Kuranda Scenic Railway

A must-do if you’re up in Cairns is a visit to Kuranda on the Atherton Tableland.

Kuranda Scenic Railway

Just 27kms away it will take you just over 30 minutes to drive over the mountain and arrive at the village in the rainforest. Or, you could book a seat on the scenic railway and spend the next couple of hours snaking up through the Macalister Range ooh-ing and aah-ing at the incredible scenery and majestic waterfalls. And, if you booked the gold class, you get wine. Yeah, I know, there is no contest really. Besides, we decided that we’re gold class kinda girls.

We chose to drive to Freshwater Station (about 15 minutes drive north) to begin our experience, although if you don’t have transport you can join the train at Cairns Station, although the gold class experience doesn’t commence until Freshwater.

Once onboard we’re introduced to our host for the journey and talked through the wines and food we’d be sampling. We do a quick calculation and figure that if we were in New Zealand it would be nearly lunchtime so we’re good to go with some bubbles. #its12oclocksomewhere

To build the Cairns to Kuranda railway 15 tunnels, 93 curves and 37 bridges were built by hand to climb from sea-level to 328m up the range through tropical rainforest. Many lives were lost in the process. It was, and still is, an engineering marvel.

But why have a train through here in the first place? Back in the 1880s it certainly wasn’t with the forethought that in a hundred year’s time it would make for a great tourist attraction. No, the reason was much more prosaic than that – it was about getting supplies to tin miners. You see, the great wet of 1882 was greater and wetter than usual (when it rains up here it RAINS) and the tin miners in Herberton (on the Tablelands about 100kms south-west of Cairns) were unable to obtain supplies and were on the verge of famine. The road leading inland from Port Douglas was boggy and proving impossible – a railway was needed.

Today the railway survives for the tourist traffic, bringing visitors up from Cairns to Kuranda for the day. Normally most tourists will go up the mountain by train and back by cable car (SkyRail) but due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Sky Rail wasn’t running, so it was up and back by train – which was no great hardship as far as we were concerned.

The train stops briefly at Barron Falls so we can get out and have a good look at the falls. As a side note, if you are travelling to Kuranda by car you can walk down to the falls. It’s about 1 km and from what I read, is on raised boardwalk most of the way.

Coming back there’s more wine, a cheese platter, and more great views.


Up in Kuranda, there is plenty to do yet, to be honest, we didn’t make the most of our day. We didn’t think we’d have time to do some of the activities and visit the markets and have lunch, yet as it turned out the markets were a bit ho-hum and we could have fitted in a rainforest boat tour.

There’s also the Rainforestation Nature Park – a full experience (they recommend allowing 2.5 hours for this) involving indigenous dance, rainforest and wildlife tours and, of course, crocodiles. We did, however, go to the Bird Park – one of those free-flight aviary types.

Sarah really isn’t a fan of birds (I have this fabulous photo of her at 2 or 3 with her little face screwed up and howling because a lorikeet at Currumbin Bird Park landed on her shoulder) and muttered pretty much the whole way around “it better not come near me…” I have no such issues and laughed as they climbed all around me.

The birds did, however, keep a safe distance from her and she did go as far as to say afterwards that she was glad we went in.

I especially loved the colours in some of the feathers…

We’d planned to eat lunch at the pub, although the one we wanted to go to was closed because of COVID-19 – and so were a few of the others we wanted to go to. There are, however, other options all through the village. We ended up with a (very average) Caesar Salad at Rainforest View Restaurant – but the view was great.

Want more info?

You can take day tours from both Cairns and Port Douglas or do it under your own steam (such as we did). All the links and info you need you can find here.

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Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

7 thoughts

  1. Yay, you are — Gold Class kind of gals, that is! This looks like such an amazing trip — and one that I would definitely enjoy. I am with Sarah on the birds though – lovely to look at but please don’t land on me! 😀

  2. Jo this pist brings back so many memories for me. I haven’t been on the railway but I’ve been to Kuranda. In the early 90s we did a two week bike ride starting and finishing at Cairns. Your post reminded me of the night we spent camping in tests in the Daintree at Dianne Cilentos retreat. Your photos are beautiful

  3. Oh my goodness, how gorgeous are the birds. I may have fell in love with that first blue one.
    We didn’t do this while in Cairns/Port Douglas, but I did see it on the tourist brochure. Next time for sure!

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