From Cairns to Kuranda, let me take you on a journey through lush rainforest, gorges and waterfalls aboard the Kuranda Scenic Railway.
A few years ago our attempted trip around the entirety of Australia found us in Cairns, Queensland; almost at the end of the 2,500km drive up the East Coast. Cairns is obviously very popular with travellers having become synonymous with trips to the Great Barrier Reef. Whilst we couldn’t not indulge in trip to the Great Barrier Reef, it wasn’t the only highlight of my time in Cairns – let me introduce to you the Kuranda Scenic Railway.
The Kuranda Scenic Railway takes you on two-hour journey from Cairns to the mountain village of Kuranda in the Atherton Tablelands; one of the most spectacular rail journeys in the whole of Australia. Kuranda is surrounded by the World-Heritage listed Wet Tropics Rainforest and is a must-visit for any visitor to Far North Queensland.
THE KURANDA SCENIC RAILWAY
Whilst the railway is now a hugely popular tourist attraction, it was originally built as a supply route from the gold fields to the coast. Construction began in 1886 and it soon became a highly complex railway project.
It took five years to complete the railway and, at one stage at least, there were up to 1,500 men working. I’ve read that these men, these pioneers, moved over two million cubic metres of earth all by hand to create this railway.
The track from Cairns to Kuranda opened in 1891 and consisted of 33 kilometres of track which ascends 328 metres above sea level. There are 15 tunnels (the last being 429 metres long), 55 bridges and 98 curves.
The journey starts at Cairns Railway Station where you board the heritage train. The carriages are over 100 years old with open air windows and it really feels like you are stepping back in time aboard the Kuranda Scenic Railway.
I really enjoyed the audio commentary that plays in the carriages as you make your way to Kuranda; you’ll learn about the history, points of interest as well as the culture of the Djabugay Bama people.
After a stop at Freshwater Railway Station, we’re ready to begin the climb up to Kuranda. Whilst the whole trip is stunning, there were three main highlights to the journey itself:
The Jungara Loop (Horseshoe Bend) is a 180-degree bend that the train slowly curves around and is definitely one of the best opportunities to get a photo of the train whilst onboard.
Stoney Creek Falls
Stoney Creek Falls is probably the most famous feature of the Kuranda Scenic Railway and probably the one that you’ve already seen photos of. The train passes within metres of the waterfall across the curved bridge which I must say makes for a perfect photo opportunity. This is beautiful.
The train stops at a viewpoint over Barron Falls for approximately ten minutes which allows plenty of time for you to admire the views. We visited in the dry season so the waterfall wasn’t as powerful as it no doubt is when the rains come. The total height of Barron Falls is 125 metres which includes 4 drops, the longest of which is 107 metres!
Just under two hours later, you’ll find yourself pulling into the Kuranda Railway Station which dates back to 1915. I’d recommend spending a few quiet moments here after everyone else has departed. The railway station is beautiful with its heritage listed buildings, tropical rainforest surroundings amongst the cool mountain air.
There’s plenty to see and do in Kuranda Village which is good as you’ll have about four hours to explore before heading back to the station for the return journey home.
First up, we had a wander around the village centre to get our bearings. Kuranda is a quirky little village; full of artwork, buskers, colour and plenty of buskers. We took in the Kuranda Heritage Market where there were plenty of independent shops and a Scottish cafe where we had both fruit and cheese scones for lunch. Make sure you don’t miss the ‘plane crash’ just outside the markets – the plane is famous for its role in a 1986 movie called ‘Sky Pirates’ though I can’t say that I’ve ever watched it!
If you’re into wildlife, you’re in luck as you can visit Birdworld Kuranda, Kuranda Koala Gardens and the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary. We didn’t feel like we had enough time but it’s estimated that visiting all three would take approximately 1.5 hours. There’s also a Kuranda Riverboat Cruise which sails five times a day along the Barron River.
After lunch, we continued to wander the streets before admiring artwork from local Australian and Aboriginal artists in the many galleries that line the main street.
I think four hours is plenty of time to take in the delights of Kuranda and the return journey on the Kuranda Scenic Railway is just as good. Make sure you sit on the other side of the train so that you can see the sights from a different angle.
Another option, instead of just returning on the Kuranda Scenic Railway is to return via the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway; a cable car that takes you up over the rainforest canopy that really must be a once in a lifetime experience. A coach will then transfer you from the terminal back to Cairns Railway Station or Freshwater Railway Station. In Heritage Class (standard), this costs $121.00 for an adult from Cairns Railway Station.
Times – Heritage Class departs from Cairns Railway Station daily all year (except Christmas Day) at 8:30am and 9:30am. Gold Class is only available on the 9:30am departure. You can return at 2pm or 3:30pm again with Gold Class only being available on the later train.
Price – Heritage Class – $76 return ticket // Gold Class $174 return
Car Parking – You can park at either railway station for free. We had to provide our registration number when we checked in at Cairns Railway Station.
For all of the latest information on the Kuranda Scenic Railway, head directly to the website here.
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