On track from sea to sky
MATT LENNON hitches a ride aboard an historic tourist attraction that offers a glimpse into a bygone era.
AMID A seemingly endless sea of serenity and sugarcane, a giant, hulking locomotive loudly chugging through suburban Cairns might seem out of place.
Not in the case of the Kuranda Scenic Railway.
In fact, as one of North Queensland’s most revered tourist attractions, locals happily wave as it rolls on its daily return journey between downtown Cairns and the 135-million-year-old Daintree, the world’s oldest rainforest.
Setting off around 8:30am each day, more than a dozen time-tested and heritage-listed carriages lurch through suburbia and the cane fields before beginning a winding, hour-long run into the MacAlister Range and through the rainforest to the village of Kuranda – 327 metres above sea level.
Buffs of railways, décor and history will be in their element onboard the century-old timber rolling stock.
The royal red vintage Heritage Class interiors cater four to a row in opposing pews, each with red leather seats and wooden backboards.
On a warm day, as most tend to be in Cairns, the non-air-conditioned heritage carriages mean hydration is an absolute must, so bring plenty of your own water or fluids.
Seats are allocated in advance, so there’s no guaranteeing whether you’ll have an aisle or window view. Either way, expect an awkward jostling of the knees with your seatmates.
While Heritage Class carries a certain appeal, upgrades are also available to Gold Class, which features lounge-style chairs and a dedicated cabin steward serving morning or afternoon tea during the journey.
While these carriages also do not feature air-con, the extra space and individual seating is worth the investment.
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Whichever way you ride, the journey up or down the mountain is a feast for the eyes. Audio commentary recounts the tale of how the railway came to be – a necessity to appease tin miners and settlers unable to obtain supplies from the coast via impassable tracks inland from Port Douglas.
Highlights of the journey include the crossing of Barron Gorge, with the backdrop of a thunderous waterfall in full flight making for amazing photographs.
Around 10 minutes from Kuranda, a brief stop at the oddly located Barron Falls “station” allows travellers the opportunity to scramble off to capture more images of the surrounding flora.
The train then pulls into Kuranda, where guests can spend a few hours wandering this small village where you can pick up souvenirs or wander among local markets.
There’s a butterfly sanctuary, koala gardens and Birdworld, where you can wander among, feed and admire some colourful birds including a safe enclosure for one of the region’s enormous (and often cantankerous) cassowaries. And of course, plenty of places to get something to eat and drink or an ice-cream to freshen up.
While the main railway terminal in Cairns is an option for departure, the Kuranda Scenic Railway collects most of its clientele at Freshwater Station, around 20-minutes north of the city itself.
If you’re driving from Cairns, there is a carpark at Freshwater Station if you’re catching the train in both directions. Transfers are also available between the station and the Skyrail Cable Car, where you can also park your car.
Located adjacent to the train station, the cable-car is your alternative mode of transport to or from Kuranda, if the train only catches your fancy in one-direction.