After having spent a couple of short breaks in the Cairns area we felt ready to explore more of the attractions that are available in the area. The Great Barrier Reef is of course one of the most-do experiences this high up north in Queensland, but there are also a number of land-based activities that are great to explore with the kids.
After some research we settled for Skyrail, a cableway experience that would take us deep into the pristine rainforest landscape of tropical north Queensland. There were a number of reasons why we wanted to give this experience a go:
- First of all, Skyrail offers a brand-new perspective on the area and some unrivalled views of the Cairns region.
- Secondly, it is an easy to do attraction that works really well with children of all ages.
- Lastly, Skyrail is a valid option if you want to pay a visit to the rainforest village of Kuranda, a worthwhile destination that in itself is a standalone attraction. Travelling to Kuranda using Skyrail conveniently combined two of the region’s most cherished attractions.
What we didn’t know back then: Skyrail is more than just a means of transport. It is a romantic way of exploring the dense tropical jungle that covers much of the coastal region around Cairns. It is also a very educational experience, perfect to show the kids some interesting facts about the rainforest ecosystem. It is also a perfect way to learn more about the region’s history.
To get started, you will need to visit the official website to pre-book your gondola for your preferred travel time. Don’t get me wrong: you can rock up spontaneously on the day, but if you want to avoid waiting in an endless queue it is best if you can commit to a time slot beforehand. You will also save 5% if you do which is great because at $50 for adults one-way or $75 for adults return all savings are much appreciated.
Now, you can choose to book a one-way ticket which will get you from the base station at Smithfield near Cairns to Kuranda (a 7.5km trip), but that will leave you stranded in Kuranda. The better option is to book a return ticket with Skyrail, or even better to book a combo ticket on the Kuranda Scenic Railway which is operated by the same company. This will give you two means of transports and two very different experiences in a day.
We didn’t opt for the railway this time but preferred the return ticket instead. If I were to do it again, I would definitely try the combo ticket, just to get the most out of the experience.
Not to say that the Skyrail wasn’t a fantastic experience in its own right. It is in fact quite a marvellous attraction, right from the start.
Once you have taken your seat in one of the six-seater gondolas you are pulled up that first peak, with amazing views of the coast from Palm Cove to Cairns. But it didn’t stop here.
Very soon we were diving into the spectacular scenery of the Queensland rainforest. A variety of trees were vying for our attention, from conifers to palm trees, to gum trees, to fern trees. The perspective from above was new and unusual, the experience rather intimate.
We could see bright blue Ulysses butterflies dancing above the canopy. Bird’s nest fern, plants that only live in the crowns of tall trees, usually hidden from the human eye. Real birds’ nests and other strange constructs made by animals, that are just some of the rainforest’s secrets. Different shades of green grabbed our attention, changes in foliage, a steep rock cliff covered in vegetation, the songs of the birds.
With a plonk and a shake we passed the first of many supporting poles, the only disturbance as we glided further up into the mountains and deeper into the thick rainforest landscape. The further we went, the more the fauna around us changed. You could virtually see how the human influence on the landscape ceased and the natural environment was taking over again. You couldn’t see a landscape as pristine as this any other way. Roads would inadvertently bring with them the curse of civilisation, the spoiling seeds of invasive plants, the dirt and destruction of humankind.
But sitting in this Skyrail gondola we felt like we were not intruding at all. We were strangely detached and yet we were offered some very intimate glances into the depths of the rainforest.
Our first stop was Red Peak Station. You must disembark here, and I am not saying this because you are required to change your gondola cabin at this stop. I am saying this because what you had previously only observed from above was now presented to you in a hands-on experience as you followed the short boardwalk through the green Queensland rainforest.
With the kids in tow, impatient as always, we opted not to wait for the complimentary tour along the boardwalk but decided to explore in our own time instead. As we walked among the trees it was becoming soon apparent that the impressions we could gather here were different from our bird’s eye view earlier.
In the dense vegetation underneath the canopy light became a commodity. We could see different plants here than from above, those that were taking advantage of the shadier conditions, and other that were yet to break through the dense rainforest carpet to reach the precious sunlight. We discovered plants that were happy with their dark surroundings, and others – vines, new trees and canes, that were striving upwards in the fasted way possible. Kauri trees, giants of the rainforest, could be seen here just like mosses, lichens and ferns.
Before we returned to our Skyrail gondola for the next section of our trip we also took in the magical views from the lookout where the clouds painted a patchwork pattern of dark greens onto the emerald forest that was spreading out in front of us.
Our next part of the trip took us to Barron Falls. Getting off here was optional since you didn’t have to change gondolas, but what you would miss out on are the amazing views of Barron Falls, that are cascading down rocks of the most astounding iridescent shade in a pristine rainforest setting. It is hard to say what causes these colours on the stone but they did remind us a lot of the lead mine that you would have in a pencil, so there was probably a lot of graphite in the stone. We had never seen anything like it in nature before.
No wonder that the local Aborigines have their own stories surrounding a place as magical as the Barron Falls. They call it Din Din, and see its creation strongly associated with the Rainbow Serpent. Is it any surprise, given that during wet season the waterfalls swell enormously, thus offering perfect conditions for rainbows close to the ground?
On the day that we visited, the falls were rather tamed. During wet season or after strong rainfall you can imagine that a lot more water would cascade down this gorge – something to keep in mind if you were wondering if a Skyrail trip would ever make sense on rainy days (the answer is, yes!).
On a more practical side, Barron Falls played a pivotal role in the construction of a hydroelectric development in the 1930’s, and some of the equipment could still be seen on the site.
After just another 10 minutes on the Skyrail we arrived at Kuranda, the village in the rainforest. As I said before, it’s a destination in the Cairns region worth visiting, and its the perfect place for a lunch or to visit some other local attractions such as wildlife parks, markets and art galleries. You could easily spent a couple of hours in Kuranda. It’s a historic place that has always had an irresistible attraction on people that were looking for solitude, peace, and inspiration – to this very day.
Overall, our Skyrail experience was fantastic. We didn’t expect to be given so much more than just a ride in the skies. The two stops along the way were perfect to get a glimpse of this complex and ancient ecosystem. The kids enjoyed the fun of riding in the gondola (waving to other passengers as they came past). the views of the scenery, the easy walk in the forest. It is not a cheap attraction by any means but in my view it delivers an unforgettable experience that caters well for families and less mobile visitors. The themes Skyrail touches on – nature, history, conservation – will serve well people with a variety of interests.