Sponsored by Karunda Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Cairns is blessed to be on the doorstep of some of the most incredible natural sites. It’s the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, the stunning Tropical North Queensland beaches, and the untamed jungles of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Rainforest.
If you’re looking for things to do in Cairns that offer the best views of nature and a thrilling experience wrapped up in one, then a ride on the Kuranda Scenic Railway and Kuranda Skyrail Rainforest Cableway should not go amiss.
These two attractions go hand in hand, since they both offer a way to reach Kuranda Village in the Atherton Tablelands.
We took the Kuranda Skyrail Rainforest Cableway going up, and the Kuranda Scenic Railway down. This is usually the most common way to do it, but you can do it in any order you like.
But what is the experience like? And how does it all work? In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about visiting these two Cairns attractions.
- A Brief History of the Kuranda Skyrail Cableway
- Our Kuranda Skyrail Rainforest Cableway Experience
- Kuranda Skyrail Cableway Stations
- Our Kuranda Scenic Railway Experience
- Kuranda Scenic Railway Stops & Key Sights
- Opening Hours & Entrance Fees
- Before You Go
- More Tropical North Queensland Tips
A Brief History of the Kuranda Skyrail Cableway
The Kuranda Skyrail experience was opened in August 1995, and at the time was the longest gondola cableway in the world.
There’s quite a story behind its construction. Due to it operating above a World Heritage-protected national park, there was no access to the forest by road to build the towers supporting the cableway.
Construction workers and engineers had to hike in and out each day wearing protective gear over their shoes so they did not damage such a divine environment.
The material for the towers had to be dropped in a piece by piece by helicopters! So you can rest assured that no part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Rainforest was hurt in the process.
Our Kuranda Skyrail Rainforest Cableway Experience
The Skyrail Cableway is just a 15 minute drive outside of Cairns and departs from the Skyrail’s Smithfield Terminal.
The experience begins with an open-air gondola, or canopy glider, which travels for 7.5 km, just metres above the top of the pristine rainforest for a deeper look at this fascinating part of the world.
The views out to Cairns and the lush rainforest of the Tableland Valley were impressive.
The Kuranda Skyrail cableway experience takes about 1.5 hours one way, which includes two stopovers along the way.
Is Diamond View on Skyrail worth it?
We were in the Diamond View Gondola (extra $15 adult, $7.50 child), which gives you a glass bottom floor. These carriages can carry a maximum of 5 passengers.
If your nerves are up to it, it’s definitely worth paying the extra, as you have beautiful views down to the varying vibrant shades of green of the canopy in varying vibrant shades of green.
When a space in the thick foliage opened up we could even peek way down the bottom layer of ferns scrambling for the sunlight on the forest floor.
We, of course, had to do the obligatory foot shot on the glass floor.
Kuranda Skyrail Cableway Stations
The Skyrail Cableway is 7.5 km long so of course it will need to stop in a few places for all visitors to stretch their legs. Here are some of the train stations it stops off at and what you can see.
Red Peak Station
At the first stop, the gondola descends into the rainforest canopy at Red Peak. Allow for about 20 minutes to explore this fascinating home of lush fern gardens, climbing palms, rare butterflies, birds and giant kauri trees. There is a Rainforest discovery zone, boardwalk loop and scenic lookout.
Check for times for free ranger-guided tours so you can learn a little more about the flora and fauna of the area.
Barron Falls Station
Coming into Barron Falls Station you will get glimpses of Barron Falls Gorge. Hop off and spend time soaking up the views of Barron Falls, known as Din Din to the Djabuganydji people.
Even though we visited at a time when the water level was not high, it was impressive to imagine what it must be like in full flow during the wet season, which is December to March.
There’s a bit of history in the area left over from the hydroelectric days. Walk along the path to check out the old flying fox used to transport people and goods across the gorge during the construction of the power station.
There is a rainforest interpretation centre, which is good for the kids to learn a little more about why this is such a special and protected area. Be aware of any roaming cassowaries, which are frequently spotted in the area.
The Edge Lookout is not to be missed. Allow for about 20 minutes at this Skyrail stop.
