Kuranda, Queensland is a tourist destination on the outskirts of Cairns. Situated along the Barron River, the town is nestled in the mountains of the rainforest. The drive to Kuranda is an easy 30 minute commute from Cairns. However, the scenic railway and skyrail are, by far, the best way to navigate to and from Kuranda. Our one day itinerary in Kuranda is detailed below to help you plan the perfect trip!
The Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail Cableway make for an exceptional way to view Barron Gorge National Park. Both modes of transportation offer various view-points to witness the massive Barron Falls. Traveling to Kuranda was just as much of an adventure as exploring the little village itself!
Disclaimer: This post is in no way sponsored, we paid for all the activities mentioned and all opinions are our own. This page may contain affiliate links, which means I may earn a commission (at no extra charge to you) if you make a purchase after clicking my link. Thank you for being a loyal reader!
One Day Itinerary in Kuranda
- Arrive at Skyrail’s Smithfield Terminal to shuttle to Freshwater Station – 8:30AM
- Depart Freshwater Station aboard Kuranda Scenic Railway – 8:55AM
- Arrive at Kuranda Station – 10:25AM
- Explore Kuranda Koala Gardens & Birdworld – 10:30AM to 12:30PM
- Check out Kuranda Village and enjoy lunch – 1:00PM
- Depart Kuranda Terminal via Kuranda Skyrail – 2:30PM
- Arrive at Skyrail’s Smithfield Terminal – 4:00PM
- Enjoy a casual dinner in Cairns.
The Kuranda Scenic Railway
In order to ride, tickets must be pre-booked online for the Scenic Railway and/or the Skyrail. Scheduling and purchasing tickets online for the railway was slightly confusing. The company offers bookings of the Scenic Railway and Skyrail as a package deal or you can purchase them separately. Also, other packages include “rainforest experience” and “dreamtime experience”. We opted for the Kuranda Classic Experience which simply includes The Scenic Railway and Skyrail.
TIP: There are occasional pre-scheduled maintenance closures throughout the year. Be sure to check the website to plan your trip accordingly.
In addition, because we had our own rental car, we elected the self-drive option with a coach transfer service. Included in our purchase price, we drove to Skyrail Smithfield Terminal to park our car in the lot and hopped on the transfer bus. The transfer bus shuttled us to the Scenic Railway’s station, the Freshwater Station.
Although we chose the earliest departure time on the Scenic Railway, the Freshwater station was bustling with people. We all stood shoulder to shoulder, peering around others to catch a glimpse of the train rolling to a stop by the platform.
TIP: To help ease the confusion about where to park your car and/or where to start your venture (even if you aren’t driving yourself), check out this handy map!
Thankfully, all tickets have pre-assigned seat numbers. This eliminated the frantic rush to find a great spot to sit in your assigned lettered train car. We ended up squeezed in next to a large family who shared our bench. I remember being so thankful that we managed to sit next to one of the windows for great views!
Our luck got infinitely better after one of the attendants asked if we would like to move. A little confused, I wondered if they were attempting to balance out the congested sections of the train. The attendant led us to a nearly empty car and we had the entire bench to ourselves! I’ll take it! It was nice to know that the attendants went out of their way to make sure each car was more evenly distributed for an optimum viewing experience.
The train wove a path from Freshwater Station into the hillside and rainforest. The tour guide told stories of how the railway was formed and what it was used for.
The railway consists of many bridges and underground tunnels. Occasionally, the train would wind along the cliff’s edge with breathtaking views of the rainforest and coastline.
TIP: There is no air conditioning on the train! Although the weather is quite pleasant in the winter months, you might get warm in the summer. The windows are all up to allow for a breeze, but dress accordingly to the season you choose to visit.
One of my favorite sights along the route was when we rolled right beside Stoney Creek Falls. The train slowed so everyone onboard could appreciate the falls. I included a video below that my husband took from the opposite side of our train car.
Another pleasant surprise, that I was not expecting, was a quick stop to view Barron Falls. We filed out of the train car and rushed to the railing to witness this massive waterfall.
There is a paved walkway with multiple viewpoints to witness the falls from various angles. I did my best to weave through the crowds and find the spot with less elbows to battle. Most people tended to exit the train and go to the nearest overlook to their car. Take a couple minutes to find a more deserted viewpoint and you’ll be rewarded!
TIP: Be extremely careful when getting off and on the train! I saw a couple folks bite the dust because they didn’t exit the train backward down the stairs. I know this sounds silly, but it really helps to keep your balance!
After hopping back into our assigned car, the train launched into the last leg of its journey. Shortly after Barron Falls view-point, the Kuranda Station welcomed us to the end of the Scenic Railway. Finally exiting the train, we walked into Kuranda Village for a day of fun and exploration!
The Koala Gardens & Birdworld
Meandering through Kuranda Village will inevitably lead you to the Kuranda Heritage Market. Here, you will find the booth to purchase tickets to The Koala Gardens. The option to purchase additional tickets for Birdworld Kuranda and The Butterfly Sanctuary will be available at the same booth.
The Koala Gardens weren’t too crowded when we arrived. The exhibits were educational and brought us close to the animals, although the overall facility was quite small.
