Cairns is described as the heart and soul of Tropical North Queensland in Australia. There are so many wonderful Cairn’s attractions for families to choose from. Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and the Kuranda Scenic Railway are two top attractions in Cairns. Of course, you can’t do these two without eating and shopping your way around Kuranda Village itself. What a trifecta.
Why not experience a World Heritage-listed tropical rainforest, artisan markets of romantic Kuranda Village AND ride on a stunning century-old historic railway?
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
A Great Way to See And Experience The Wet Tropics
The Skyrail Cableway stretches for 7.5km from Smithfield Station to Kuranda, stopping at Red Peak.
The cableway passes over the canopy of one of Australia’s top tropical rainforests, the Barron Gorge National Park. And you get an amazing bird’s eye view of the Wet Tropic Rainforest, Barron River, and the famous Barron Falls.
Choose your ride
Choose from riding an enclosed canopy, one with a glass floor or our ‘wind-in-your-hair’ open-air canopy glider. I start to panic at the thought, but I need not worry as Marni, our guide, hooks us well and safely in! And the views are truly spectacular. It’s so worth it.
The first leg of our cable ride takes us out of Cairns, with great views of the coast and over the city. Riding first over the treetops of Eucalypt woodlands, the vegetation soon changes to tropical rainforest. Exotic palms and vines appear so close you can almost touch them.
The air becomes more still as we approach dense mature rainforest dotted with numerous epiphytes. We see some of the largest Staghorns and Elkhorns ever.
Red Peak Station
On arrival at the first station, Red Peak, there are regular complimentary guided interpretive tours to enjoy. We are lucky enough to experience Jeremy, a local Aboriginal guide who turns out to be quite a character.
Full of real (and ‘tongue-in-cheek’) stories about the rainforest area from his heritage, he keeps us amused with his bush tucker and plant remedies.
On an elevated 175m boardwalk surrounded by Alexandra palms, giant Kauri pines, and Golden lawyer cane, Jeremy has us hanging on every word. Some of his many amusing stories include tales of plants once used to poison and trap fish.
Or how to kill a mother-in-law from a few leaves of a special plant known only to the Aboriginals. Don’t try this one at home unless you don’t mind being haunted by the wrath of long since passed elders!
Barron Falls Station
From Red Peak, we extend further into the rainforest. There are glimpses of Basket ferns high in the tree canopy. A few sulphur-crested cockatoos nestle in the trees.
Just before we arrive at Barron Falls Station, we look to our left as Barron Gorge and Barron Falls come into view.
There is a lot to do at this stop so we take time to explore. Three lookouts have views of the 260m high, granite-faced Barron Falls and Gorge, especially spectacular after heavy tropical rains.
Along the path are fascinating displays of historical equipment from a bygone era of mining and logging the rainforest.
We see a metre long Spotted monitor roaming through the thicket, whilst an iridescent electric blue Ulysses butterfly flutters along the path. I’m in wildlife heaven.
An excellent informative CSIRO Rainforest Interpretation Centre gives us more insight into the Wet Tropic’s fauna and flora. Reluctant to leave but time not on our side, we race back to the cable station.
Arriving at Kuranda
Our final cableway leg passes over tall open Eucalypt forest, with Figs and Wattle trees in view.
We cross the impressive, expansive Barron River feeding into Barron Falls and Barron Gorge. And suddenly, we arrive at Kuranda.
Kuranda Village is 328 metres above Cairns and is surrounded by tropical rainforest and the Barron River. The village originated in the 1880’s when locals would retreat to the hills to escape the coast’s heat and humidity.
As one of the bucket list things to do while visiting Cairns, Kuranda is accessed by a 30-min drive from Cairns, by the Kuranda Scenic Railway or by Skyrail Cableway. But a list of the great Cairns attractions and activities would certainly also include a visit to this quaint, charming mountain village.
Kuranda Village – Where Nature Surrounds You
Nature lovers can meander along short interlinked forest walks or the river esplanade to the Barron River, through the lush tropical rainforest. If you have a keen eye you may spot a well-camouflaged green tree snake or colourful parrots and yellow figbirds.
A walk around Kuranda Village itself offers wonderful displays of Queensland tropical flora, with statuesque fig trees, ferns, and wild orchids adorning its gardens and streetscape.
Popular Tourist Attractions In Kuranda
A fabulous wildlife Cairn’s tourist attraction is the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, the largest in Australia. It boasts 1500+ butterflies to see on guided aviary tours.
Or you can visit Emu Ridge Gallery with its free entry Fossil and Gemstone Museum. A great spot to pick up a gem or two, or find your very own fossil souvenir.
Bustling Kuranda Markets
And then, of course, you can lose yourself in the ever-popular markets.
Time-poor, we head straight for Kuranda Original Rainforest Market (established in 1978). There are numerous stalls with weird and funky curios, crafts, boutique fashion shops, and a mini-golf course – but not today perhaps!
