Skyrail in the Rainforest and Kuranda Railroad – Cairns

Another day, another tour. Today we set out for the Rainforest Skyrail Cableway and Kuranda Railway. Once again, Andrew drove us to the resort to catch our shuttle, but then ran back home to transport all of the others to the airport. We will be the only guests for the rest of our stay. The shuttle arrived promptly with a family of five on it and within twenty minutes had us at the boarding station for the Rainforest Skyrail. We had tickets for 10:15, but arrived at 9:50 and thought we had to wait it out. However, there was no one waiting in line, so they let us on early. We had a whole gondola to ourselves. The Skyrail Cableway is 7.5 km (4.66 miles). It glides just above the rainforest canopy; each tower was put in by helicopter so as not to disturb the environment. Swiss engineers were called in to design the system, which was completed in 1995 after one year of construction. Tower six is the tallest at 40.5 meters or 133 feet. There are 114 gondolas. After boarding it took about fifteen minutes to reach the Red Peak station, the highest point on the cableway at 545 meters or 1,788 feet high, where you get out and explore the rainforest at this point along boardwalks. Umbrellas are provided for those who did not think to bring one. A guide met us and offered us a free walking tour as he pointed out a number of trees and facts about them and this area of the rainforest in general. He was quite impressive with his knowledge. After he completed his tour, we were free to roam the area before boarding another gondola to the next section. In another fifteen minutes of hovering over this incredible site of millions of trees and plants, we arrived at the Barron Falls Station where again we were able to walk around a boardwalk to see and read about various plants and trees. At this station is the Rainforest Interpretation Center where there are a number of displays on the rainforest and its inhabitants both animal and vegetative. We learned that Australia’s rainforests are the oldest continually surviving rainforests one earth, dating back 120 million years. This rainforest occupies 900,000 hectares. Australia’s rainforests have 2,800 plant species, of which 380 are considered threatened. Seven hundred of them are not found anywhere else in the world. Also calling the rainforest home is the Southern Carrowary, the largest flightless bird of Australia, two types of tree kangaroos, the primitive Musky Rat kangaroo, the largest butterfly of the continent, the Cairns Birdwing. There are three lookouts that provide a great view of Barron Gorge and Falls. We spent a good deal of time wandering here, before boarding another gondola for the balance of the journey. At the end, we disembarked in the village of Kuranda. Very touristy, it is souvenir shops and restaurants galore. We had train tickets for the railroad going back down at 3:30, the last train of the day. There are only two of them and the earlier one is at 2:00. We went to the butterfly sanctuary to spend some time. We hesitated at the $16.00 entry fee per person, but once in, realized it was well worth the money. There are over 2,000 butterflies of various species at any given time. After ten minutes in we were offered a free guided tour. Our guide explained the details of half a dozen different breeds of butterflies, their life stages, their sex life, colorations, and so on. The amount of information was incredible, but the beauty of the Ulysses butterfly with its vibrant blue wings outshone anything she had to say. Two of them landed on her chest. She was wearing a white t-shirt with a Ulysses butterfly on it. There is also a large green species that I cannot recall the name of that was an incredible emerald green. At the end of the tour in the butterfly area, she took us into the museum to show us butterflies of the world. Mother nature is quite the artist. Some had wings that when opened looked like snake heads to thwart their enemies. We really ran through the village concerned about missing the train, but actually arrived with almost three quarters of an hour to spare. With assigned seats on the railway, we boarded. The seating is cushioned bench type seating with four seats across from four seats across. We were on the end with the aisle, not providing the best views. No air conditioning made it hot and steamy, so everyone opened every window in the car, but as the female conductor came through, she closed them all again. The ride is twenty-one miles long, but takes one hour and forty-five minutes to complete. It is considered one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world and would be if we had seats that did not look out on rock sidings. We passed through Barron Gorge National Park passing gorges and waterfalls on the way. It rises to a height of 1,076 feet and makes its way through fifteen tunnels before concluding the trip. It was built by hand in the late 1880s taking five years to complete through the work of 1, 500 men working on the construction. The steam engine was retired two years ago along with some of the romance of the trip. We took it all the way to Cairns where we thought we would have dinner and avoid another take-out menu dinner. The rain was coming in sheets here too, so we tried staying under awnings as much as possible. As we walked, we noticed the sky was littered with the bats we saw hanging from the trees on our last time here. At dusk they were flying the friendly skies looking for their meals. At times, sections of the sky were black with bats. Not being able to decide where to eat, we wandered into one of the street markets. In the back was a food court, so Ron had fish and chips and I had Chinese. We had fifteen minutes to catch our bus, so we ran for it otherwise the next one would not be for another hour. After fifteen minutes on the bus, the driver pulled over and told us he was letting all of us out in the rain. We had to board the bus behind him. The back bus took a different route than we were used to and for a few minutes we thought we were in trouble. When Ron asked the driver, he explained he was a local route, not an express, so there would be more stops. Trying to find our stop in the dark is challenging, but each driver has been patient enough to drive slowly when we think it is approaching. By the evening now, it is pouring rain in buckets, but still that pool is calling out to us and the water is warm. It would be rude to decline such a gracious offer.