Tag Archives: Kuranda

Back to Kuranda

Halfway to Kuranda, looking back at Cairns

Last time we were in Cairns we took the trip up to Kuranda, a tourist village at the top of the mountains, via cable car going up, and by the Kuranda scenic railway going down. This time, we were driven up a steep, winding road to the village, with a short stop at a lookout over the Barron Gorge. Like last time, I was struck by the size of the chasm the river had carved over the eons. But the several waterfalls, which were probably quite substantial in reality, looked like trickles in comparison.

I wrote a blog about our last visit to Kuranda and it’s probably worth reading it (here’s the link) to give you a comparison to this one. For a start, the weather was completely different, being actually fairly cool, and with low humidity, as opposed to last time’s sultry conditions. The rain that had lashed the coast still threatened here and there, but ended up to be no more than a couple of showers. Perhaps for that reason the village was much less crowded.

It’s a DC3, but it didn’t crash here. It was a prop for a film, and moved here as something to look at

All in all, we’d seen most of it last time. We’d been to the walk-in aviary to see the birds, weren’t all that interested in the other animal displays, so we mooched around enjoying the atmosphere and talking to the locals. Pete’s good at that. While I was taking pictures of the DC3 above, Pete was talking to a man selling ice cream from a van. He was about our vintage, an old sailor who had served on HMAS Sydney (the third one) and he knew his naval history. He mentioned HMAS Sydney 1, which sank the German raider Emden in WW1, and HMAS Sydney 2 which sank, and was sunk by, the German raider Kormoran in WW2.

We found a gemstone and fossil museum and went down to take a look. It was fascinating. The owner had turned his hobby into a job and he was more than happy to tell us about the copy of an allosaurus skeleton guarding his shop. Needless to say, he has ammonites and coprolites and all the usual pretty stuff like amethyst and agate.

There’s a distinct German flavour to parts of Kuranda. One shop sells German small goods, including a few varieties of German sausage served in various ways for lunch. I opted for käseknacker served in a hot dog roll with fried onions, no sauerkraut, eaten with fingers. Pete, always much classier, had his sausage on a plate with German potato salad and sauerkraut, eaten with a knife and fork.

Kuranda is full of arcades and stalls selling souvenirs, clothes, books – you name it. Pete bought a recipe book for “Indian style” food, and I couldn’t go past a bag with a baby elephant on it. I don’t need another bag – I’ll frame the picture.

Eventually we headed for the train to travel back to Cairns. This was much more comfortable than the sauna-like conditions we endured last time, when every seat on the train was filled. We had an entire carriage almost to ourselves, maybe 25 people in all. We were in the classier service, too, drinking several glasses of champagne and munching on salted macadamia nuts as the train eased its way down the mountain.

The train’s locomotives are decorated with the indigenous people’s Dreamtime story of the origin of the gorge. You can read it here.

After we were returned to the hotel, Pete and I went for a wander. The Mantra Esplanade Hotel has seen better days, but it’s in a great location, right at the start of Cairns’s food and entertainment district. Restaurants and bars, dive and tour shops, and souvenir places line the street. Every kind of restaurant imaginable is along there, offering food from cheap and filling to Masterchef stuff. There’s also a wonderful place called the Night Markets where you can pick up all sorts of tourist bargains as well as take away food from stalls. We found a T shirt shop selling T shirts for as little as $8 – they had stitched designs as well as the usual stuck on patterns and – get this – they were made in Australia. I bought 3.

Dinner that night was at another sporting club offering a seafood buffet. It was an improvement on the previous evening, but frankly we would have preferred to stroll down the Esplanade in town to see what caught our fancy, at our own expense. It’s much more fun and involves you in the life of the city. Organised eating is fine when there’s little to no choice, like in an outback pub.

We’d come across plenty of those in the rest of our journey.

Riding the sky rail

Swingin’ up over the rain forest

One of the fun things to do in Cairns is to take a ride up into the tablelands on a cable car, and come back down again on a vintage train after you’ve pottered around at the quaint little town of Kuranda. (or vice versa – here’s all the info) Kuranda is one of those very touristy places, with cafes and restaurants, and markets filled with didgeridoos, T shirts, postcards, artwork, tea towels, stuffed kangaroos… you get the picture. But it also has some other attractions, such as a bird sanctuary, a butterfly house, and a wildlife exhibition where you can get your picture taken holding a koala (for a price, of course). Here’s the Kuranda website.

