Kuranda in the Rain
by Karen Farmer
We could not believe what our eyes were seeing. We took a gondola to the top of a mountain up above a rainforest. Really! This is a "World Heritage listed Wet Tropics rainforest." It is under such protection because it dates back to prehistoric times when Australia was part of the southern hemisphere supercontinent called Gonwanda. There are nearly 10,000 square km of rainforest in this corner of Australia, and other pockets of coastal rainforest around the perimeter of the continent.
Our experience began with a 7.5 km "Skyrail" ride. This impressive cableway took one year to build (finished in 1995), and the 36 towers were lifted into place by helicopter to avoid disturbance of the rainforest. The tallest tower is 40.5 metres up. The ride took us up over Barron Gorge and Barron Falls (265 m). On the way up, we came to a couple of stations, which provided long boardwalks to examine the floor of the rainforest, and an interpretive centre. Our Ranger-guide mentioned that Cyclone Larry did a bit of damage to a small part of the rainforest canopy this past March. The ride took just over 1-1/2 hours. At the end, we were 545 metres (1788 feet) up in the village of Kuranda.
We expected that the rainforest experience would be a little wet. Indeed, it was lightly sprinkling as we walked along the boardwalks, and every so often the treetops would dump off their wet leaves onto us. However, we did not expect to continue to be drenched in Kuranda. When we disembarked from the Skyrail ride, we were directed through a gift shop and out into the town. Through the doorway, we could see sheets of rain pouring down, so Rob shelled out $5 each for 6 plastic rain ponchos, which were essentially white garbage bags with draw-string hoods. At least they came in the right sizes for our kids. The cheerful cashier assured us that it's not usually this wet in this so-called dry season. At any rate, Kuranda was a nice little town with shops and restaurants along the awning-covered sidewalks. If it hadn't been so rainy, we would have been tempted to check out the butterfly exhibit and the bird sanctuary. But it was all we could do to find a covered bench to sit and eat our picnic lunch, and then scoot back to the train station to wait for our ride back down.
As the song goes, "What goes up must come down," and the way down was by the Kuranda Scenic Railway. The railway currently runs on a portion of rail line which was built to the Atherton Tablelands, a pleateau inland in this part of Queensland, over 120 years ago. Prior to the railway being built, Cairns and Port Douglas battled over which settlement would serve as the railhead for the line to the tablelands. Cairns won out and became the principal city in this area of Queensland. Today, our 1-1/2 hour historic rail journey took a winding route down through the rainforest, with scenery just as spectacular as we saw on the way up. (Good thing it wasn't sunny...our senses might have been overloaded!) Along the way down we saw breathtaking gorges and waterfalls. One of the gorges is known as the "Barron River Gorge". A power station was carved out of that gorge in 1935 and has been supplying electricity ever since. Our four kids, especially our almost-3-year-old, loved the 15 tunnels we went through. One tunnel was more than 490 metres long, with 3 curves and 11 safety culverts built in to prevent anyone from being trapped by an oncoming train. The modern diesel engines pulled the authentic passenger cars. We just can't wait to explore the rainforest more for the next few days.