Thursday, 24 September 2015

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway: Cairns to Kuranda

Far North Queensland conjures up images of white sand beaches, coral and tropical islands but not far back from the coast you will find one of the oldest continuously surviving tropical rainforests on the planet. Barron Gorge National Park is home to a World Heritage listed tropical rainforest, and there is no more stunning way to see it than from above - on Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.


This Cairns must do attraction runs from Smithfield Terminal, on the outskirts of Cairns to the little town of Kuranda on the edge of the Atherton Tablelands. For 7.5 km (4 mi) Skyrail takes you on a journey above one of the most pristine rainforests in the world. As the gondola ascends on your Cairns Rainforest tour you alternate between soaring above the forest canopy and pulling back to skim the tops of the trees. Boardwalks and forest trails at two intermediate stations give you a chance to explore the heart of the forest.

 As you leave the terminal look back for magnificent views of the coastal plain and out to the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

Skimming the tree tops.


Red Peak Station - 2.7 km and 10 minutes from Smithfield Terminal

Stop at Red Peak Station, 545 m above sea level, and take a ranger guided tour to learn about the forest and the constant struggle for survival by its inhabitants; both plants and animals.  If you are lucky you might see a Cassowary, one of the world's most dangerous birds, or perhaps a goanna clinging to a tree trunk above you.  Don't forget to stop occasionally to admire the forest giants; the towering Kauri Pines. They grow up to 60 metres high, pushing through the forest canopy to bask in the sunlight above.


Kauri Pines are the tallest trees in the forest and can reach heights of 60 metres.
Boardwalk through the forest at Red Peak Station.

Barron Falls Station - 3.1 km and 12-14 minutes from Red Peak Station

As you leave Red Peak Station, Skyrail dips down almost touching the tops of the trees before arriving at Barron Falls Station where a short walk along the path takes you to lookouts over the beautiful Barron Falls.

Barron Falls Station


Barron Falls in August.

Leave time at Barron Falls Station to take the Djabugay Aboriginal Tour and be immersed in the way of life of the forest's original inhabitants. You will see an indigenous Bayu shelter and learn the difference between returning and non-returning boomerangs, and the separate roles each played in hunting animals. You will also learn the different uses for forest plants - which are edible, which are deadly and which can be used for traditional medicines or making weapons and utensils.  As you listen to the stories of your Djabugay guide you cannot help but appreciate how unique and precious Australia's aboriginal heritage is.

A traditional shelter.
On the Djabugay Tour you will learn about traditional food and medicines. The trouble is I can't remember whether these are edible or deadly!
We paused here to learn about Aboriginal life.
This goanna heard us coming and scampered up the nearest tree.

Kuranda - 1.7 kms and 7-8 minutes from Barron Falls Station

Just before arriving at Kuranda, Skyrail crosses the Barron River. The river's tranquil appearance belies its more frightening inhabitants; snakes and freshwater crocodiles.

Pause for lunch in the village and visit Kuranda's heritage markets. If you have time, wander through Birdworld with its brightly coloured free flight birds - beware your loose jewellery unless you don't mind it being snatched by an inquisitive parrot - or see the butterflies at the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary or cuddle a koala at the Kuranda Koala Gardens.

There is plenty to see and do at Kuranda Village.

Diamond View Cabins and the Canopy Glider

Diamond View Gondolas have a glass floor giving you a bird's eye view straight down into the forest. When David and I rode Skyrail we were in a Diamond View Gondola for part of our journey. They cost a bit more but they are worth the upgrade. Between Red Peak and Barron Falls station the gondolas travel just above the forest canopy. We felt like we could almost reach out and touch the tops of the trees. Then as we came into Kuranda our gondola stopped for a few breath-taking minutes directly above the Barron River - we learnt later that a wheel-chair bound traveller was being assisted off. Looking straight down into the water 50 metres or so below us was an unforgettable experience.

Looking down on the forest through the floor of a Diamond View Gondola

The Canopy Glider is an open air platform with safety rails. Passengers in the Canopy Glider are accompanied by a Skyrail Ranger.  Being frightened of heights, David would pay extra not to take the glider but if you are seeking a thrill-ride then this is for you. Book the glider in advance; there are only two rides each day.

Imagine riding above the forest in this!


One-way or return: Combining Skyrail with the Kuranda Scenic Railway

You can combine a one-way Skyrail journey with a return via the Kuranda Scenic Railway. Skyrail's Kuranda Terminal is adjacent to Kuranda Station and at the Cairns end there are transfers between Skyrail's Smithfield Terminal and the Kuranda Scenic Railway's Freshwater Station.

David and I travelled on the Kuranda Scenic Railway many years ago, before Skyrail existed. It was a wonderful day out. However this time we decided to enjoy the full Skyrail experience by taking the gondolas both ways.


Where is Skyrail and how do you get there?

  • Skyrail is 15 minutes drive north of Cairns and 50 minutes south of Port Douglas.
  • The terminal at the Cairns end, called the Smithfield Terminal, is in the suburb of Smithfield.
  • There is plenty of free parking at the terminal.
  • Skyrail operates a coach transfer service from hotels in Cairns and Port Douglas. 
  • You can join Skyrail at either end. The Kuranda Terminal is a short, downhill walk from Kuranda Village. There are maps and signs in the village pointing the way.


