UPDATED JULY 2022. There are many options for visiting Kuranda Village on the Atherton Tablelands in far North Queensland. We have visited the tablelands by car many times, but everyone should do a Kuranda Train and Skyrail tour at least once in their life.
My honest opinion is that it’s one of the best day trips from Cairns.
What You Will Find in This Post
- Cairns to Kuranda Train and Skyrail tour
- How to get to Cairns North Queensland
- Why do a Kuranda Day Trip from Cairns in North Queensland
- Cairns Skyrail Cablecar
- Kuranda Scenic Railway
Cairns to Kuranda Train and Skyrail tour
PRICES SHOWN IN AUD.
This tour includes:
- Round-trip transfers from Cairns and some Northern Beaches accommodations (excludes Holloways Beach, Machans Beaches and Yorkeys Knob).
- Skyrail and Kuranda Scenic Railway Tickets.
- One-way Skyrail Rainforest Cableway experience visiting the World Heritage Rainforest
- Rainforest boardwalks and interpretive signage
- Guided ranger tour at Red Peak Station
- Entry to the Rainforest Interpretation Centre at Barron Falls Station
- Lookouts and historical displays at Barron Falls Station
- Trip guides in 11 languages
- Free WiFi at Smithfield, Kuranda and Barron Falls terminals and stations
Kuranda Scenic Railway
- Kuranda Scenic Railway one-way journey (including English commentary, a companion guide with information on the history of the railway’s construction and a trip map)
NOTE: We went up to Kuranda by Train and back down to Cairns by Skyrail. This option gives full frontal views over the Coral Sea from the cable car if you are facing forward. Enquire if this is still an option upon booking.
How to get to Cairns North Queensland
CAIRNS some 1750 km north of Brisbane is the go to city for visitors to tropical North Queensland.
When travelling by road from the south, the climatic transition is a gradual one, but with relatively cheap airfares available today, flying is a more time effective way to arrive. Imagine stepping from the cool interior of your aircraft, into a wave of tropical heat and humidity. Having lived most of life in North Queensland, I think of it is a lovely welcome home.
Please note that if you are arriving by cruise ship you should allow extra for the cost of getting from the cruise ship to the start of this tour.
We drove the 350 km north from Townsville.
Why do a Kuranda Day Trip from Cairns in North Queensland
The Atherton Tablelands covers a large area with many towns, like Millaa-Millaa, Mareeba, Kuranda, Malanda, Tinaroo and Yungaburra. It has waterfalls, green rolling hills, dairy cattle, cheese factories, mango plantations, coffee plantations, country markets, historic pubs and so much more. It is best explored in your own vehicle.
For those without a vehicle and with limited time, the combined Kuranda Skyrail and Train tour offers a spectacular snippet of the rainforest and views to and from Kuranda. In one direction the scenic train climbs the hills to the Tablelands and on the other your cablecar soars over the rainforest canopy stopping to explore the rainforest and view the Barron Falls.
Even for those with a vehicle to explore more widely the combined Kuranda Scenic Rail and Skyway tour is something completely different that gives fabulous views and experiences not otherwise available.
This is why, despite having widely explored the tableland by car, we decided on a day trip from Cairns to Kuranda, on the Atherton Tableland, by train and return by Skyrail.
- Kuranda Village – absorb the fun hippy vibe of this small tourist town. It gets pretty crowded between the hours of 10 am and 3 p.m. after which it transforms back into a sleepy little village.
- There are many activities from extensive shopping to riding an ATV through the rainforest and Orchards and seeing a butterfly farm.
- Kuranda Visitor Information Centre knows all the fun things to do in Kuranda.
It was 35 years since I had ridden the Kuranda train and Marty had never done so and neither of us had taken skyrail, so for us it was a no-brainer. We were so happy with our choice. Kids would love it too.
Cairns Skyrail Cablecar
Skyrail is the cable car that connects Cairns and the Coral Sea with the rainforest village of Kuranda?
I get the same feeling of awe walking through a rainforest as I do in the biggest man-made cathedrals. The massive tree trunks shoot like arrows straight up in search of the sun only to merge together in a canopy exactly as the branching columns do in Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
While walking beneath the rainforest canopy is an undeniably beautiful experience, there is another side to the rainforest and Skyrail will get you above that canopy. A Pterodactyl would have had a similar view skimming low over the tree tops back in the dinosaur age. Amazing.
