By Burt Deeter
On a recent trip to Australia, my wife, Lana, and I flew to Cairns so we could visit the Great Barrier Reef. Our overnight stay on a catamaran on the outer edge of the reef was indeed a memorable experience, but an unexpected highlight occurred on a daytrip to Kuranda. When booking the reef experience, a day trip to Kuranda was also suggested as part of the package. It was a day of discovery.
We had an early pick-up from our hostel and were transported to the train station where we boarded the Kuranda Scenic Railway. This railway was completed in 1891 to service the mines and agricultural areas in the interior and is considered a major engineering accomplishment. The railway was built in three sections, with the first and third sections being constructed relatively quickly and easily. The second section through the Barron Valley gorge, however, proved to be a major challenge and included 15 tunnels, 93 curves and dozens of difficult bridges, all constructed by hand. The construction was extremely dangerous due to the steep grades, dense jungle and aboriginals defending their territory. A more detailed history of the railway’s construction can be found here.
Earlier in our trip, we had enjoyed another vintage railway excursion on the Dunedin Railway up the Taieri gorge to Middlemarch. With grand vistas and rolling hills, we could easily visualize Gandolf and his company being chased by Orcs in this setting. The Barron Valley gorge, however, was covered by a dense tropical rainforest, which reduced the views but still provided lots of interest. The train slowed or stopped at several strategic waterfalls or vistas where we could snap photos and take in the view.
We arrived at Kuranda and supported the local economy as we strolled through the small-town centre. After a buffet lunch at the Rainforeststation Nature Park, Lana and I cuddled a Koala Bear (for a small fee!) and then we headed for the ‘ducks’. The ducks are amphibious vehicles that were originally built to ferry troops to boats during WWII. They’re now quite popular as a tourist experience in many cities. The expected life span for a duck was 3 years. These ones are still going strong with the original engines! The first part of the trip was down a dirt path where our driver gave us an ‘up close and personal experience’ with various plants and very large spiders hanging on webs in our path. Some plants were edible, some were poisonous, some were just interesting. Fortunately, the spiders kept to themselves.
After the duck ride, we were entertained by some male aboriginal dancers. The dances were snippets about their lives, only lasting a few minutes each. Next, boomerang throwing for all, followed by a demonstration of spear throwing. We finished our time at the Rainforest station with a guided walk through a small zoo containing kangaroos, alligators, snakes, a Tasmanian devil, dingoes, and a Cassowary bird.
The return trip to Cairns included the Sky Rail. This is a 7.5 km gondola that transports you above the tropical rain forest. It was a fascinating view to see the rain forest from above. We were surprised at how many of the plants and their relationships with each other that we could identify because of the knowledge that we’d been given earlier in the day. There were two landings on the way down that we stopped at to take a short boardwalk stroll through the forest. As this is a National Park, the interpretive signs and views were spectacular. Well worth our time. A bus met us at the bottom of the gondola for the return trip to Cairns. All in all, the day was informative, noteworthy and surprisingly unpredictable … in a good way. It was a great little slice of life in the rainforest. The interdependency of so many plants was blatantly visible to us.
The next day, we headed to the reef. We enjoyed two days plus the night on the reef. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend both experiences.
You can see more of Burt’s photos by going to: