A trip up to Kuranda in the Cairns Highlands on the Kuranda Scenic Railway is a "must do" experience if you are visiting Queensland's north. Once a working railway, these days it is essentially for tourists, and a great way to travel to Queensland's famous village in the rainforest; the train passing through some gorgeous mountainous tropical country with spectacular waterfalls and panoramic coastal vistas.
The original Kuranda Scenic Railway is a spectacular journey comprising unsurpassed views of dense rainforest, steep ravines and picturesque waterfalls. This famous railway winds its way on a journey of approximately 1 hour 45 minutes from Cairns to Kuranda. Rising from sea level to 328m, the journey to Kuranda passes through World Heritage protected tropical rainforest, past beautiful and spectacular waterfalls and into the awesome Barron Gorge before reaching the village of Kuranda.
The Kuranda Scenic Railway can be joined at Cairns Railway Station or Freshwater Connection for morning departures to Kuranda. Journeys from Kuranda Station to Cairns run in the afternoon. The journey includes an English commentary and all passengers receive a commentary companion which includes information on the history of the railways construction, a trip map and a map of Kuranda.
The Railway operates daily all year, except Christmas Day. Schedules may occasionally vary due to climatic or track maintenance demands.
Highly recommended is the Kuranda Classic Experience, which incorporates both a trip on the scenic railwaqy and a ride on the skyrail cableway. Guests are picked up from your accommodation and transferred to Skyrail. The cableway will take you above the forest canopy of the rainforest to the village of Kuranda, Spend some time there before departing on the Kuranda Scenic Railway. Other tour options are available.
The picturesque mountain retreat of Kuranda Village is just 25km northwest of Cairns in Far North Queensland, and is surrounded by World Heritage Rainforest. Kuranda has come a long way from its initial origins as a centre for those choosing an alternative lifestyle in the late 1960 s. Historic Buildings from the villages past now house a variety of upmarket restaurants, cafes and bars. It is still laid back, but with a style and sophistication that sets it apart from other Cairns Highlands Venues and Attractions.
Kuranda s shops and markets with their exotically handcrafted goods, Aboriginal artifacts, restaurants and coffee shops make Kuranda a well known day destination, but to truly enjoy the ambience this village has to offer you really have to stay a few nights. Whether you are looking for a cosy bed and breakfast, a well maintained multi-choice accommodation and camping park, a hotel that when you step inside you feel like you are back in the 1920's, a gorgeous resort or a backpackers hostel, you'll find it in Kuranda. Kuranda s many first class nature based tourist attractions include koalas, butterflies, native and exotic birds, kangaroos and reptiles and Barron Falls.
Construction of the Cairns-Kuranda Railway was, and still is, an engineering feat of tremendous magnitude. It stands as testimony to the splendid ambitions, fortitude and suffering of the hundreds of men engaged in its construction. It also stands as a monument to the many men who lost their lives on this amazing project.
On 10th May 1886, the then Premier of Queensland Sir Samuel Griffith, used a silver spade to turn the first sod. Celebrations involving almost the entire population of Cairns lasted all that day and long into the night. Construction was by three separate contracts for lengths of 13.2km, 24.5 km, 37.4km. The line was to total 75.1km and surmount the vast Atherton tablelands leading to Mareeba. Sections One and Three were relatively easy to locate and construct, but the ascent of Section Two was extremely arduous and dangerous due to steep grades, dense jungle and aboriginals defending their territory. The climb began near Redlynch 5.5m above sea level, and continued to the summit at Myola with an altitude of 327.1 m. In all, this section included 15 tunnels, 93 curves and dozens of difficult bridges mounted many meters above ravines and waterfalls.
Section One of the line ran from Cairns to just beyond Redlynch. The contract won by Mr. P.C. Smith for $40,000. However, work was dogged by bad luck and a possible lack of supervision. Sickness and prevalent amongst the navvies and the working conditions in the swamps and jungles were approaching unbearable. In November 1886, P.C.Smith relinquished his contract for Section One. It was taken over by McBride and Co., but they too had packed it in by January 1887. Section One was finally completed by the Queensland Government.
On 21st January 1887, John Robb s tender of $580,188 was accepted for section two. He and his men tackled the jungle and mountains not with bulldozers, jackhammers and other modern equipment, but with strategy, fortitude, hand tools, dynamite, buckets and bare hands. Great escarpments were removed from the mountains above the line and every loose rock and overhanging tree had to be removed by hand. It was during this type of work that the first fatal accident occurred. At Beard s Cutting, a man named Gavin Hamilton stood on the wrong side of a log as it was being rolled into a fire, and was killed.
Earthworks proved particularly difficult. The deep cuttings and extensive embankments that were removed totalled a volume of just over 2.3 million cubic metres of earthworks. The Barron Valley earth was especially treacherous. Slopes averaged 45 degrees and the entire surface was covered with a 4.6 m 7.60m layer of disjointed rock, rotting vegetation, mould and soil. During construction, navvies camps mushroomed at every tunnel and cutting. Even comparatively narrow ledges supported stores some even catering for the men s need for groceries and clothes! Small townships were thriving at Number 3 Tunnel, Stoney Creek, Glacier Rock, Camp Oven Creek and Rainbow Creek. Kamerunga, at the foot of the range, boasted no fewer than five hotels. At one stage, 1500 men, mainly Irish and Italian, were involved in the project.
Faced with poor working conditions, on 20th April 1888 a meeting of predominantly Irish workers at Kamerunga resulted in the formation of the Victorian Labour League. Even so, relationships between workers and contractors remained harmonious as all realised the magnitude of the task before them. In August 1890, the great maritime strike spread to the railway workers and they formed The United Sons of Toil. They made a demand for 90c per day. By September differences had been resolved and the navvies wages were increased from 80c per day to 85c per day.
By April 1890, Stoney Creek bridge was almost complete and the project was paid a vice-regal visit by the Governor of Queensland, general Sir Henry Wiley Norman. To His Excellency s astonishment, John Robb prepared a full banquet atop Stoney Creek Bridge with tables, food and wine dizzily suspended may metres over the gorge. History records that there were no speeches that day due to the roar from the waterfalls.
By 13th May 1891, rail was laid to the end of the second section at Myola. On 15th June 1891, Mr Johnstone, one of three Railway Commissioners at that time opened the line for goods traffic only. Just ten days later, the Cairns- Kuranda Railway line was opened to passenger travel. Trade at Port Douglas died off rapidly and the town became a quiet little retreat. However, today it is a popular holiday destination. The town of Geraldton (Innisfail) prospered in its own right because of the growing sugar industry. With a reliable supply of goods and freight, the Tablelands bloomed into a wealth of rich grazing land. And Cairns was destined to become the modern, international tourist centre it is today, still expanding in leaps and bounds.