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After spending a little more than a week in Sydney, Melbourne, and the Great Ocean Road, it was time for us to head to Port Douglas to visit the Great Barrier Reef and spend some time under the water. Little did we know the water we would be under was from torrential downpour. Thankfully, on one of the few days of semi-clear skies we had, we visited Kuranda, Australia, a small town surrounded by the oldest rainforest in the world.
Unbeknownst to us, while we were road tripping the Great Ocean Road, Cyclone Trevor was forming off of the coast of Queensland. Unfortunately, Trevor waited for us to arrive in Port Douglas before making landfall…
Getting to Port Douglas
We took a non-stop flight on Tiger-Air from Melbourne to Cairns/Port Douglas. As we landed, we were so full of excitement! I remember as a teen, I would read Diver Magazine, and every issue that featured the Great Barrier Reef made me want to see it for myself more and more. I couldn’t believe now was the time where we would get to enjoy it in person.
We grabbed our bags and hopped on the Cairns to Port Douglas Airport Shuttle (significantly cheaper than a taxi) to our hotel in Port Douglas. The drive along the Captain Cook Highway from the airport up to Port Douglas is about an hour and incredibly scenic.
While driving, I actually attempted to count the number of waterfalls I could see from the road. I counted to 43 before I began to feel a bit nauseous. On our way, we also saw fields of *hundreds* of kangaroos and wallabies. After only seeing one kangaroo thus far on our trip, we were so excited to finally see them in the wild!
Along the way, our shuttle driver said that Trevor was supposed to make landfall the following day, and the region would experience rain for the next four days (we only had 5 days there)… Yikes!
I’ll be honest, we were bummed that the majority of our time was going to be spent under dark clouds and rain. We even contemplated flying back to Sydney and spending the remainder of our trip there. We’re glad we didn’t though because we would have missed out on visiting Kuranda, one day snorkeling on the reef, and quite possibly our biggest life-changing discoveries.
Getting To Kuranda, Australia
As the rain kept falling and a little bit of cabin fever kicked in, we decided what better place to visit in the rain than the rainforest. Luckily, our hotel, the Ramada Resort by Wyndham Port Douglas had a concierge who could easily book tours for us, and she signed us up for a trip to Kuranda for the next day.
Kuranda is a small village retreat located deep in the world’s oldest rainforest. That sentence alone makes it seem like Kuranda is incredibly difficult to visit. Fortunately, that is not the case. There are three ways to get to Kuranda: by car, train, and cable car.
From Port Douglas: Kuranda is located about an hour away from Port Douglas. You will follow the scenic Captain Cook Highway for 45 kilometers until you reach National Route 1. From there, you are a short 13 kilometers away from Kuranda.
From Cairns: Cairns is approximately 34 minutes away from Kuranda by car and you can take National Route 1 all the way there.
There are plenty of rental car options in both Port Douglas and Cairns if that is the route you choose to take. (Insert Rentalcars skimlink)
The Kuranda Scenic Railway departs twice daily from Cairns to Kuranda. If you are staying in the Cairns Central Business District (CBD), then getting to Kuranda by train might make the most sense for you. The Cairns Railway Station is a short walk from most accommodations in the city.
One way tickets cost $50.00 for adults, $25 for children, and $125 for a family of two adults and two children. Round trip tickets cost $76 for adults, $38 for children, and $190 for a family. Children 3 and under can ride the train free of charge.
The picturesque two hour train ride takes you past an abundance of waterfalls, one of the most diverse rainforests in the world, and the Barron Gorge as you make your way up to Kuranda from Cairns. Unfortunately, during our visit, there was a landslide, and the train was inoperable. Thanks Cyclone Trevor.
By Cable Car
We originally wanted to do the Kuranda Scenic Railway up to Kuranda and the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway on the way down but due to the landslide that could not happen. So, we took The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway round trip.
The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is located a little less than an hour away from Port Douglas and approximately fifteen minutes away from nearby Cairns. It is definitely a little pricey with one way prices at $57 for an adult, $28.50 for a child, and $142.50 for a family of four. Round trip will cost you $85 for an adult, $42.50 for a child, and $212.50 for a family. Don’t let the cost dissuade you though. If you can afford it, transportation to and from Kuranda via cable car is incredible!
Gondolas depart continuously throughout the day from 8:45 a.m. – 2:45 p.m. The gondolas can hold up to six people, and the workers are very friendly and will go out of their way to make sure it is just you and your family in the gondola.
Kate and I hopped in our gondola at 9:00 a.m. and were excited to begin our 7.5 kilometer journey above the rainforest from Cairns to Kuranda. Along the way to Kuranda via the cableway, there are two stops, Red Peak and Barron Falls.
Red Peak was our first real experience in the rainforest and, boy, was it raining. Luckily for us, they provided umbrellas at our stop. Red Peak consists of a rainforest boardwalk loop. Fortunately, we arrived just in time for one of the ranger guided tours which departs every half hour.
It was really interesting walking along the rainforest and learning more about the diverse ecosystem that is jam packed with plants, trees, animals, and rain! Definitely stop, do the walk, and take your time exploring Red Peak.
After Red Peak, your next cable car stop is the thunderous Barron Falls. On our ride up to Kuranda, it was raining pretty badly and was also very cloudy, so you couldn’t see the falls that well.
Luckily on our ride back down from Kuranda, the weather cleared, and we could see the falls in their full majesty. Barron Falls consists of four tiered waterfalls totaling 410 feet tall! They really are a marvelous sight. Due to all the rain from Cyclone Trevor, the falls were really roaring.