Update: You used to be able to do a Djabugay Guided Aboriginal Rainforest Walk where you were guided through the rainforest by the forest’s traditional owners, but sadly this is no longer in operation. 🙁
There’s not a lot to see and do although plenty of the people in our community raved about the Kuranda Koala Gardens, Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, and Birdworld. At this stage, we were getting a little wildlife out and have seen plenty of butterflies already. So we passed.
There are a few market areas, and again, due to being kinda marketed out, we weren’t that overly enthusiastic about them.
If you’re not marketed out and would like to do some shopping, the Kuranda Village Markets sell arts and craft, local handicrafts, jewellery, clothes, and gifts. You can also find artwork by the Kuranda Arts Co-Operative, which are pieces by local artists.
I did find (or it chose me) the most divine mookite crystal from Western Australia. How could you not be drawn to the patterns and colours in this rock?
It came right in the midst of my complete awe and fascination with the Aboriginal way of life and wisdom so I just had to buy it.
It’s a sacred rock that was used by the aboriginal tribes in special ceremonies to connect with the Dreamtime and spirit world. I also read online that it helps reduce the signs of aging!
Vanity comes racing in! It sits by my bed every evening to work its magic!
The village also has many quirky cafes, minigolf, home-made ice cream stalls, and boat cruises along the Barron River or army duck tours (amphibious vehicle) through the Rainforestation Nature Park.
Head over to The Edge Lookout, for some incredible views across Barron Gorge National Park.
The Rainforest Walk
We decided to walk back to Kuranda Railway station for our return trip home via the 3 km rainforest walk.
This was a beautiful boardwalk, my favourite part was the final stretch along the esplanade and river. There was the most divine afternoon light which was dappled amongst the melaleuca trees and along the river bank. We even saw a crocodile swimming on by (a freshie!) It was so serene.
Except it wasn’t as our timing was off so we had to speed walk along here to get to the train. I was most disappointed as I could have chilled there with that energy for some time. So, give yourself time to explore this walk.
As mentioned above, the fantastic Djabugay Guided Aboriginal Rainforest Walk that we did is no longer available. However, near Kuranda Village is a wonderful Rainforest and Indigenous Australian experience, called Rainforestation. One of the highlights of my time exploring Tropical North Queensland was learning more about the local Aboriginal life and culture.
It includes three uniques
- Army Duck Rainforest Tours: 45-minute rainforest tour on an amphibious World War II Army Duck to learn more about the fauna and flora of this World Heritage Listed area. Includes a visit to the Tropical Fruit Orchard, with over 40 species of exotic tropical fruit trees.
- Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience: this one-hour experience with local Indigenous Pamagirri Guides will introduce you to the Dreamtime and the customs and ancient traditions of the original custodians of this rainforest land.
- Koala & Wildlife Park: a self-guided tour in the Koala & Wildlife Park and see crocodiles, kangaroos, wallabies, snakes, dingoes, a cassowary, and the only Tasmanian Devils in North Queensland.
Our Kuranda Scenic Railway Experience
If you’re into train journeys, great engineering feats, and history then you’ll love riding the Kuranda train as it winds down along the McDonald Ranges heading back into Cairns.
I don’t know much about engineering – nor am I interested – but I was pretty impressed. The Kuranda Scenic Railway stands as a monument to the pioneers.
This famous railway winds its way on a journey of approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes between Cairns and Kuranda Terminal.
Commentary explaining the railway’s construction, the history of the railways, and the tropical rainforest is given throughout the ride.
It was a pretty journey through the rainforest over bridges and through tunnels hand-made by North Queensland’s pioneers over 100 years ago.
We passed a couple of waterfalls tumbling into deep ravines, and stopped to see Barron Falls. I think the view from the Skyrail side was better.
Splurging for a gold-class seat on the train (an extra $48 per person) would be a great option if this was a high on your bucket list thing to do.
It includes food and alcohol. Yep. good train journeys go well with a glass of Shiraz.
Kuranda Scenic Railway Stops & Key Sights
The Kuranda Scenic Railway has only a few stops along the way, but it also passes by some key sights and landmarks, so be sure to have your cameras ready as you ride past.