It’s not only looking fun looking down to the treetops looking for parrots or cockatoos, but as the ride progresses the views over the Coral Sea and Cairns are jaw dropping. Our photos were taken through the window panels, but you can now pay extra for exposed gondolas with uninhibited views.
Cairns Skyrail operates from it’s base at Carvonica in the suburb of Smithfield, stopping at Red Peak and Barron Falls before arriving at Kuranda Station. Carvonica is 17.2 km north-west of Cairns CBD. We did the trip in reverse but I’m not sure if that is possible today.
Strap yourself in for a Cairns Skyrail Tour.
You can leave the gondolas and take walks at both of the mid-ride terminals. The walk to the Barron Falls lookout is easy and worthwhile, even in the dry season. The Falls themselves are so tall it is difficult to get them in one shot from the viewpoint. When the falls are in flood this view is spectacularly transformed into thundering water and clouds of spray. It doesn’t happen often enough!
At Red Peak stop there is a 175 m boardwalk overlooked by giant trees. From the Red Peak terminal it only takes 10 minutes to get back to sea level. I was sad to think our ride was nearly over.
A note to nervous flyers out there, I don’t like heights but my pre-gondola nerves soon left me and I totally enjoyed the experience. The transfers between the stations took place indoors, were well-controlled and I felt totally at ease. I thought the heights would bother me but the gondolas actually skim quite close to the tree-tops. I sat at the back of the gondola and Marty took photos from the front and side.
I thoroughly recommend the Skyrail Experience and combining it with the Scenic train ride makes for an enjoyable round trip.
Kuranda Skyrail Terminal.
Kuranda Scenic Railway
Now for the fun of the scenic train ride.
Freshwater Train Station, Cairns
The Kuranda Scenic Rail departs from Freshwater Train Station in Cairns. The station is 10.6 km north-west of Cairns CBD. This is why the tour offers collection from your motel.
The train arrives at Kuranda Train Station which is within walking distance of Kuranda Village.
All Aboard Kuranda Scenic Railway
Hostesses roam the corridors of the authentic timber carriages offering to take photographs with your own camera.
There were water coolers and toilets at the end of each carriage and with the windows wide open, the smells of cane fields and rainforest wafted in.
I found myself humming Morning Town Ride, an iconic (old) Aussie song about another train ride, as we trundled through the cane fields into the foothills of the Macalister Range. It is funny how our minds find a suitable sound track isn’t it?
Interesting facts about Kuranda Railway History
There are 15 tunnels in all on the 37 km of track to Kuranda township, the longest being 490 metres.
They were all dug using hand picks.
At Tunnel 6 in 1973 masked bandits held up a train carrying wages to the Atherton Tablelands. They escaped on trail bikes and were never apprehended.
Mango trees in flower through the windows.
Stoney Creek Waterfall slows to a trickle in dry season.
Views down the valley to the Coral Sea.
Flowering grasses track-side.
In the Wet Season the falls thunder over the edge in a huge display of power.
Water flow over the falls has been restricted by a hydro-electric power plant since 1963, but the first plant was built here in 1935.
A section of the Barron Falls.
Kuranda Train Station
Kuranda Train Station is a destination in itself with a great display of tropical plants in hanging pots, tubs and gardens. On arrival, order a Devonshire tea from the Refreshment Room and adjourn track-side to soak up the atmosphere of a line that opened in 1891.
The Platforms are lined with fantastic tropical plants in pots. They hang from above too and create a spectacular display. Plant Lovers will be over the moon.
Outside Kuranda Station is a 760 metre stroll beneath tall paperbark trees beside the Barron River. This very beautiful and relaxing walk joins on to the Jungle Walk (900m) and Jum Rum Walk, a 1.4km boardwalk that leads up to the township.
Most people just walk up the main street to Kuranda Village, but the walks are a great option for either the walk up from the Station or back down to the Skyrail.
All three walks were beautiful – read abut them here.
This map shows the location of the Freshwater Kuranda Scenic Train Station and Carvonica Skyrail Cairns Terminal.
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