ROAD TRIP DIARIES # 26
On our second day in Cairns, Charles and I set out on a day trip to Kuranda, a popular mountain village known for its quirky markets, bush walks, wildlife parks, and hippie culture. On this particular trip however, we were more thrilled with the journey itself rather than the destination.
Although we enjoy traipsing through the rainforest, spotting wildlife, or hunting for great bargain in the local markets, it was the chance to board a historic train and Australia’s longest gondola cableway that made this trip unique and novel.
Our journey began at Freshwater Railway Station situated in a tranquil suburb half an hour from Cairns. We arrived at the station quite early so we whiled away the time at the museum and inside a pioneer cottage that had been set up to tell the remarkable history of the railway.
Freshwater Staion Museum
Constructed between 1882-1891, Cairns-Kuranda Railway was built by hundreds of men, many of which lost their lives while building the 15 hand-made tunnels and 57 bridges that cut through the World Heritage rainforest.
The station wasn’t just a waiting platform for the train but a bustling tourist hub complete with souvenir shops and restaurant designed with tables inside retired 85-year old railway carriages.
Off on the Kuranda Scenic Railway
The crowd instantly converged on the platform at the first sound of the horn and shutters started clicking like a mob of paparazzi about to welcome a celebrity on a red carpet. When the spectacle had mellowed down, we found ourselves on board an elegantly outfitted carriage with a voice recording about the history of Kuranda Scenic Railway piping in through the in-carriage speakers.
The train wound its way along the 34-kilometer scenic railway cutting through some of the oldest and most pristine rainforest in the world. It moved rather slowly and intentionally reduced its speed while laboring around some of the steep, sharp curves cut into the mountainside.
The highlight of this ride for me was passing over the numerous narrow bridges perched above dizzying canyons as well as a stopover at the breathtaking Barron Gorge Lookout. There wasn’t as much water flowing over cascades at Barron Falls as in the picture we had seen in the gallery, but the immensity of the gorge was still quite impressive. I felt my photos did not do justice on the grandness of this geological wonder.
Barron Gorge Lookout
Roaming the Rainforest Village
After an hour’s train ride, we arrived at a lively rainforest village already swarmed with tourists poking through its many markets and man-made attractions. We skipped all of the wildlife parks since we had already seen most of the Australian animals in the wild for free (including a python, which I never even wanted to see).
The village was as touristy and commercialised as the city of Cairns but I loved every part of it. After all, I seldom get to visit a vibrant little village surrounded by World Heritage Listed Rainforest and with a thriving alternative lifestyle
One of the highlights of my time here was watching old-fashioned candy making at the Kuranda Candy Kitchen and the making of nougat in another candy shop, which both offered free taste to everyone with sweet tooth.
Making of the traditional handcrafted candies
Mixing the nougat ingredients
It was tempting to take home some aboriginal paintings and local handicrafts but we decided against it. We still have a long way to go on this trip and it be would be cumbersome to lug them around in our already crowded motorhome. Instead, I managed to get a small boomerang and 3 small rubber toys that grow under water for the little ones back home.
Meeting the Global Gypsy
While perusing the shops of bohemian clothes and accessories in another alley, we chanced upon the store of Gerar Toye, a hippie nomad from New Zealand who calls himself the Global Gypsy. He had been on the road for last twenty years and shares spontaneous images and insights on his website.
He also sells shirts, postcards and books of his travel photos around the world hoping to raise funds for his film. Its plot has something to do with the assassination of Bush so we ended getting one. Despite the influx of visitors in Kuranda, it somehow managed to retain its alternative feel.
We skipped the river cruise as well and basically anything that required shelling out money for something that we could see for free while trekking in the forest. That included the Koala Garden, the Butterfly Sanctuary, the Birdworld and other parks offering encounter with the native fauna.
Our purposed here after all was to experience the scenic transport between Cairns and Kuranda which was already pricey on its own. Instead, we tried some of its nature walks and had a great time strolling along the riverbanks covered with Eucalyptus and a backdrop of lustrous rainforest.
Skyrail Rainforest Cable Way
My favorite part of the trip was boarding one of the gondola cabins on our way back to Cairns. It was an amazing experience to have a bird’s eye view of an ancient rainforest for the first time. It was a whole new perspective gliding over the thick canopy of trees and tracing the length of Barron River.
The Skyrail was constructed from the air by a helicopter so as to completely protect the vegetation below. It took 7 years to get permission to build this structure over the rainforest.
Barron Gorge Lookout
There were several stops along the way including the Red Peak and Barron Falls Lookout and the Interactive Rainforest Information Center. We did our own rainforest boardwalk and eavesdropped on this guy who was doing a guided tour on a group of gray nomads. Apparently the tree I was photographing at the time was 400 years old and we learned some interesting trivia along the way.
From the Skyrail Station, we boarded the complementary bus back to Freshwater Railway Station and drove back to Cairns Holiday Park. This day surprised us in many ways but before we even reached our camping ground, I was already daydreaming about finding Nemo the next day.
(This is part of our 6-week North Queensland Road Trip Series, which took place July- August 2010)
Australian Road Trip 101: A Vantastic Beginning
Road Trip Diaries # 1 – An Encounter with the Strangest Animal in the World
Road Trip Diaries # 2 – Of Strangler Figs, Leeches and Long Holidays
Road Trip Diaries # 3 - Exploring Finch Hatton Gorge
Road Trip Diaries # 4 – Cape Hillsborough: On Bush Walks Beach Strolls and Star Gazing
Road Trip Diaries # 5 – Cape Hillsborough: Sunrise and Wild Kangaroos
Road Trip Diaries # 6 – Airlie Beach: Beaches Babes and Backpackers
Road Trip Diaries # 7 – Ocean Rafting to the Whitsundays
Road Trip Diaries # 8 – Unexpected Encounters
Road Trip Diaries # 9 – Exploring Bowenwood
Road Trip Diaries # 10 – Townsville: Finding Nemo and the Sunken Pandora
Road Trip Diaries # 11 – A Visit at the Billabong Sanctuary and Castle Hill
Road Trip Diaries # 12 – Magnetic Island: What Captain Cook Missed
Road Trip Diaries # 13 – Paluma Range National Park: A Walk in the Clouds
Road Trip Diaries # 14 – Of Didgeridoo, Exotic Fruits and Why I love Camping in the Bush
Road Trip Diaries # 15 – Jourama Falls: A Gray Nomad Affair
Road Trip Diarues # 16 – The Bird Man of Tyto Wetlands
Road Trip Diaries # 17 – The Quest for Wallaman Falls
Road Trip Diaries # 18 – Hinchinbrook Island: Experiencing the Wilderness
Road Trip Diaires # 19 – The Tully Show: My First Aussie Fair
Road Trip Diaries # 20 - Mission Beach: Where Have All the Cassowaries Gone?
Road Trip Diaries # 21 – White Water Rafting at Tully River
Road Trip Diaries # 22 – Finding Our Way to the Enchanted Ruins
Road Trip Diaries # 23 – Paronella Park: The Dream Continues
Road Trip Diaries # 24 – Exploring Wooroonooran National Park
Road Trip Diaries # 25 – Cairns: Exploring the Urban Jungle