Deep within the rainforest, nestled upon the mountains, there is a small, but vibrant village ready to welcome you like a long-lost family member.
There is colour everywhere. From the shops to the clothes, even the food is awash with colour. This is a place overflowing with life. Little hand-made trinkets, paintings and jewellery decorate many of the independent shops and market stalls that adorn the streets and around every corner.
It is a souvenir’s haven. Yet, not the mass-produced Australia branded stuff you will find back in Cairns. No, these are genuine, handcrafted gifts. Produced by the arts and craftspeople that have come to call this place home.
The bohemian atmosphere is unmistakable from the moment that you step foot into Kuranda. With its relaxed, slow-paced way of life, it is easy to see why people flock here daily. Yet it does not feel overcrowded.
Founded on land that was traditionally owned by the Tjapukai people, the village of Kuranda first developed as timber cutters moved into the area around 1882.
2 years later a railway route that would run from Cairns through Kuranda to the tin mines at Herbaton was approved. The railway reached the town by 1891 and soon after became a popular tourist destination for those wishing to visit the Barron Falls.
Eventually, in 1938 the Kennedy Highway was completed giving access to the town by road as well as rail.
During the 1940s there was a large military presence in the area. Using the surrounding land for training as well as rest and recreation.
However, since then Kuranda has attracted those looking for a more alternative lifestyle.
From the “Hippy” communes that flourished in the late ‘60s to the musicians and arts and craftspeople in the 70’s. Today Kuranda is a mix of all its history providing a little slice of tropical paradise for you to get lost in.
Kuranda Scenic Railway
Take a seat, sit back and relax as you wind through the world-heritage listed wet tropics, 15 tunnels and over 37 bridges.
Taking 9 years to construct and with hundreds of men employed the railway is considered an engineering feat of enormous magnitude.
Rising from sea level to 328m, this picturesque train journey takes around 1 hour and 45mins, but you won’t get bored.
Stare out of the window at the ever-changing spectacular views of the rainforest, the Barron and Stoneycreek waterfalls to the views out the sea. Just as you have taken in one scene you pop out of another tunnel to find yourself viewing another breath-taking view.
Then there’s the guided recording.
A helpful little addition that plays over the train’s speaker system and tells the tale of how the railway was built. Interrupting itself every now and again to point out a particularly interesting view. Such as the crescent bend where it is possible to see the front of the train from the back and vice versa (a cool time for a photo!)
Let’s not forget about the interior either.
The train carriages have been lovingly restored to resemble what they would have looked like back when the railway was first built.
Think Hogwarts Express for muggles.
While the 2 Gold Class carriages include comfy chairs, drinks and finger food, the standard class double booths are still comfortable. Plus, you can pretend you’re on your way to Hogwarts (well maybe the Australian Hogwarts whatever that’s called?) so it’s a win all around.
Personally, I recommend taking the train from Kuranda back to Cairns. After a busy day exploring Kuranda and all it has to offer, a slow, scenic train ride through the rainforest was a perfect way to end the day.
Kuranda Sky Rail
I know, I know the name is confusing. The whole rail thing makes you think of trains – well at least I did anyway. Instead think cable cars.
Picture chilling out in a cable car surrounded by windows in an almost Charlie and the chocolate factory glass elevator type situation as you rise not through the rainforest but over it. I definitely recommend taking the Sky Rail to Kuranda, but you can go either way.
At 7.5Km long and taking around 1.5 hours travelling time when first opened the Kuranda Sky rail was the longest gondola cableway in the world!
Don’t worry if you don’t think you can cope that long in a cable car. The cableway is split into 3 sections and you can get off and have a wander around at both stations.
Jump on at Smithfield Terminal just 15mins from Cairns and next door to the Tjapukai aboriginal culture park.
You can read more about Tjapukai here
Disembark at Red Peak station and descend through the canopy layers right into the middle of the rainforest.
Walk along the boardwalks past the tall trees with the entwined vines and unique species of plants. Hear the bird calls and see the flashes of their brightly coloured wings as they fly past.
There are even guided ranger tours throughout the day where you can find out more about the secrets of the rainforest.
The approach to Barron Falls station was by far one of my favourite views of the ride.
Taking you high above the river and towards the craggy-faced waterfall. Take a moment to really take in the beauty of the falls by getting off at this station and heading to the 3 different lookout points. Each giving you a different perspective of these huge cascading waterfall.
The Barron Falls station was originally the site of the hydroelectric development in the 1930s and in recognition of this, some of the machinery used is still on display here.
It’s then just a short 10min ride onto Kuranda station.
Not surprisingly the Kuranda Sky rail is consistently voted one of the best things to do in Cairns and I cannot agree more.
How often do you get the chance to see a rainforest from above? To view the majesty of one of the world’s oldest ecosystems from overhead? To glide across the canopy, a rive and a waterfall all in one trip? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.
Explore the Kuranda Markets
Known all over the world for its markets it would be rude to not have a little look at them, right?
There are 2 main market locations, the Original markets and the heritage markets. Conveniently, both are open every day, so you don’t have to worry about planning your trip to coincide with when you can visit them.
The markets offer a wide range of products from aboriginal artefacts (make sure they are authentic before you buy), handmade leather goods, carved wood and jewellery.
You are sure to find something that you want to take home with you even if that wasn’t your plan!
Get up close with the wildlife
When you’ve had your fill of all the wonderful markets and shops that Kuranda has to offer there is yet more to discover.
Get up close and personal to some of the wildlife by exploring the Kuranda Koala gardens where you can cuddle a koala and feed the kangaroos and wallabies.
Having missed out on seeing a Koala in the wild while on Magnetic Island, I was certainly not going to miss out on getting up close with with this little guy!
The Butterfly Sanctuary is the largest butterfly light aviary and exhibit in the southern hemisphere and is home to over 1500 tropical butterflies. Wander through the rainforest gardens and watch these beautiful creatures flutter right past you. If you’re lucky (and wearing something bright) they may even land on you!
Bird world located in the Kuranda heritage Markets lets you get up close to the brightly coloured birds of the rainforest. From the Amazonian macaws, the endangered cassowary, lorikeets and cockatoos there’s an abundance of multicoloured birds for you to spot.
Journey Deeper in the rainforest
Looking to explore the rainforest even more? Well, there are several other guided tours you can join to help you do just that.
The Kuranda Rainforest Journeys which follows the old timber trails to delve deep into the forest giving you a history of the pioneers as well as of the rainforest and its secrets.
Looking for something a little more adrenaline packed? Then jump on a Cairns Quads & adventures tour. Following along the bumpy dirt tracks of the rainforest and across creeks, you’re sure to get a different experience of the rainforest.
If that’s not your thing and you would prefer more of a stroll (or hike) then there are several walking tracks that you can explore yourself.
From rainforest walking tracks to lookouts around Kuranda you can pick up your copy of the self-guided walks brochure from the Kuranda visitor information centre.
Kuranda was just what I needed when I visited.
A place so unlike anything that I had seen so far in Australia.
It was almost an escape from the backpacker world I had been living in.
It is possible to see and do everything that you want to in a morning or an afternoon. This is what I did, choosing to visit in the afternoon after spending the morning at Tjapukai.
However, for a little town there is so much to do here and so I can totally see how it would be easy to spend the whole day or even a weekend here (there is accommodation available in Kuranda). You can find out more information about the village in the rainforest at Kuranda.org