The first thing I wanted to do when we arrived in Cairns was the ride the Kuranda Scenic Rail up through Baron Gorge, and then ride the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway back down over the rainforest of Macalister Range.
The railway was constructed during the late 1800’s and opened June 15, 1891. Departing from Cairns Central Station, collecting more passengers at Freshwater along the way, it takes a little under two hours to ascend 328 metres (1,076 feet) up the gorge, over several bridges, through 15 tunnels, and finally terminates in the historic town of Kuranda, located on the eastern fringe of the Atherton Tablelands. The cableway by contrast, opened more than 100 years later (August 31, 1995) and offers a vastly different view and experience as it glides just metres above the rainforest canopy that is part of Queensland’s World Heritage Listed Wet Tropics. (I’ll talk more about that in another post.)
We parked our car at the Skyrail terminal where our coach awaited to transport us to the Freshwater Railway Station. We had enough time to enjoy a walk through the museum before boarding the train and stepping back in time injected the air with a little element of magic.
Our carriage was also wooden but not so luxurious as the one on display. At least we had opened windows allowing Mother Nature’s air conditioning to keep us cool during the ride up the range and through Baron Gorge National Park.
After enjoying lunch at the Kuranda Hotel, we walked around, visited the markets, and eventually made our way to the Skyrail terminal. Seating a maximum of six passengers at a time, there are 117 gondolas on a continuous loop, traversing 7.5 kilometres (4.1 miles) across Macalister Range at a leisurely speed of five metres per second (16.4 feet per second). That might sound fast, but it didn’t feel as though the trip was over all too soon.
We sat back and enjoyed the ride down the range and across the top of the rainforest. There was one moment when the wind struck from the east, but for once I didn’t panic. The ride was peaceful. We had a gondola to ourselves and really enjoyed the tranquillity of simply sitting there watching everything go by. I could easily have turned around and ridden back up to the top again, just to enjoy the ride back down anew.
When I was 12 years old and about to start high school, our entire class had a weekend away. It was not unusual to go on a school excursion, but this was different. We boarded a train in Townsville late one Friday night, arrived in Cairns just in time to enjoy some breakfast before boarding the Kuranda Scenic Rail. In Kuranda a bus awaited to take us on a tour of the Atherton Tablelands, before taking us back to Cairns where we once again boarded a train for the return trip to Townsville. It wasn’t much of an outing time wise (less than 48 hours), but it left a lasting impression on me.
It was a pleasure to retrace part of that memorable journey. After Dean and I have been to the Daintree and Cooktown, we’ll spend time on the tablelands where I intend retracing other steps taken more than half a lifetime ago.