One-way or return: combining Skyrail with the Kuranda Scenic Railway.

  • You can buy a combination ticket which goes one-way on Skyrail and the other on the Kuranda Scenic Railway. 

What are the operating hours and how much does it cost?

  • Skyrail is open from 9.00 am to 5.15 pm every day except Christmas Day. The last cabin down from Kuranda leaves at 3.45 pm. (See Tips and Tricks below - for timing your return ride)
  • Skyrail costs $50/adult, $25/child and $125/family one way ($75/$37.50/$187.50 return). If you book online you will receive a 5% discount.  A child is defined as being between 4 and 14 years inclusive while a family is defined as 2 adults and 2 children of the same family. 
  • Click here for a full list of prices and packages.
  • Extra charges apply for the Djabugay Aboriginal Tour, Diamond View Gondolas and the Canopy Glider. The Ranger Guided Boardwalk Tours are included in the entry price.

Tips, tricks and things to know
  • Wear sensible shoes, particularly if you intend to take the Djabugay Aboriginal Tour.
  • When you reach Red Peak station you will change gondolas. At Barron Falls station you can stay aboard and ride straight through if you wish.
  • Leave yourself at least half an hour to look around at the intermediate stations, more if you want to do the Ranger Guided Boardwalk Tour or the Djabugay Aboriginal Tour. Although the last gondola down from Kuranda leaves at 3.45 pm, the last gondola from Red Peak leaves much later at about 4.50 pm.
  • Far North Queensland is in the Tropics. It has a 'wet' season and a 'dry' season. The wet season runs from as early as November to as late as the end of March. It is hot and humid with very high rainfall. If you visit in the wet season be prepared for periods of heavy, tropical rain.
  • Australia's winter months, between June and August, are the most popular times to visit Far North Queensland. 


Would we recommend Skyrail?

  • Yes - absolutely!

David and I received complimentary tickets to Skyrail including the Djabugay Aboriginal Tour. We also received complimentary entry to Birdworld, The Australian Butterfly Sanctuary and the Kuranda Koala Gardens.

This post is linked to Travel Photo Mondays.



60 comments:

  1. Nice pictures! I was also taking pictures of those blue seeds :)

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    1. Haha - they are very photogenic seeds.

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  2. Wonderfull landscapes, greeting from Belgium

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    1. Australia is a much more diverse country than it is given credit for. So many people we meet think it is all dry outback and desert. I confess Belgium is one country we have never really been to. We drove through it once but I don't think that really counts.

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  3. What can I say but I totally agree that this has to be on everyones to do list. It is a magical environment and a unique way to experience it.

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    1. I have been following your travels in Far North Queensland with interest, re-living most of our recent trip.

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  4. Beautiful pictures! This looks like a magical place. Thanks for sharing tips and details.

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  5. Thanks for sharing this one with us at #TheWeeklyPostcard Lyn, when I get to Cairns this is definitely going on my list

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    1. You won't regret it. We had a fantastic day. Just make sure you give yourself plenty of time.

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  6. Great post, Lyn. Australia is such a diverse country. I wish it was closer to me. I've never been there but in transit, so I think it's about time for a visit. Thank you for joining us for #TheWeeklyPostcard. We so love reading your posts!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. I am amazed that you have been here in transit - lol. I didn't think Australia was on the way to anywhere, except perhaps New Zealand.

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  7. A fabulous experience - I'd love to take the glider, but the gondola looks amazing too. What a lot to see and do, and such natural beauty. #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. Haha - you are braver than I to want to take the glider. It looks fun but I prefer the idea of having glass walls around me.

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  8. What amazing scenery! Thanks for sharing your experience. I'll be in Queensland for just a couple days in November but unfortunately don't think I'll have time to check this out. There is always next time!

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    1. I hope you get good weather in November. It is right on the edge of the wet season. Good luck.

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  9. The Skyrail sounds wonderful! Even with my fear of heights I wish I'd known about it when we were in Cairns some years back.

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    1. It was just fantastic. We had a great day. Isn't it annoying though when you arrive home from a place only to find there was something you would have loved to do but didn't know about - happens to me all the time but that may be because I want to do everything.

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  10. The skyrail looks so much fun and so beautiful. I went to Kuranda so long ago (late 80s?) that it was way before the skyrail existed. I did however take the scenic railway and remember that being very beautiful too. I'd love to go back and I'd love to do the canopy glider too.

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    1. We were in Cairns in about '89. I remember the year because our now 27 year old son was one. Skyrail hadn't been built then but it celebrated its 20th birthday on the day we were there this year.

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  11. Your photos are gorgeous, the views are captivating and I love learning about the traditional foods and medicines. Thank you so much for sharing this remarkable tour, and warm greetings from Montreal, Canada. :)

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    1. Canada is on our list again for next year. The east coast this time. We once did a road trip around the Gaspe Peninsular and down through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia - just loved it. Maybe we'll get to Montreal this time.

