Australia Travel Guide | Kuranda Skyrail and Railway Excursion from Cairns, Queensland

australia travel guide: kuranda scenic skyrail and railyway tour from cairns + the ‘cuddling a koala’ experience

Rule #1: Don’t go to Cairns during their summertime, because it is also their rainy season—though it seems they were experiencing more than typical amounts of rainfall when we were there in December. If our first day was characterized by torrential downpours and day two alternated between a sprinkle and steady rainfall, then day three was somewhere in between—it was a steady, somewhat relentless rainfall on our third and final day in Cairns.

Australia Travel Guide | Kuranda Railway and Skyway Excursion from Cairns
The view of the Esplanade and Pier from our Airbnb on a rainy morning (not that we experience any other kind!).

That day, we were supposed to go on ten-hour day trip to Kuranda from Cairns, wherein we were supposed to be driven to the Freshwater train station, take the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway for an aerial ride to the mountain village of Kuranda. After free time in town, we were to board the Kuranda Scenic Railway for the train journey back to Freshwater station, where the coach would pick us up and transport us back to our pickup location in Cairns. Unfortunately, the rain that day made it unsafe for the railway to run, so we would only be able to take the skyrail into town. While disappointed, we completely understood that the tour needed to be revised due to safety concerns, but it was slightly frustrating that no one tried to contact us to let us know the schedule had been altered; after waiting more than thirty minutes in the rain for the bus to pick us up, we had to call them to make sure the bus was still coming, and at that point only did they explain that the bus was running behind schedule because the driver was explaining the schedule change with each group they picked up. An email to folks on the tour that day explaining the changes would have been a bit more expedient, but that’s just this traveler’s humble opinion. And a small additional complaint about how all of that was handled—the instructions for our pickup location were unclear; they gave us a specific address on Esplanade Street, but the pickup location was on Abbott Street, so really they could have just given us the address on Abbott Street and saved us some time making a big circle in the rain, especially since the actual pickup location was accessible through the building we were staying in. (To play devil’s advocate, I suppose I could have been more prepared, but if pickups are something the company offers, they should be a little more adept at telling us where we’re being picked up, just saying.)

Australia Travel Guide | Kuranda Railway and Skyway Excursion from Cairns, Queensland
This is a shot taken from the Kuranda Historic Railway, which we were unfortunately not able to take due to the inclement weather. Source: Robert Linsdell/Flickr

Getting back on track now—we were given the option to cancel the excursion since we wouldn’t be able to take the train back as planned, or we could just take a partial refund and still go to Kuranda—so of course, we opted to still go, because what else were we going to do in rainy Cairns? I’ll be honest with you—there’s not a ton to do in Kuranda, either, or at least there didn’t seem to be, but because of the weather, we didn’t explore as much as might have otherwise. We took the skyrail, but because of all the rain and fog, it wasn’t quite what I’d call “picturesque.” We couldn’t see very much, but I imagine in good weather, it’s rather lush and dense and green.

Australia Travel Guide | Kuranda Skyway and Railway Excursion from Cairns
Taken during a small break in dense fog. Behold the lush greenness of the Kuranda rainforest!

The town of Kuranda itself is unsurprisingly touristy. You have to walk through the “market,” which is just a bunch of stalls selling tchotchkes, local coffee, and other local goods, to get to Kuranda’s main attraction (in my opinion, at least): the Cuddle a Koala experience at the Kuranda Koala Gardens. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was one of the most magical experiences of my life, you guys. I don’t know what it is about those cute little buggers, but they make me ridiculously happy, and as you’ll see in the photo below, I felt nothing other than PURE JOY when I was holding my boy Rocho. The Kuranda Koala Gardens also has wallabies jumping around freely, some lazy kangaroos, a couple of crocodiles and other reptiles and amphibians, but the koalas are really the only thing worth seeing there. There’s also a butterfly garden in Kuranda, but we heard from an Australian family we shared the skyrail with that it was utterly unimpressive, and also a place called Birdworld, which we didn’t have either the time or inclination to check out. After the Kuranda Koala Gardens, we had just enough time to grab a lunch of fish and chips before we had to be back on the bus.

Australia Travel Guide | Kuranda Railway and Skyrail Excursion from Cairns | Cuddle a Koala
What PURE JOY looks like.
Australia Travel Guide | Kuranda Railway and Skyrail Excursion from Cairns | Cuddle a Koala
The hubby holding our pal Rocho, who was very unimpressed with us, by the way, but it didn’t make the experience any less magical.

Because our excursion to Kuranda ended quite a bit earlier than originally planned, we had some time on our hands that afternoon. If you’re not enjoying time on the Espalanade (which we would have if the weather had cooperated more, because we could have easily whiled away many hours at the lagoon in nice weather). Not knowing what else to do but not wanting to waste time hanging out in our apartment, we decided to head to the Cairns Central Shopping Centre, which is essentially like every other mall you’ve ever been to, but it allowed us to stay out of the rain and walk a bit, so I guess it served its purpose.

We ended up going to the Pier Bar for dinner that night. It was super busy, with people, mostly because they had a fantastic rating on Google. It was super loud in there, a very boisterous atmosphere—which is not necessarily my favorite thing in the world. We ended up sharing their hummus appetizer (which was super yummy), and I got their soft shell tacos (which were just okay). After dinner and during a small break in the rain, we walked along the Esplanade and lagoon—which is nice and lit during the night—before heading back to our room for the night.

Here’s my overall consensus on Cairns: We would absolutely go back, hopefully during their spring season, to avoid the rainy season and so the water would still be warm coming off of summertime. We would definitely opt to do an excursion either in the Atherton Tablelands (so that we could see all that we missed) or maybe choose to do one in Daintree Rainforest and Port Douglas instead. We would also like to go back to Fitzroy Island, with the hope that the glass bottom boat tour would be running, and that we could do the snorkeling excursion on the other side of the island. Hell, maybe by then we’ll have finally gotten scuba certified, and hopefully not the whole reef will have been bleached by then. I don’t know that we would necessarily aim for a redo on Kuranda; I suspect it’s one of those tourist attractions that’s a little overrated, and we can only cuddle so many koalas. But a nice chill day at the lagoon sounds just lovely, so I could see us maybe spending a day hanging out over there. We would absolutely stay at our Airbnb again, too; proximity to the Esplanade was so perfect.

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