Tropical Cyclone Debbie wasn’t even a twinkle in a meteorologist’s eye at this stage – but there’s a reason they call it rain forest. There’s always a risk of a shower. So far so good, though. We caught the cable car up to Kuranda, gliding up the mountain over the rain forest, admiring the view over Cairns to the Coral Sea. Helicopters were used to put all the pylons that support the cables into place, causing minimum disruption to the landscape.

A walk through the treetops

We hopped off the cable car at Red Peak, the journey’s highest point, and took a walk along a board walk through the top of the rain forest. Tour guides take groups along and explain the ecology, and you can admire the view for as long as you like before you jump back into a car to continue the journey to the viewing platform for Barron Falls. I was really, really looking forward to that. I’d seen some pictures online from just a few weeks before, showing the falls thundering down into its gorge.

Barron gorge with a bit of waterfall. That’s the train on the opposite side to give some context.

So yeah, I was very, very, very disappointed. Oh well. Ma Nature runs according to her own rhythms. And the dam at the top of the falls did the rest. On to Kuranda.

After we’d pottered around the markets for a while, we headed for the bird sanctuary, a large, free-fly aviary with an assortment of native and exotic birds, many of them very friendly, especially if you brought in food (sold by the sanctuary). We were warned before we went in that the birds would be attracted to jewellery, buttons on caps and the like. It’s true… it’s true. One parrot immediately landed on Col’s baseball cap and pulled off the button at the top. One bird landed on Pete’s shoulder, and several other people had birds sitting on their arms or shoulders.

At one stage as we walked around most of the birds suddenly stared upwards. Sure enough, a wedge-tailed eagle soared high above the sanctuary. They were safe, of course, but old habits remain.

Here’s a selection of pictures.

This Alexandrine made a beeline for Col’s hat

Male red tailed cockatoo

Female red tailed cockatoo

Deep in conversation with a Columbian sun conure

A cattle egret showing off

A male eclectus parrot (native Australian)

Female eclectus parrot. This is one of those rare occasions where the female is brighter than the male

A koala doing what koalas do best

I expect somebody is going to ask to see the picture of me holding a koala. There isn’t one. Few places today allow tourists to handle koalas since it’s believed it stresses the animal. Think about it. You’re a sedentary, mainly solitary creature. You spend between 18 and 22 hours per day sleeping, and quite a lot of the rest eating. You’re carried out by someone you know, and you’re handed over to a complete stranger who probably has no idea what to do with you and maybe giggles excitedly while somebody else pokes a camera at you. Phew. That’s over. You seek refuge with your usual handler. And then a new stranger comes along and you have to do it all over again. So no. Not me.

Mind you, there are a number of koalas at the few places that allow strangers to handle the animals. I expect there’s a rotation so one koala only features in a few shots at a time, and they would be carefully supervised by handlers. I also appreciate that offering the opportunity might make money to help with conservation, but I can’t help but feel it’s a bit like sacrificing some koalas for the many. Koalas are now endangered because humans have encroached on their habitat. We need to give them room to live safely away from dogs and cars. Here’s a bit of info about koalas.

We had lunch with rain squall accompaniment (we were inside, watching from a veranda), and after we’d bought a few T shirts, we caught the train back down to the valley. It’s an old train with antique carriages where the air conditioning is you opening the windows. It was like being in a sauna as the train crept down the steep gradients. We stopped for ten minutes at Barron Falls, which was just as disappointing from this side as it had been from the other. All the way, we learned about how this railway line had been built in the 1880’s, opening in 1891. Here’s a little of the history. OH&S hadn’t been invented then. All the tunnels (there are fifteen) were dug by hand after initial blasting, and the workers were expected to bring their own tools. Same with bridges and track. There are spectacular views across Cairns of course, and the train stopped for a few moments so we could take photos of Stoney Creek Falls – which almost made up for Barron Falls. (Did I mention how disappointed I was?)

Stoney creek Falls – right next to the railway line. Photo taken from the train.

One of several tight curves on the track. This one’s on a bridge.

The sun was setting when we got back to Palm Cove. It had been a Big Day Out.