaps in the canopy and each surveyed to ensure no rare or endangered species would be impacted. The huge pylons, equipment and even cement were then lowered in by specialty Russian helicopters designed for heavily loads and assembled onsite.
Red Peak Station
It only took a few minutes to reach the front of the queue and get seated in our first gondola. From Smithfield to the Red Peak Station takes about 10 minutes and you travel around 2.7 km. For the first segment as you climb higher up the hill you have great views out to the coast, Cairns and the offshore islands with the forest below and in front of you, then as you come over the top of the hill the extent of the Wet Tropics stretches out in all directions. It really does take your breath away with the density and extent of the rainforest. You’re high enough for a very extensive view but still close enough that you’ll see the detail of the different trees, the undulations of the terrain and the birds flitting around in the treetops.
When you disembark at this station you are at 1788 feet, the highest point on the cableway. You can then take your time to experience the rainforest boardwalk. You aren’t tied to ticket times at each station so allow time to walk around, read the interpretative signage, take in the views and you’ll probably snap a few photos as you go. The valley view lookout is really impressive.
Barron Falls Station
The next 3.1km takes just under 15 minutes but make sure you enjoy all the different views as time seems to speed up with so much to look at. There are several lookouts and an interpretative centre about the rainforest at this stop so allow a little longer to walk around and explore. There are also public restrooms at each station along the way.
Most of what you see from the cableway is the Barron Gorge National Park, this is part of the Wet Tropics rainforest dating back 150 million years and the worlds oldest continually surviving tropical rainforest. Imagine that dinosaurs once called this home and today it continues to be habitat to many unique birds, animals and 2260 plant species including 678 that are found nowhere else on the planet.
The town of Kuranda
The final stage of the Skyrail delivers you to Kuranda village in the midst of the rainforest and 1000 feet above the city of Cairns. The views down over the Barron River from the Skyrail gondala are fabulous as you descend into the station. This is the shortest leg of the journey at 1.7 km and takes about 7 minutes. You really notice the bush lawyer vine climbing up into the upper canopy of the trees through here and we saw several flocks of birds and a couple of raptors circling.
When you disembark here in Kuranda you’ll have a variety of options of things to do, some more active, others relaxing. Pick and choose to suit the time you have to spend and your personal preferences.
10 Things to do in Kuranda
The village of Kuranda is both scenic and historic having been established in the 1880’s. The Skyrail Kuranda terminal is located at one end above the Baroon River. You can take a shuttle bus up the road to the far end where the markets and many attractions are located but if you possibly can we’d recommend walking. It’s only around a kilometre to the far end and there’s plenty to explore along the way. Here are some of the most poplular things to do in Kuranda:
1. Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
Located at the opposite end to the Skyrail depot is the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary. We’d already spotted a few jewel coloured butterfies fluttering around since we’d arrived in Tropical North Queensland so were really interested in learning more about what they were. The two lovely ladies working in here when we arrived were so knowledgable and happy to share what they’d learned over many years working here. They gave us a great start and we then spent ages inside watching and photographing the various butterflies.
The sanctuary has been here in Kuranda since 1987, it’s celebrating it’s 30th anniversary this year. The large blue Ulysses are one of the most commonly spotted in the rainforest areas up here, partly because their electric blue is such a striking colour. They’re hard to photograph because they’re consistently on the move and immediately close their wings when they do rest revealing a dull brown underside that I hadn’t noticed until we saw them up close.
You might even find you have a few free-loaders landing on you as you wander round. I didn’t noticed I had this hat ornament join me until people started pointing their phones and camera’s at me but he seemed to find it a comfortable resting place, just check yourself before you leave so you don’t accidentally take anyone home.
A top tip we learned when we were there is that the butterflies will be more likely attached to you if you wear something red, pink or white. You can learn more about the butterflies and the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary on their official site.
2. Take a riverboat ride
Walk down behind the Skyrail terminal and over the Railway station overpass down to the Barron River to find the Riverboat ride. The 45 minute trip runs 5 times throughout the day at a cost of $18. The river is both beautiful and peaceful and you’ll have the opportunity to spot a variety of birds, reptiles and sometimes even a fresh water crocodile along it.
3. Bird World
Located at the back of the Kuranda Heritage Markets, Bird World is another icon of Kuranda having been here since 1980. There are 60 species of birds, many Australian but also some colourful exotic varieties aswell. Most are free range in the landscaped open air aviary and will allow people very close or even take a liking to individuals and fly down to land on their shoulder or backpack.
This cassowary caught my attention, he’s a beauty and the Wet Tropics rainforest around here is their natural home.
4. Relax over lunch or a drink
There’s a good variety of spots to stop for lunch or to enjoy a drink in beautiful surrounds in the village of Kuranda. Keep an eye out as you walk along but we can recommend the great views and home-cooked fare at the Kuranda Trading Post where we stopped for an early lunch or a seat on the back deck at the Kuranda Rainforest View Restaurant where we visited later that afternoon.
5. Explore the walking trail that starts in Kuranda Village
If you have the time and the energy there are a variety of walks around the wider region but the Jum Rum Creek walk is very easy to access from town. It leaves from the main road through town and at 3km long can be easily completed in around an hour. It’s actually 3 interlinked paths that take in some pretty sections of the rainforest and creek area.
6. Try the icecreams, gelato and sorbet from Gelocchio
There’s nothing better than a cold icecream on a hot day and in my books finding a great selection of dairy-free sorbet is even better. The Gelocchio stall outside the Kuranda Heritage Markets had a fabulous selection of locally made products and I was won over by my selection of rich mango and a lemon-basil combination that had a fantastic tang. If I’d had the time I would have driven up to Kuranda again just for the sorbet.
7. Browse the Kuranda Markets
There are a two main markets in the village that are open every day and a variety of stalls dotted around with varying opening hours.
The Kuranda Original Rainforest Market was opened in 1978 by a group of local artists and crafts people. It hasn’t lost it’s local quirky charm and has a strong organic and environmentally-friendly focus along with some great food options. It’s open 7 days a week from 9.30am until 3pm.
The Kuranda Heritage Markets are relative newcomers with only 20 years operation under their belts. They are the ones in front of Bird World and have the Gelocchio gelato stall mentioned above. The Heritage Markets are also open 9.30am until 3.30pm every day.
8. Check out the galleries and artisan products
Whether you are shopping or browsing there are plenty of galleries along the strip here in Kuranda to suit all tastes and types of art. The colours of Peter Jarvers photography caught my attention but there is everything from Aboriginal art to modern art on display.
9. Kuranda Koala Gardens
For international visitors that aren’t exploring further south in Australia the Kuranda Koala Gardens provide an opportunity to see a Koala and other unique Australian wildlife up close. Koala today live off eucalyptus trees not rainforest plants so you won’t spot one in the wild around here but that doesn’t mean you’ll miss out.
10. The Kuranda Scenic Railway
An alternative mode of transport back to Freshwater station is the Kuranda Scenic Railway. You might have spotted the train across the gorge from the lookouts at the Skyrail Barron Falls station. It is possible to travel one way on each of the Skyrail and scenic railway but that also requires use of private vehicles or a shuttle bus to get between Freshwater and Smithfield terminals.
A day exploring Kuranda
We really enjoyed our Skyrail experience and the time we had exploring the town of Kuranda. It’s a relaxed day where you can do as much or as little as you like but you’ll find there are far more options available than you can get through in a single day so pick and choose to suit.
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We’d like to thank Skyrail for hosting our visit to Kuranda and Jetstar Australia, our partners on this Tropical North Queensland adventure.