Hidden in the beautiful rainforests of the Atherton Tablelands, the artsy, alternative market town of Kuranda makes for a very popular day trip in the tablelands.
ost of the travellers heading to Cairns make a day trip to the mountain village of Kuranda. With some of the best rainforests in Queensland, a scenic railway to boast of, and colourful markets where you could lose yourself, it is easy to see why Kuranda is a favourite with tourists from all over the world.
Where is Kuranda Located?
Kuranda is located in the Atherton Tablelands, near the Barron Gorge National Park, 29 km (19 miles) northwest of Cairns in far north Queensland, Australia.
How to get to Kuranda?
The best part about a visit to Kuranda is the journey itself. Most visitors head here from Cairns on a day trip. For self-itineraries from Cairns, drive up Captain Cook Highway and take the turn onto the winding Kennedy Highway. After crossing the Barron River, turn left on Rob Veivers Drive which will take you to Kuranda village.
While some people drive up the winding 29km (19-mile) mountain road, the most popular approaches are to chuff up the mountainside in a scenic train, or to glide silently over the rainforest canopy in the world’s longest gondola cableway, the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.
The most popular round-trip is one-way on the Skyrail (mornings are best for photography) and the other way on the Kuranda train.
The Kuranda Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is a magnificent feat of engineering and one of Australia’s top tourism attractions. There are about 114 six-person gondolas, which leave every few seconds from the terminal in the northern Cairns suburb of Smithfield for the 7.5-km (4 ½-mile) journey. The view of the coast as you ascend is so breathtaking that even those afraid of heights will find it worthwhile. As you rise over the foothills of the coastal range, watch the lush green of the rainforest take over beneath you. Looking back, you have spectacular views over Cairns and north toward Trinity Bay. On a clear day, you can see Green Island. There are two stops during the 90-minute trip, at Red Peak and Barron Falls. After about 10 minutes, you reach Red Peak. You are now 545m (1,788 ft.) above sea level, and massive kauri pines dominate the view. You must change gondolas at each station, so take the time to stroll around the boardwalks for the ground view of the rainforest. Guided walks start every 20 minutes.
You’ll continue on to Barron Falls station, built on the cleared site of an old construction camp for workers on the first hydroelectric power station on the Barron River in the 1930s. A rainforest information centre has been established here, and there are boardwalks to the lookouts for wonderful views of the Barron Gorge and Falls. From Barron Falls station, the gondola travels over the thick rainforest of the range. It’s easy to spot ferns and orchids and the brilliant blue butterflies of the region. As you reach the end of the trip, the gondola passes over the Barron River and across the Kuranda railway line into the station. Don’t worry if it rains on the day you go – one of the best skyrail trips is in misty rain, which adds a new dimension to the rainforest.
Kuranda Skyrail Timetable
The cableway operates daily, except December 25, from 9am to 5:15pm. You must make a reservation to travel within a 15-minute time frame. The last boardings are at 2:45pm for a return trip, or 3:30pm for a one-way journey.
The Skyrail terminal is located on the Captain Cook Highway at Kamerunga Road, Caravonica Lakes, 15km (9 ½ miles) north of Cairns’s city center.
See Kuranda Skyrail for more information on the Kuranda Skyrail timetable.
Kuranda Scenic Railway
The 34km (21-mile) Kuranda Scenic Railway is one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world. The Kuranda train snakes through the magnificent vistas of the Barron Gorge National Park, past gorges and waterfalls on the 90-minute trip from Cairns to Kuranda. It rises 328m (1,076 ft.) and goes through 15 tunnels before emerging at the pretty Kuranda railway station, which is smothered in ferns. Built by hand over 5 years in the late 1880s, the Kuranda railway track is today a monument to the 1,500 men who toiled to link the two towns, and the ride on the steam train adds to the atmosphere.
Kuranda Train Timetable
The Kuranda train departs Cairns Central at 8:30am and 9:30am daily (except Dec 25) and leaves Kuranda at 2pm and 3:30pm.
There is a Kuranda Skyrail / Kuranda Train combination ticket available but, in most cases, these packages represent convenience rather than savings. Skyrail also runs a shuttle bus from most Cairns hotels. You can get a package including the Skyrail, the Scenic Railway, and entry to the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, including transfers from Cairns and the northern beaches. Another option includes the Skyrail, Scenic Railway, and Rainforestation (see below), including transfers from Cairns.
All packages can upgrade to Gold Class service on the train for an extra fee.
Book any of these packages through Kuranda Skyrail, Queensland Rail, or Tjapukai.
Things to Do in Kuranda
Once you arrive in Kuranda, there are numerous things to do from self-guided walks in the Kuranda rainforest to visiting the artsy Kuranda markets.
A free shuttle bus operates between the Skyrail station and Kuranda’s main attractions, leaving every 15 minutes between 10am and 3pm daily, but it is easy enough to walk around everything.
