Tue 29/05: Kuranda Steam Train / Koala Gardens / Rainforestation / Skyrail

Here's a glimpse of the sights we experienced this day, the slideshow is automatic, but you can pause, go forward or backward... or, as we highly recommend, you can also see the pics in larger resolution at our Picasa website by clicking on any slide...  enjoy!!!

WE AWOKE TO THE MOST GLORIOUS SUNRISE OVER MARLIN MARINE and after readying ourselves for the day ahead, went to breakfast as we'd booked our day-trip with Tropical Horizon Tours and that included a pick-up from our hotel at 07:55 to transfer us to the Kuranda Scenic Railway Station at Cairns where we boarded our Gold Class coach set to depart at 08:30.

1. Kuranda Scenic Railway (KSR)

We were the only occupants of the coach as our host and the other Gold Class ticket holders were joining the train at Freshwater Station about fifteen minutes down the track; when all were aboard, there were some twelve of us and the real journey up the mountain range to Kuranda Village commenced.

We were offered tea, coffee, juices, wine and beer and welcomed aboard by our cheery host who looked after us royally... proffering finger-food for morning tea to the occasional commentary of our surroundings when points of interest came into view via flat-screen televisions and the overhead audio system - such as the first village we passed through, Redlynch, named after the hard-working red-haired Irish foreman, "Red" Lynch, when the railway was constructed in the 1880s... the local indigenous people named the location as the place where he could be found and it just stuck, with it eventually being officially gazetted - and so, we began our climb to Kuranda.

It was here that the train began its 180 degree curve, 100 metre radius Horseshoe Bend around Freshwater Valley that enabled the passengers to view its entire length of the eleven carriages and two engines no matter where you were situated... being in the middle, it was amusing to be able to view both the front and the rear of the train at the one time out of our window.

We soon entered the first of some fifteen hand-carved tunnels that were reinforced with concrete that was transported by wagons and then transferred to mules to be forwarded along the cliff-faces to the various worksites.

Once through tunnel 6, we soon passed Stoney Creek Falls splashing down the mountain right next to and underneath the train continuing to cascade down its deep gorge to the valley below; the bridge is the most outstanding feature of the railway line: the iron lattice construction was completed in the mid 1890s and stands on three trestle piers with a tight four chain radius.

Next into our view came two distinctive landmarks the dominate the landscape from the valley floor: Glacier Rock and Red Bluff; The grey face of Glacier Rock is made up of decomposed granite and Red Bluff forms the steepest part of the Barron Gorge's mountainside.

Spectacular views were to be had after tunnel 14 of the Coral Sea and Cairns with Green Island on the distant horizon... and shortly we entered the longest tunnel (15) on the Kuranda Range (490 metres). It has three curves and eleven culverts built into it for safety should anyone be caught in the tunnel whilst a train was approaching.

Barron Gorge Hydro-Electricity Power Station came next - carved out of the rock within the mountain on the north bank of the Barron River Gorge in 1932 and supplying renewable green energy to the Queensland power grid from late 1935. 

The train made a fifteen minute stop at Barron Falls to take the wonder of their 329 meter above sea levl drop of 365 metres that appeared to come out of the top of a mountain... in reality the falls are fed by water that flows down from the rainforest and we were to traverse the pond that feeds it by an Army Duck later in the day... at this point our host handed out some post cards for us to write home on and promised that the KSR would post them for us that day.

Eventually we arrived at the beautiful and heritage listed Kuranda Station and our rail journey came to an end, but not our day.

BTW: the Post Card duly arrived as promised by KSR and can be seen left... à

2. Kuranda Koala Gardens

We were given a map of Kuranda's main attractions by Tropical Horizon Tours and had a free forty-five minutes to choose what we wanted to do before catching the shuttle to the main event of the day: Rainforestation. We were also told that a free shuttle would take us near most of the attractions and to look our for a mini-bus with 'free' written all over it: "You can't miss it" - we didn't, and asked to be let off near the Kuaranda Koala Gardens.

