If you are heading to Far North Queensland and are staying in Cairns, Palm Cove, Port Douglas or the surrounding area a must-do experience is the Skyrail and Train Kuranda Day Tour. Whether you are travelling in the wet or dry season both have their pluses and minuses.
We travelled during December, the wet season, and although the mountain was shrouded in mist as we travelled up on the Kuranda Skyrail the waterfalls were at their best, fully flowing and you could hear their roar.
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During the dry season, the ride up on the Kuranda Skyrail should give you 360 degrees of clear views of the region out to the ocean, but the waterfalls will be much less dramatic.
Travel tips for the visit in the wet season: Ensure you take an umbrella and a rain jacket and wear comfortable enclosed walking shoes. There are two stops on the Kuranda Skyrail where you will be walking a short distance. We also recommend taking insect repellent.
Travel tips for the dry season: Sunscreen, water, insect repellent and comfortable walking shoes are recommended.
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Check out our Youtube video of our experience: on the Kuranda scenic railway and Kuranda Skyrail
Our Review of the Kuranda Skyrail and Scenic Railway
We were collected from our accommodation by bus and headed to the Kuranda Skyrail at Smithfield. On arrival, we joined a short queue for boarding the Skyrail. The gondolas are moving continuously and bookings are made in 15-minute intervals.
Good to know: The Skyrail is easily accessible by young children and the elderly as the cars are slowed right down till they nearly stop
As we glided up the mountain the mist surrounded us but we could still see the canopy of the rainforest below us. There is a maximum of 6 allowed in each gondola. Staff will sit groups together in one gondola if space permits and non-shared use of the gondola is subject to availability at the time.
The first stop is Red Peak with an elevation of 545 metres. If you arrive in time there is a regular guided walk with a Skyrail Ranger. We just missed the time by 5 minutes. Allow at least 20 minutes to walk the Kuranda Rainforest Boardwalk Loop. There were umbrellas available. As you walk the Rainforest Loop there are signs educating you about the rainforest in the World Heritage-listed Barron Gorge National Park.
The 2nd stop on the Gondola is at Barron Falls at an elevation of 340 m. You can wander the short distance to The Edge Lookout for views of the waterfall and the Barron Gorge.
Back on the Gondola and to the end of the Gondola ride at Kuranda Terminal. As you alight from the Gondola note that the Kuranda Railway Station is to your right. Our tour included the scenic railway on the return and the departure time was set at 3.30 pm with allocated seats.
Travel tip: See if you can reserve seats facing the direction that the train is going and that you have seats near the window. On the return journey to Cairns, this will be on your left.
The township of Kuranda is full of restaurants, cafes, boutique shops and markets. You can also visit:
You can combine all three in one ticket that includes:
- Meet some of Australia’s cutest and most colourful critters
- Discover over 60 species of rare and spectacular birds
- Enjoy a 30-minute guided tour at The Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
- Marvel at native Australian animals roaming around naturally
- Hand-feed birds, wallabies, and kangaroos
We had approximately 2.5 hours in Kuranda which was plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely lunch at Rileys Cafe and Bar at 15 Coondoo Street Kuranda. After lunch, we browsed the shops and headed to the two markets in Kuranda.
The Heritage Market is open from Wednesday to Sunday 10 am to 3.30 pm
Original Rainforest Market is open from Wednesday to Sunday 9.30 am to 3.30 pm
Head to the Kuranda Visitor Information Centre on the corner of Coondoo Street and Therwine Street for loads of local information. They produce a brochure that highlights different walks around town:
- Jumrun Wal – 1.4 km 30 minutes
- Market Walk – 10 minutes
- River Walk – 760m 20 minutes
- Jungle Walk – 900m 30 minutes
- Barron Falls Walk – 2.8km 60 minutes
Good to know: As the last train leaves at 3.30 pm most of the cafes and restaurants close between 2.30 and 3.00 pm.
The Kuranda Scenic Railway
You can board the train 30 minutes before departure. The journey from Kuranda to Freshwater or the final destination of Cairns (depending on your tour) takes you through the spectacular Barron Gorge National Park and takes 90 minutes. The train travels over dozens of bridges, around 93 curves and through 15 tunnels. There is a stop 10 minutes after leaving Kuranda Station where you have 10 – 15 minutes to spend at the Barron Falls lookout. You can view the impressive Stoney Creek Falls on the right-hand side of the train. They were in full flow due to the current heavy rainfall we had.
The Stoney Creek Falls Bridge is impressive and a great photo opportunity. Horseshoe Bend features a 180-degree bend is another great photo opportunity. You will be given a trip guide on the train which explains the journey from Kuranda to Cairns Station and for railway enthusiasts a detailed explanation of the locomotives, train and track trivia as well.
The pre-recorded commentary tells the history of the railway track that was made over 130 years all by hand with only picks and shovels. In 1873 gold was discovered in the area and the supply routes to the gold fields from the coast were dangerous and slow to navigate. A faster route had to be found after 1882 when one of the worst wet seasons cut off the country areas to the coast, the roads were impassable and many of the settlers struggled to obtain food and came close to starvation.
At times along the way you marvel at the steepness of the mountain and wonder how on earth they managed even to get up the steep mountain let alone build a railway.
The 15 heritage coaches date back to the early 1900s and are made from silky oak timber.
Our recommendation is to take the Skyrail up and the Scenic Railway on the return.
How To Book Your Kuranda Skyrail and Scenic Railway Tour
From Cairns with hotel transfers
From Port Douglas with hotel transfers
Self Drive Tickets Only
From Palm Cove
FAQS on Cairns Skyrail and Train
How far is Cairns City from the Smithfield Terminal? – 15 minutes drive
How far is Palm Cove from the Smithfield Terminal – 20 minute drive
How far is Port Douglas from the Smithfield Terminal – 50 minutes drive
Can you self-drive to the Skyrail? Yes, you can there is free parking available
What are the opening hours of the Skyrail? 8.45 am to 5.00 pm daily
When does the Kuranda Scenic Railway depart? The Kuranda train times are two-morning departures at 8.55 am and 9.55 am from Freshwater Railway Station to Kuranda. Two-afternoon departures at 2 pm and 3.30 pm from Kuranda to Freshwater continuing onwards to Cairns Central Railway Station
How much time to spend in Kuranda – approximately 2 – 3 hours
Can you take strollers on the Skyrail – yes fold up strollers are accepted
Does Skyrail accept wheelchairs? Yes they do
How do you get to Kuranda from Cairns? If you are driving you take the National Route 1 for the 28.7 km journey which takes an average of 35 minutes.
We hope you have enjoyed our article on the Kuranda Railway and Skyrail. The highlights for us were the Skyrail and the Scenic Railway journeys. During holiday times you will need to book ahead of your intended travel date.
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