Kuranda is as touristy as it comes; however, the cool mountain air and mist-wrapped rainforest have been bringing tourists here for generations. The Kuranda rainforest is as pristine as it was thousands of years ago and refuses to be spoiled no matter how many tourists clutter the streets.
You can explore the rainforest, the river esplanade, or Barron Falls along a number of easy walking trails. To learn more about the rainforest you could either visit the Rainforestation Nature Park (see below) or explore it with Brian Clarke of Kuranda Riverboat Tours, who runs informative 45-minute river cruises. The cruises depart hourly, from 10:30am to 2:30pm, from the riverside landing across the footbridge, near the train station. Brian is a former crocodile hunter and has lived in the rainforest for more than 30 years. Buy your tickets on board.
See Kuranda Riverboat Tours for more information.
Rainforestation Nature Park
The Rainforestation Nature Park is a 40-hectare (99-acre) nature and cultural complex where you can take a 45-minute ride into the rainforest in a World War II amphibious Army Duck. You’ll hear commentary on orchids and other rainforest wildlife along the way. You can also see a performance by Aboriginal dancers; learn about Aboriginal legends and throw a boomerang on the Dreamtime Walk; or have your photo taken cuddling a koala in the wildlife park.
The Army Duck runs on the hour, beginning at 10am; the Aboriginal dancers perform at 10:30am, noon, and 2pm; and the 30-minute Dreamtime Walk leaves at 10, 11, and 11:30am, and 12:30, 1:30, and 2:30pm.
The Rainforestation Nature Park is located on Kennedy Hwy., a 5-min. drive from the centre of Kuranda. See Rainforestation Nature Park for more information.
Kuranda is known for its markets that sell locally made arts and crafts, fresh produce, boomerangs, T-shirts, jewelry, and lots more. While the shopping in Cairns is colourful and unique, the Kuranda markets are even more unique. Expect to pick up anything from leather goods, Australian-wool sweaters, opals, crafts and much, much more.
There are two distinct markets in Kuranda with a very different feel – the Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets and the more touristy Kuranda Heritage Markets.
Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets
Operating since 1978, the Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets are still the best place to see local artisans and craftspeople such as glass-blowers at work and hippies at play. Expect to find locally designed and produced fashion, jewellery, leather work, and indigenous art, as well as local produce including honey, coffee, fruit, sugar cane juice, coconuts, and macadamias. You couldn’t get more original and organic products from anywhere else.
With revamped boardwalks terraced in the rainforest, the Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets is located on Therwine Street and open between 9:30am and 3pm daily.
See Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets for more information.
Kuranda Heritage Markets
A little distance away from the Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets, the more touristy Heritage Markets overflow with souvenirs and crafts, such as ceramics, emu oil, jewellery, clothing and bottles of incredibly hot sauce. This is a great place to go shopping if you’re looking for unique souvenirs to take home.
The 90-stall Heritage Market is open daily from 9:30am to 3:30pm on Rob Veivers Drive. See Kuranda Heritage Markets for more details.
Other Kuranda Markets
The New Kuranda Markets, in an undercover complex on Coondoo Street, houses a range of stalls and shops including an Aboriginal art gallery.
A group of about 50 local artisans sell their work in the Kuranda Arts Co-Operative, Shop 6, 12 Rob Veivers Drive, near the Butterfly Sanctuary. It’s open from 10am to 4pm daily. You will find quality furniture crafted from recycled Australian hardwoods, jewelry, photography, glasswork, handicrafts, and other items.
See Kuranda Arts Co-Operative for more details.
Kuranda Koala Gardens
Located at the Heritage Markets in Kuranda, the Kuranda Koala Gardens is a small but fascinating attraction that is worth a visit for the wildlife lovers. You can cuddle a koala and have your photo taken as well in addition to checking out the other Australian animals on show – including freshwater crocodiles, wombats, lizards, and wallabies. For the not-so-fainthearted animal lovers, take a stroll through the walk-through snake enclosure while they slither at your feet. This is one attraction that will leave you with lasting memories.
See Kuranda Koala Gardens for more details.
Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
For the butterfly lovers, head to the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary which has a rainbow-hued array of 1,500 tropical butterflies, including the electric-blue Ulysses and Australia’s largest species, the Cairns bird wing. The sanctuary occupies a lush walk-through enclosure where you can take a free 30-minute guided tour and learn about the butterfly’s fascinating life cycle. If you want the butterflies to land on you, wear pink, red, and other bright colours which attract them. Don’t be put off if it’s raining – this attraction is good in any weather.
Australian Butterfly Sanctuary is located at 8 Rob Veivers Dr. and is open daily from 10am to 4pm (closed Dec 25). See Australian Butterfly Sanctuary for more details.
For the bird lovers heading to Kuranda, visit Birdworld located behind the Kuranda Heritage Markets. Birdworld has eye-catching macaws, a pair of cassowaries, and Australia’s largest collection of free-flying birds – about 500 of them, representing 75 species from around the world. Two lakes are home to waterbirds including stilts, herons, and Australia’s Black Swan.
See Birdworld for more information.