Day 74 Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail
Another early morning as we are going to catch the train to Kuranda in the Atherton Tablelands. Meeting at the Skytrain terminal we are transferred to the small Freshwater Connection Railway Station on the narrow-gauge line from Cairns to Kuranda. The station is quaint, a bit like Haworth station and has a museum recounting the history of the train and its construction.
The train arrives pulled by a diesel engine painted with Buda-dji, the Carpet Snake who, in the dreamtime, carved out the Barron River and the creeks that join onto it, from the coast to the Tablelands. We have been allocated leather padded bench seats in coach 11 but these are travelling backwards so we change to another carriage; luckily the train is not full as this is still the quiet season. There is a gold service available with individual chairs but we’re on a budget.
The 90 minute journey winds its way from Freshwater to Kuranda, a village in the thick rainforest, with views of the surrounding mountains. Rising from sea level to 328m, we pass spectacular waterfalls and into the stunning Barron Gorge. Here we stop at the viewpoint to disembark and take photos of the reservoir, waterfall and Barron river below. On the journey we pass through 15 tunnels chiselled into the granite mountains and ponder the effort it took the navigators to construct this train in the nineteenth century. The train also twists along 180 degree turns, clinging to the mountain sides. It is quite hair raising in parts but offers fantastic views.
As we reach Kuranda station we pass the river and find ourselves in tropical gardens. The village is uphill from the station and as we start the accent, we are met by an aboriginal didgeridoo player, a different type of busker than we are used to.
The little town is tucked away in the mountains above Cairns and is immersed in the rainforest. It is famous for its markets, particularly the Original Rainforest Market which was started in 1978 by local hippies. We wander this area commenting on how it reminds us of how Glastonbury Festival used to be in the early days. The smell of incense fills the air, vegan food and fruit smoothies are being sold, artists are at work and someone is reading palms.
Most of the shops in the town are selling to the tourist but there are some very upmarket boutiques and art galleries. We wander window shopping and taking in the atmosphere.
Popping into the information centre for directions to the bat refuge we are told that it is closed as the owner has had a fall, how disappointing. However, we are surrounded by different birds and animals as we wander. What look like two statues of iguana draw our attention but as we look we see them move and realise they are alive!
After lunch we follow the trail through Jumrum Creek Conservation Park. This park protects a pocket of dense regenerating rainforest along Jumrum Creek. We are surrounded by rainforest with a canopy of greenery above us, which makes for a cooler walk. As we exit this into less shaded streets, we realise how hot it is, over 30C. Again, we are lost, the sign posts have dried up and we are not sure where we are. We make a guess and luckily end up at the Skyrail terminal.
We download the app so that we can listen to the commentary whilst travelling the 7.5km gondola ride over the rainforest canopy. Entering our gondola, we soar above the trees and look down onto the Barron River. The sound of the forest is all around us and it is now possible to see the vastness of this forest, covering mountains for as far as the eye can see.
Our first stop is Barron Falls, where we alight and follow the boardwalk to a newly installed viewpoint, The Edge Lookout, with glass floor overlooking the falls from a different angle to this mornings view. Mark tentatively walks across taking photos without looking. His fear of heights gets the better of him and he stays as close to the inside of the platform as possible.
The second stop is at Red Peak where we join a ranger-guided tour. The presentation on trees, plants and animals in the rainforest is really interesting and we are now on the lookout for cassowary and their young. This journey over the canopy of the rainforest is a fantastic experience with views that can only be experienced from above. We are really glad that we have been lucky enough to take this trip.
On the way back to Cairns we decide to stop at one of the Northern beaches. We pull off to visit the interestingly sounding Yorkeys Knob. The beach is gorgeous and we walk down to have a look passing signs warning of both stingers and crocodiles. That’s swimming out of the question then. Well no, there is an area cordoned off with nets and a life guard on duty. Walking along the beach we come across a young couple having photos taken of them in their wedding outfits. What a beautiful, romantic setting for wedding snaps.