The home of lush tropics, coastal landscapes and quaint little tourist townships, North Queensland offers the complete gamut of experiences for the discerning traveller. This means that you can pace yourself across a number of activities ranging from the adventurous to the laid-back.
We put ourselves up in Port Douglas about one hour north of Cairns. Although a popular township with its own inherent charm, we found Cairns preferable as a base with better access to attractions and greater choices of restaurants and accommodation. Cairns is also an idyllic city with relaxed walkways, an inviting atmosphere and alfresco dining.
While in Cairns, the man-made beach is worth a visit especially as the City cools down by dusk. Fanned by balmy sea breezes and veiled in ambient lighting, it’s the perfect setting for a relaxed stroll to soothe any travel fatigue.
From Port Douglas we made an hour’s drive back to Kuranda. Here are our top experiences in this popular destination.
1. The SkyRail experience
A North Queensland travel itinerary would no doubt include Kuranda. Home to a lush world heritage rainforest, the SkyRail Cableway and Scenic Railway are convenient ways to traverse the landscape. If it’s your first time there, it’s a must-do although you probably will need to set aside half a day.
We parked at the Smithfield Terminal and opted to take the Sky Rail round trip at AUD 82 per person. Some prefer to take the train journey at least one way for a different experience or perspective, but we kept it simple.
At the time of purchasing tickets be prepared to pick a scheduled time of return, depending on how much time you want to spend at each stop including the final destination – Kuranda Village.
We commenced our trip at 11:30 am and estimated that 3pm would give us ample time to explore Kuranda village, have lunch and head back. As there are plenty of cable cars arriving in fairly quick succession, we got one all to ourselves, even though there were many visitors and long queues.
The cableway journey is a novelty. Suspended above the rainforest it’s just you, the vast views and the lush forest below. There’s something very immersive about the stillness, save for the soft whirring of the cable car while enjoying a bird’s eye view of the foliage.
The information brochure provided with the ticket, if you care to read it, can add to the experience. It uses the numbered towers along the journey as helpful points of reference to highlight features of interest along the way.
While there are three terminal stops to explore on foot, by far the most memorable is the Barron Falls Terminal. Aerial views of Barron Falls and the river are indeed breathtaking sights, but nothing is quite as captivating as the views of the Falls from the lookout point you access on foot.
The rains had left the falls in full flow at the time of our visit in April, and made for some excellent photo ops.
We grew a little drowsy and restless on the return SkyRail trip, as it’s pretty much the same views and experience at the same slow, lulling pace.
2. Explore Kuranda Village
The last stop in the SkyRail journey is Kuranda Village where you can disembark and explore the ‘Village in the rainforest’ and its many shops and eateries. Since we had ample time on our hands, we walked the length and breadth of the village teeming with shops geared for tourists.
A skilled didgeridoo player near the station added a nice touch. We felt a little sorry for him though, as he was still at it on our way back a couple of hours later.
There are a good number of shops selling arts and crafts including a few showcasing the work of aboriginal artists that might tempt you to fork out some bills. If you are off to a late start, keep in mind that most places close up shop by 3.30pm or 4pm – it’s pretty much a hub that runs on tourism. There are plenty of lunch spots to choose from and we took the easy way out with pizza, as we were pressed for time.
3. Barron River Cruise and Elvis
Although it would make sense to slip this 45-minute cruise into your Kuranda SkyRail day, we did it on a separate impulse drive to Kuranda. The tours are operated throughout the day with the last of the day scheduled at 2.30pm.
Simply cross the railway footbridge and head down to the riverside landing below the Kuranda Railway and wait for the boat to return from its cruise. Once aboard you can pay the $20 fare and sit back and enjoy a gentle exploration of the fauna and flora as you skim along the calm swell of the Barron River.
The boat has a limit of 30 people which affords unfettered views of the surrounds. Our very informative guide provided an animated narrative along the way, pointing out wildlife that caught her well-trained eye. And there’s plenty to see.
Some of the highlights were the saw-shelled turtles inhabiting the edges of the bank, several sightings of the far less formidable fresh water crocs (they are cuddly compared to the salties), and the cherry on top – Elvis… the Cassowary. This proved to be our biggest thrill.
Our guide certainly built up the suspense leading us to believe that the illusive bird may have gone away leaving no signs of his presence.
Just as the boat approached the bank, out stepped high and mighty Elvis, a magnificent adult Cassowary. Evidently, he was lying in wait for the boat, and was quite accustomed to these frequent visits. He nearly stepped on board!