Here are the stops on the Scenic Railway going from Kuranda Village to Cairns.
If you took the Skyrail Cableway up, you will have passed this falls on the way. However, the views from the Scenic Railway are quite different and worth getting off the train to take a photo for.
Robbs Monument is an impressive rock formation that was left behind after the construction of the railway. You do not stop at the monument, but you will see it appear on the left-hand side as you travel from Kuranda to Cairns.
The monument was dedicated to John Robb, the man behind the creation of the track. It was said that he and his men braved the dense jungle with modern equipment and their bare hands to create the railway.
When it was completed, he prepared a banquet for all of his workers.
Stoney Creek Falls
The Stoney Creek Falls is another stunning waterfall on the scenic railway line. It’s the bridge that passes the waterfall that’s the most impressive feature here though.
The train does not stop here, but be sure to look back to marvel at the masterful engineering of the bridge.
Another feature you will pass by on the Scenic Railway is Jungara, a scenic area featuring a 180-degree bend around the track.
Freshwater Railway Station
This is the first stop, or last, depending on the direction you take. It’s the stop right before Cairns when taking the railway from Karanda.
Freshwater Station offers some incredible sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and is a great place to stop for a coffee or a bite to eat in one of the antique railway carriages.
The station itself is an attraction, with authentic antique memorabilia and objects throughout the station.
Opening Hours & Entrance Fees
If you choose to experience both the Skyrail and Scenic Railway in one day, you will need to get shuttle bus transfers at the end of it from Freshwater Station to return to your car.
Unless you can arrange for someone else to pick you up. A taxi will likely cost you around $25 each way.
You can book your bus or coach transfer direct when booking online, or if you book a tour, it’s most likely included already. But do check this before you book your ticket.
You can also book family tickets, which allow two adults and two children.
The entrance fees are as follows:
|Kuranda Skyrail Cableway||Kuranda Scenic Railway|
|Adult||$59.00||$50.00 for Heritage Class, |
$73.00 for Royal Class, $99.00 for Gold Class
|Child||$29.50||$25.00 for Heritage Class, $74.00 for Gold Class, $48.00 for Royal Class,|
|Family||$147.50||$125 for Heritage Class, $217.00 for Royal Class, $321.00 for Gold Class|
|Adult||$88.50||$76.00 for Heritage Class, $122 for Royal Class, $174.00 for Gold Class|
|Child||$44.25||$38.00 for Heritage Class, $84.00 for Royal Class, $136.00 for Gold Class|
|Family||$221.25||$190.00 for Heritage Class, $374 for Royal Class, $582.00 for Gold Class|
Combined Scenic Railway and Skyrail pass (self drive): $119.00 Adult, $64.50 child $302.50 family.
Combined Scenic Railway and Skyrail pass (with transfer bus): $121.00 Adult, $66.50 child $308.50 family.
Pre-allocated tickets mean you can skip queues so be sure to purchase your tickets now:
Mobile vouchers for the following are accepted.
Want to plan ahead and book your tickets? Check out these top-rated tours:
Before You Go
So there you have it, this is everything you need to know about the Kuranda Skyrail Cableway and Scenic Railway, and as you can see, it’s quite an adventure!
Whether you’re interested in wildlife parks, diverse areas of natural beauty, of just looking for a way to spend some free time, there’s something for everyone on this trip.
Before you go, be sure to pack plenty of water and charge your camera batteries. You’ll be spending a full day combining these two attractions and believe me when I say, there’s a lot to see!
More Tropical North Queensland Tips
Are you thinking of visiting other parts of Tropical North Queensland? Then you might find these other guides helpful:
- 16 Best Things to do in Port Douglas with Kids
- How to visit the Great Barrier Reef
- Spearfishing and hunting in the mangroves of Cooya Beach
- My favorite Queensland beaches you should set foot on.
- The LARC Tour of 1770 (an amphibious ride through a remote and spectacular region)
Disclaimer: Our visit was hosted by Skyrail, but all thoughts, ideas, and opinions are our own.