Shopping is not really my thing, but eating is. And the Original Kuranda Market is a self-indulgent feast for foodies.
Cafes galore serve all manner of foods sourced from local produce. Organic coffee, fresh frozen tropical fruits, honey tasting, a fudge bar and a homemade candy kitchen, to name but a few.
We even find international cuisines such as French pastries, ‘German tucker’, aromatic Vietnamese food and an authentic Japanese Teahouse.
In contrast, the Heritage Markets have more Australiana-type stalls. Aboriginal artwork and kangaroo fur products, as well as local gemstones, leather, and handcrafted jewellery make unique souvenirs.
Birdworld and Koala Gardens, Two Top Kuranda Attractions
These markets also feature two of Kuranda’s top tourist attractions, Birdworld and Koala Gardens.
Birdworld, an immersive exhibit with natural rainforest landscapes featuring 60 species of free-flying birdlife. Many unique and colourful birds are here, including a giant cassowary, one of Australia’s rarest birds.
Cairn’s attractions for families include Kuranda Koala Gardens. Do the ‘cuddle a koala’ thing for that classic souvenir selfie. Or see other iconic Australian animals such as quokkas, wombats, wallabies, and kangaroos.
But my favorite highlight of the Heritage Markets is the award-winning Frog’s Restaurant. We choose to have lunch on the ‘Dragon Deck’ which proves an experience in itself. A family of Water dragons shares our eating space under our table. A truly unique and awesome Australian experience!
Kuranda Scenic Railway
And our day’s adventure wouldn’t be complete without riding a nostalgic century-old train back to Cairns and civilization.
History Of The Kuranda Express
The Kuranda-Cairns Railway began its construction in the 1880’s. Due to the developing gold mines in the mountains of the Atherton Tablelands, it was the largest engineering feat of its time. The 27 km of narrow gauge track is now a National Engineering Landmark.
Kuranda Village Station
Boarding the train at Kuranda Station is just the start of this amazing journey. The historic station is one of the most picturesque I have ever seen.
Built in 1915 with gas lamps installed, the charmingly restored station has gardens and patios adorned with the most stunning tropical plants. I feel like I am in a romantic period film set.
There is even a fully operational hand signal cabin, one of only nine in Queensland.
And the Tea Room serves the most amazing fresh scones. But did I forget to mention the best fresh fruit mango smoothies I have ever tasted?
Kuranda Scenic Railway Train, A 1720 Class Locomotive
The train is a 1720 class locomotive pulling up to 16 heritage coaches dating back to the early 1900’s. Portraying the Aboriginal legend of the Buda-Dji, the engine is beautifully painted in the colours of the Dreamtime Carpet Snake.
Legend has it that the Carpet Snake created the creeks and Barron River from the Atherton Tableland to the Coast during its many travels.
The historic carriages transport us back in time with their silky oak timber deco and pressed metal ceilings.
Journey On The Kuranda Scenic Railway
It is a 90 min nostalgic train ride to Freshfield Station.
The one and only train stop along the way is Barron Falls Station. A short 10 min break gives us our last spectacular view and final photo opportunity of Barron Falls. I get quite carried away and shoot off far too many shots (later to be my downfall…).
An old-fashioned train whistle and off we go again heading towards Rob’s Monument. We pass the huge natural granite rock formation on the side of the track. After the building of the railway, it was left in honour of engineer John Robb.
Heading past Glacier Rock, we approach Red Bluff which forms the steepest part of the Barron Gorge mountainside.
Slowly crossing Stoney Creek Falls Bridge for cursory photos, we pass Stoney Creek Station. Once a thriving township, the historic bridge was built in the 1890’s. Its fascinating iron lattice construction and three trestle piers are timeless construction.
But probably the most famous landmark is Horseshoe Bend. This lends itself to the many thousands of classic photos of this timeless Cairn’s tourist attraction. Of course, all our three cameras ran out of battery power before we can fire off a single photo. As if synchronized on cue, classic!
And if spooky train tunnels are your thing, enjoy this train ride as there are three along the way, all original and hand carved.
And Finally, Freshwater Station
As we began our day’s adventure at Skyrail, Freshwater Station is our last stop. Courtesy coaches take us back to Skyrail from here. But we don’t rush to board our coach.
We take some time to look around this historic railway station with its great little gift shop. And it has a fabulous restaurant too which appears worth coming back for.
As does the nearby field of stunning sunflowers which has become a huge local attraction, just 5 minutes walk from the station.
So there you have it. A fabulous all-around day trip, from Wet Tropic Rainforest to the Atherton Tablelands, and back down to the Coast of Cairns. A true trifecta of top things to do in Cairns Australia.
And, best of all, if your holiday time is precious and limited, you can do them all in just one day. It can’t get better than that.
But, just make sure you have enough smartphone and camera battery power with you. Or you may just have to do it all again another time, to catch those moments you missed today. And what a great excuse too…!