Skyrail: Journey to the Center of the Australian Rainforest
With a climate as distinct from Sydney’s, no trip to Tropical North Queensland would be complete without a visit to the rainforest. The Daintree claims the title of Australia’s largest rainforest, located two and a half hours north of Cairns. But with limited time in the area, we discovered that Cairns also has a rainforest in its own backyard: Barron Gorge National Park, part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Site.
To explore Australia’s tropical rainforest, we set out on a trip on Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Stretching 7.5 kilometers/4.7 miles and beginning less than twenty minutes from Cairns, Skyrail allows visitors to soar over the rainforest in a gondola, stop at two stations to explore on foot, and visit the picturesque town of Kuranda at the end of the cableway.
A shuttle transported us from our hotel directly to the Skyrail Smithfield Station, where we were accompanied by Skyrail’s lovely sales and marketing guru, Marni, for an insider’s introduction to the cableway. Our first stop of the day was Barron Falls Station, where we kicked off with a Djabugay Aboriginal Guided Tour.
Djabugay Aboriginal Guided Tour
This rainforest has been home to the Djabugay indigenous people for over ten thousand years. As an add-on to the Skyrail experience, the Djabugay Aboriginal Guided Tour explores the area’s millennia of indigenous influence.
Leading us off the fixed paths and into the heart of the rainforest, our tour guide Aaron shared his cross-generational knowledge about how his ancestors historically lived. On this forty minute tour, he introduced us to the various species of plants that inhabit the forest and their traditional uses as food, medicine, tools, and more. Stopping by a reproduction of a conventional shelter, Aaron demonstrated relics and tools essential to indigenous rainforest people of the past.
I would absolutely recommend this tour to anyone visiting Skyrail interested in gaining a deeper appreciation for the rainforest’s flora, fauna, and history. Exploring the boardwalks is fantastic on its own, but stepping off the paths and into the rainforest on an educational tour is what really made our day unique.
Beyond the Djabugay Tour and the Rainforest Interpretation Centre, Skyrail’s Barron Falls Station also provides rainforest walkways and views over a mammoth gorge and waterfall. In 1935, the Barron Gorge Hydroelectric Power Station was completed, taking advantage of the nearby river and supplying the Cairns area with electricity for nearly three decades.
The Barron Falls Station offers glimpses of the early days of this power station, featuring antique machinery that really makes you wonder how this complex system was built in such a remote, steep location. The waterfalls are at their driest this season, so they weren’t as impressive as they are at other times of year, but they were still visually striking and like nothing you’d find around Sydney.
Also at Barron Falls Station is the Rainforest Interpretation Centre, a small museum that introduces the region’s ecosystem and history. Developed in conjunction with Australia’s federal science agency, CSIRO, the center is worth a peek – and it’s free!
Skyrail terminates at Kuranda, the “Village in the Rainforest,” which is the perfect destination to spend a few hours between Skyrail rides. This charming town is worthy of its own post, so stay tuned for our experience there meeting butterflies, kangaroos, tropical birds, and more.
Skyrail’s other station is Red Peak, a summit with breathtaking views of the surrounding rainforest.
The boardwalk at Red Peak takes visitors through the diverse, lush trees, palms, and other wildilife. Here you’ll also find complimentary guided boardwalk tours roughly every fifteen minutes. Our guide introduced us to the plants surrounding us, the area’s geological history, and how the flora and fauna of the ecosystem interact. It was clear that he runs these tours out of pure passion, so seeing the rainforest through his eyes was a fantastic addition to the day.
For those hoping to get even more in touch with the rainforest, Skyrail offers an upgrade to Diamond View gondolas, whose glass bottoms provide magnificent views of the rainforest canopy below. I was a bit apprehensive that I would feel like I was floating with nothing to hold me up, but you do actually feel secure, and the magnificent views were entirely worth it!
They also offer a Canopy Glider, which really gets you out there in an open air gondola. We didn’t give it a try ourselves, but it looks like an even more stunning way to experience the rainforest. Yet another option is to take the Skyrail in one direction and return via the Kuranda Scenic Railway, a train line that has carried passengers through the rainforest since the late 1800s.
Sadly, the day had to come to an end eventually! We returned to Cairns for a lovely night of Italian food and wandering around the town, and we completed our stay in Cairns the following day with a visit to the Botanic Gardens. We knew the rainforest would be a highlight of our Tropical North Queensland trip, but, even still, Skyrail far exceeded expectations, and I haven’t stopped raving about it since. Australia ain’t bad, is it?