At Barron Falls, there is an elevated boardwalk, similar to Red Peak, that offers numerous viewing locations. From here, you can see the falls, the scenic railway underneath and the cable cars. Be sure to check out the Edge Lookout, as it offers incredible views of the gorge. Sadly, it was closed for construction while we were there.
After checking out Barron Falls, it is time to load back in the gondola and get ready to finish your journey upwards to Kuranda.
What to do in Kuranda
The Skyrail Kuranda Terminal is just blocks away from “downtown” Kuranda. The downtown area hosts a number of shops and restaurants where you can find just about anything.
Get an Aboriginal Souvenir from the Kuranda Rainforest and Heritage Markets
As Kate and I were walking the streets of Kuranda towards the Kuranda Original Rainforest Market, there was a guy playing a didgeridoo, and to this day, Kate and I still hum the melody. It was so catchy and had such a unique sound.
The Kuranda Original Rainforest Market is open Sunday, Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 9:30-3:00 and is an awesome market to check out items crafted by locals. Some of these artists’ families have lived in the area for hundreds of years. Kate and I ended up getting a super awesome boomerang to remember our trip.
The Kuranda Heritage Market is another awesome shopping location in Kuranda and is another place you should check out for incredible handcrafted Aboriginal items. The Kuranda Heritage Market is open Thursday-Sunday from 10:00-3:00 and is also the location of the next awesome thing to do in Kuranda.
Kuranda Koala Gardens
If you read our post about the Great Ocean Road, then you know that we absolutely LOVE koalas! Due to this, visiting the Kuranda Koala Gardens was super high on our list of things to do. It is one of the only places that you can actually hold and cuddle with a koala. What an experience!
Kate was so excited to hold the adorable koala. I don’t think I have ever seen her so happy! I’m pretty sure she was thinking about how she could smuggle it out of the location and back to the United States with us!
The Kuranda Koala Gardens has a lot more to see than just koalas. The beautifully manicured grounds are home to an array of other Australian animals from wombats and quokkas to crocodiles and pythons. Another incredible experience that we had was the opportunity to walk around, hang out with and feed wallabies and kangaroos. I mean look at Kate’s face, pure joy!
Pro Tip: If you are a couple, pay for one person to hold the koala and they will still let you take a picture with your significant other and the bear.
Grab some lunch at Frogs Restaurant
At this point in our day, we were getting pretty hungry and decided to eat at Frogs Restaurant which is right next to the Koala Gardens. Frogs is one of the top-rated restaurants in Kuranda, and it doesn’t disappoint! It won a 2020 Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice Award and has been satisfying hungry tourists since 1980.
Walk off your lunch in Jumrum Creek Conservation Park
The Jumrum Creek Conservation Park can be accessed off Barron Falls Road or Barang Street (the latter is closer to the township). The Jumrum Creek Walk is a beautiful rainforest walk that helps you escape the tourists in Kuranda. The easy walk takes place along a boardwalk, offering a safe way to explore the rainforest with the entire family.
Kate and I only saw a few people during our walk, and it was incredibly peaceful. You can walk to the creek which was overflowing due to the heavy rains. We saw the most incredible lizard and had to snap a photo! The flora was also so beautiful. Each plant seemed to be fighting the other to get a ray of sunlight. At one point, we even saw the most remarkable things of all . . . the sun emerging for the first time in days!
Visit the Peter Jarver Gallery for incredible landscape photography
On the way back to the Skyrail Terminal, Kate and I decided to check out the Peter Jarver Gallery. Peter Jarver is one of Australia’s best landscape photographers. His images are breathtaking! In his gallery, he had photos from all over Australia, from the Great Ocean Road and Great Barrier Reef to Uluru and the Australian Outback.
It really made us realize that there was a whole lot more of Australia that I wanted to explore! Peter passed away in 2003 but his work is still stunning, even with the advancements in camera technology. His work reminded me a lot of Chris Burkard, one of my absolute favorite photographers whose studio we were able to visit in San Luis Obispo.
A life-altering discovery
Okay, now things are going to get a little personal but if you’ve made it this far, you deserve to know what our life-altering discovery was.
From the beginning of the trip through Sydney and Melbourne, Kate kept saying she felt nauseous and “just off.” I attributed it to jet lag for the first couple days but it persisted. One day, we attributed it to consuming 4 lattes in a day in Melbourne. Another day, we attributed it to the winding roads on the Great Ocean Road.
After feeling even more nauseous on the shuttle to the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and then on the gondola itself up to Kuranda, we decided to make one more important stop before our descent back to Cairns: a pharmacy.
After grabbing a (you guessed it) pregnancy test, we spent the gondola ride down barely looking at the view, and instead, reading the directions for a pregnancy test (which are remarkably simple haha). Later that day, we found out we were pregnant with our favorite little traveler, Amelia. Kuranda will always hold a special place in our heart for that specific reason.
If you are visiting the Great Barrier Reef and staying in either Cairns or Port Douglas, Kuranda is definitely worth the visit. Just the cable car ride alone is absolutely breathtaking (and the Kuranda Scenic Railway is supposed to be incredible too). Throw in cuddling a koala, feeding kangaroos, gazing at waterfalls, exploring the rainforest, and you’ve got yourself one amazing day in Kuranda, Australia!
If you are planning a trip to Australia definitely check out our other posts: 3 Days in Sydney, Australia, Melbourne, Australia 2 Day Tourism Guide, and The Best Road Trip in the World: Two Days on The Great Ocean Road, Australia!