They know how to pack a large variety of native animals into an interesting and logically set-out tourist garden setting at Kuranda Koala Gardens.

We dropped by this tourist attraction on the way to the Rainforestation from the Kuranda Scenic Railway and paid the stiff AUD16.50 entrance fee so that we could have the obligatory picture of cuddling a koala.

The animals looked healthy and happy and wallabies roamed the grounds where they were able to be fed by the visitors... as we arrived on the early train, they were still interested in the hand fed nibbles but, I suspect that, later in the day when mobs of tourists have passed through, the wallabies will have retired behind the barriers after eating their fill.

Still, it is my view that this is a great and educational tourist attraction for young families... just ensure to use the public lavatories, if necessary, beforehand as there are none in the gardens.

3. Rainforestation Nature Park Kuranda

The Rainforestation Nature Park was our major tourist attraction of choice when we visited Kuranda... We'd come up the mountain on the early morning Kuranda Scenic Railway, taken the free shuttle to the Koala Gardens for the mandatory 'cuddling a koala' pic, and then been ferried at 10:45 by another shuttle to our destination.

The reception desk had planned a schedule for us to take in the sights at the Park which went as follows:

11:00 - 12:00 » A guided and informative tour of the extensive native fauna - we had a leisurely stroll around the gardens viewing the many exhibits of native fauna set in natural settings of the rather interesting native flora... a monster of a salt water crocodile, Jack, who we were informed was a bit of a bully and had eaten most of his wives - now isolated with an occasional 'fast' visitor; lizards; tortoises; fresh water crocs; cassowaries; dingos, et al.

12:00 - 12:30 » Indigenous Show in the Amphitheatre - a performance of various tribal dances followed descriptive commentary of what 'rites' they were enacting.

12:30 - 13:00 » Boomerang throwing (demonstration and participation) - rather interesting.

13:00 - 14:00 » Luncheon (included in our tour) - an extensive buffet spread with chef at the BBQ cooking a variety of meats (including crocodile, snake and kangaroo).

14:00 - 15:00 » A guided and very informative journey through the rainforest and across water via an army duck - the highlight of the day! We ground our way up, down and over incredibly steep hills and valleys stopping whenever we spotting something of interest and learning to identify the nice, and nasty, flora and fauna that inhabit the glorious rainforest; we were able to spot and identify all three species of heron, shown what the 'itchy' plant looks like (one can go literally mad from the irritation its chemicals spread through the nervous system... for months!). Another nasty was 'Hairy Lizzie', a vine that throws out tendrils to assist it to climb anything it comes across and if caught will rip you to threads! All very interesting stuff!!!

4. Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Having journeyed up the mountain to Kuranda with the Kuranda Scenic Railway we had already booked the Skyrail with Tropical Horizon for our return after our day tour, and we so glad we did... 

There are great views to be seen of the ferns, palms and orchids that 'deck the treetops' when the gondola first descends to the Barron Falls Station where passengers can alight, take a board-walked canopy stroll and, view the falls - we decided to stay with our gondola as we'd taken in Barron Falls on our way to Kuranda via the train.

The next stop was after climbing to Red Peak Station, the highest point, where we swapped the gondola that had taken us the thirty minute journey from Kuranda to one that would take a further fifteen minutes descending the other side of Red Peak with spectacular views of Cairns and the Reef to eventually arrive at Caravonica Terminal.

Although the gondolas can seat six, the operator breaks the queue with individual groups and so we, being just the two of us, travelled in private and others in their twos, threes, fours, etc according to their grouping... well done Skyrail!

We loved our journey which was a fitting end to what had been a packed-full and marvellous day... we just needed to catch our Tropical Horizon bus back to the Shangri-La.

Dundee's On The Waterfront 

After freshening-up and then enjoying pre-dinner drinks and canapés in the Horizon Club, we took a stroll along the Promenade to Dundee's On The Waterfront and enjoyed a very nice evening meal - indeed!

... Highly recommended when in Cairns 

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