We spotted plenty of Koalas napping in the trees, Crocodiles, Wallabies, Quokka, and Kangaroos! There was a section of the gardens that you could hand feed and interact with the Wallabies and Kangaroos. The option to hold a Koala and have your photo taken with them was available at an extra cost.
TIP: Be very gentle with the animals! They are accustomed to folks visiting them, however, it doesn’t mean your child should run loose in the exhibit. It startles the animals and makes them hide in their enclosures.
Toward the end of our time spent at the Koala Gardens, we enjoyed the reptile house and nocturnal animals. We witnessed possums, gliders, and other marsupials up close in their darkened habitat!
Upon entering Birdworld, the attendant forewarned us about what to expect from the birds. They are very curious and unafraid of humans, therefore, the birds will land on you, especially if you have food.
TIP: Remove any bobby pins or shiny headbands from your hair. Remove any earrings, necklaces, or bracelets that you don’t want the birds to play with. Also, turn your water bottles upside down in your packs, if you are carrying them, or the birds will try to remove the caps.
At one point during our walk in Birdworld, Brian had the shock of his life. It’s pretty difficult to startle my husband, but this Alexandrine Parrot reallllyyy rocked his world! The parrot flew onto his backpack and, after unsuccessfully attempting to unzip compartments and play with our water bottles, this lovely bird decided to just hang on Brian’s shoulder for a while.
Most of the birds were quite inquisitive and sociable. They wanted to check us out as much as we wanted to check them out. Many of the Ring-Necked Parakeets and Rainbow Lorikeets spent their time munching on fruit and flying from one shoulder to the other.
Birdworld boasted dozens of exotic birds. Some were native to Indonesia, Asia, Africa, South America, and the Philippines. You can spend as much time inside the bird house as you’d like, however, when exiting be sure that nobody is still hanging out on your shoulder and is trying to make an escape!
Kuranda Village & Eateries
An entire day can easily be spent simply perusing the shops and streets of Kuranda Village. History grows as tall as the trees that line the walkways, from the cobblestone streets to the colorful storefronts.
We actually got a bit lost attempting to navigate our way to some eateries we had chosen ahead of time. Apparently, there is an entire street that is “underground” called The Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets. It really isn’t underground, but it’s hidden a bit behind other shops. You have to find one of the numerous stairways or alleys to get to it.
TIP: There is an ATM in the market, but the fee is astronomical! A lot of vendors are cash only.
The Original Rainforest Market was full of funky vendors, music, and small restaurants that offered a strong Rastafarian vibe. We opted to try La Fonda Latina which serves Central and South American cuisine. I personally LOVED it because of the fresh, local ingredients and vegan menu. I am not vegan, but I tend to enjoy more veggie based meals. My husband, on the other hand, loves his meat. However, he said his dish was so good he didn’t even miss his usual side of barbacoa (ha).
The next stop on my list was dessert (of course!). We had planned to try Sweet Gossip, however, their booth was closed when we were there. Instead, a quaint Gelato stand called Frozen Nature satisfied my sweet tooth. They offer homemade, vegan gelato that is made with locally grown fruit!
After we stuffed our belly, we wandered around the markets to appreciate the street art! There’s plenty of murals to see!
The Skyrail Cableway
One of the most convenient aspects about the Skyrail was that you could hop on it at the Kuranda Terminal just about anytime. The Skyrail runs nonstop from 9 AM to 3:45 PM, so you can hop on any time you like.
Upon arriving, we already purchased our tickets when we ordered our package deal online; so, we bypassed the booth and headed straight for the line to the Skyrail gondola. Depending on how crowded the line is, you could get the entire gondola to yourself or you may be sharing it with others.
While enjoying the gondola ride, there are other stops the cableway makes along the way to other destinations. The Skyrail stops at Barron Falls Station, which provides an unobstructed view of the falls.
The Skyrail also stops at Red Peak Station which includes a complimentary rainforest boardwalk guided tour. You can spend as little or as much time as you’d like at these stations.
TIP: Beginning in May 2019, parts of the boardwalk at Red Peak Station will be closed. However, the majority will still remain accessible. Check the website to stay updated.
If you are scared of heights, the Skyrail may be slightly unnerving. The gondola crosses the Barron River, glides over the canopy of the rainforest, and gives you a bird’s eye view of Barron Falls.
Thankfully, the cableway did not shift or sway even though it climbed very steep inclines. The views definitely made up for any teeth chattering that may or may not have been happening on my side of the gondola!
If you are a thrill seeker, you can upgrade to the Diamond View glass floor gondola which gives you another way to view the the rainforest below.
Along the final descent, the coastline of Cairns greeted us! I was particularly enthralled with the ability to spot the reefs and mountains in the distance.
TIP: When entering and exiting the gondola, be sure to grab the seat or edges of the doorway to steady yourself as the gondola never stops moving, although it is moving slow.
Still teeming with energy after our one day itinerary in Kuranda? We suggest these additional stops in and around Cairns.
- Dine in at Thai Coins! Some of the best Thai food we’ve ever had!
- Check out The Austrailian Armour and Artillery Museum. (Right next to Smithfield Terminal.)
- Explore Crystal Cascades.