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  12. Looks great. This is something I will like to experience.

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    1. You would love it - everyone would. It is just great fun.

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  13. I hate to confess that I took the kids to Cairns and Port Douglas last year and we didn't do this trip - oops. I love trains too and would definitely do Skyrail out, train back... and will next time.

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    1. Haha - you can't do everything I suppose.

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  14. Lyn, I've always been interested in the aboriginal food. I would love to take this tour, and really who doesn't want to see those views from the Skyrail!

    Thanks for linking up with #wkendtravelinspiration!

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    1. The best part about the views was looking down through the glass floor of our Gondola. It was quite surreal.

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  15. I've been up to Cairns and explored the rainforest but didn't get to experience the skyrail or cableway - hopefully next time. Your photos are beautiful!

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    1. It is a stunning area, pretty easy to take great photos.

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  16. I took the Skyrail over the Barron Gorge some years ago. It was the dry season so the river was almost empty but it was still pretty spectacular - it must have been even more so when you went!

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    1. They say Barron Falls is stunning in the wet season. We were also there in the dry season, toward the end of it when you would expect the falls to have the least amount of water but maybe we got lucky. We have seen lots of spectacular falls around the world including Niagara and Iguazu but Barron Falls was pretty good.

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  17. Those cable cars look like so much fun! The last time we rode a cable car was in Barcelona. That and a hot air balloon are great ways to see a place from above.

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    1. D won't go up in a balloon. He is scared of heights and doesn't do early mornings so I have to content myself with cable cars. This one was without doubt one of the best.

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  18. Love a good skyrail (I just posted about one too haha!) and it sounds like a great adventure for the whole family!

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    1. Haha - I will pop over to your blog and have a look. We have been on a lot of cable cars around the world. I wonder if we have been on the one you went one.

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  19. Wow, what a fabulous attraction! Like David, I would pay extra not to ride in the open canopy and I'm afraid the glass floor would be a trigger, too. That said, this post reminded me of all the wonderful aspects of Australia. For U.S. travelers, there is a sufficient amount of familiar, and then you'll be confronted with an exotic twist that is just delightful.

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    1. Now that the US dollar has gone up again against the Aussie it is a wonderful place for Americans to visit. We speak the same language, have a very similar culture and like Americans - what else can you ask for - lol.

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  20. Beautiful shots. And that palm tree - it's amazing!!!
    Thanks for linking up at http://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2015/09/shake-those-tail-feathers.html

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    1. Haha - It's a pine tree. A Kauri Pine and you are right, it is just magnificent.

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  21. This post brings back so many great memories when we took the Skyrail with a return ticket on the railway 7 years ago! I do not recall the open air glider, we're not afraid of heights and would have loved to do that! I will keep it in mind for a return trip.

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    1. Maybe the Canopy Glider is new. At first I thought it was for doing maintenance but I looked it up on Skyrail's website and realised you can ride in it.

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  22. Taking the cableway from Cairns to Kuranda and the railway back down is one of my favorite memories from our trip to Australia. Now, I wish we had splurged for the Diamond View. It sounds so exciting. However, I agree with David about the Canopy Glider.

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    1. Haha - I think you are either a Canopy Glider person or you aren't. For what it is worth I thought the Diamond View Gondola was absolutely worth the extra cost but David thought the non-Diamond View was just as good.

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  23. Wow, this looks fantastic! What a great way to see the forest. I'm guessing those blue things are deadly poison. At least that's what I would go with just to be safe.

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    1. Ha ha - wise advice. I can see you are a seasoned traveller.

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  24. I'm used to cable cars in the Norwegian mountains but going on a cable car ride in the rain forest sounds like so much more fun!

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    1. Cable cars are always fun. We have never been to Norway but my brother just came back from there and put up some great photos on Facebook of beautiful scenery. He loved the place.

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  25. Barron Falls looks amazing! I would have freaked out on the gondola ride though :)

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  26. Wow, how incredible! I would love to take the gondola and glider, I imagine you felt so close to nature :)

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    1. Australia is a wonderful place to get close to nature. D and I are in the Hunter Valley right now just north of Sydney. We look out into the bush and see kangaroos every evening - it is fantastic.

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  27. Stunning landscapes! I’m a little afraid of heights, but this looks totally worth it!

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    1. D is scared of heights. He doesn't even like cycling across the Harbour Bridge and he absolutely refuses to ride on ferris wheels but he seemed to manage Skyrail without any trouble.

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  28. A shame we didn't get time to do this when we were up there, looks great.
    Thanks for linking up for #wednesdaywanderlust

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    1. There is always next time. If you are like me, Far North Queensland will draw you back a few times.

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  29. We drove up to Kuranda when we were up there but I would love to do the skyrail next time!

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    1. We have driven to Kuranda on previous visits. I have to tell you it was a lot more fun getting there via Skyrail.

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  30. We have been to Port Douglas for the last two years and still haven't made it to Kuranda. I keep saying we need to go - maybe next time!

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    1. It is a lovely little town and well worth the trip.

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