Kuranda Scenic Railway




Saturday was a total wash for me. I felt sick all day. Usually I’m pretty resilient to seasickness, but I think the duration and intensity finally got to me. The bus was flying around corners and sitting in the back didn’t help. The rough waters to and from the dock at Agincourt Reef added to the motion sickness. I wanted to go out and do something but given the rain scheduled for most of the day I decided to be mellow.


When talking with the hotel travel desk, the attendant suggested I go up to the town of Kuranda as it makes for a nice most of the day trip in the tour operator will drop me off at the airport for my flight at 6 PM. The ride up to Kuranda was by an old train and the ride back down was via a skycab. Even if the town wasn’t great, the travel to and from looked interesting.

Buses start early in this town. We were rolling by 8:15 a.m. At this point, I knew the drill. Board the bus, then board and other form of transportation that’s effectively a bus, and then get to your destination. It was a short ride from downtown Cairns out to the train depot and then it was to be about a two hour ride up to Kuranda. Kuranda only appears to be about 30 kilometers away (20 miles).

We got to the train depot at 9 AM and it instantly became clear why the train ride was so long. It was a very old train that is designed to let you take in the “whole experience.” The hotel concierges and the tour operators have a very tight relationships. There is a bunch of the process I didn’t know. The biggest being that we had assigned seats. At first I was a little bummed, but wound up next to a family from Chicago.

In recent years Chicago has been an interesting town in my life.  My last two managers have been recruited out of Chicago and relocated here in the Bay Area.  Of all the places they could have been from…


There was another family from the United Kingdom in our group as well. The family from Chicago and the family from the UK spent the first part of the train ride talking about: family. Being the single from San Francisco I didn’t have a ton to contribute until the mom from Chicago heard the familiar “beep, beep, beep, beep” from my insulin pump.

Soon after that we became the best of friends. Her daughter was type one as well and had just moved to Australia for a study abroad program. This was their family vacation as they dropped her off at school down in Melbourne. Since I was on month three of my adventure, she was very interested in comparing notes of my experience here.


Her daughter and I were in the same boat in that all of our medical supplies needed to come from the United States. I walked her through the story of losing my insulin so they were better prepared by having Australian prescriptions on hand for any necessary medications. I could tell she was thankful for the advice. I can’t imagine being a mom leaving your kid in a foreign country. After 10 years of working camp I see it’s hard for first-time parents just to let their kids go for a week. I have truly goes off to this mom.

The area around Cairns is filled with farms of sugar cane. As the train lumbered along, we could see farm after farm growing sweet gold down for markets in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane.


We could smell the diesel exhaust coming from the locomotive as we began to climb the mountain. The motor was laboring even though the slope appeared to be gentle.


The conductor called out to us as the train made its way over the first major bridge.

The bridge crossed over the gorge of Stony Creek Falls. The waterfall was beautiful. With the deep blue skies in the background and the sheer cliffs, the view could not have been better.


Despite the train being old and the seats very minimalist, the ride quality was actually very good. I’m guessing we were traveling somewhere around 40 km/h (25 mph) in the flat spots and about half that as we were climbing the mountains. We were now in the heart of the mountain rain forest. I’m not used to altitude bringing more intense vegetation. Usually it’s reversed. All of the plant life usually likes to be on the valley floor.


Our next major stop was Barron Falls and Gorge. The conductor said that the water flows were quite low for this time of year, but the gorge was pretty spectacular. I really wondered what it would be like with a full flow of water over all the cliffs.


Zooming in as far as my lines would reach (105mm) to detail in the rocks was breathtaking. The chiseled artifacts really stood out amongst the thick vegetation of the forest.

After our two hours were up, it was time to see the town of Kuranda. Right inside of the train station I could see a memento from the state of Vermont. I know I’m in tourist trap central, but it would’ve expected some Australian variety rather than Ben & Jerry’s.


My hunch is this railway was never designed to be a commercial railway outside of getting the functional supplies from town up to Kuranda. The ornate designs on the train itself as well as the stations leads me to believe there were an elite set of passengers they needed to keep happy from the very beginning.

As soon as I stepped into town, my perception quickly changed. I could hear Waylon Jennings in the back of my mind singing “Just a Good Old Boy.” Here I was thousands of miles, actually tens of thousands of miles away from home and it’s back to mudflaps, dirt bikes, and Confederate flags. I find it completely ironic that the stars and bars are even here in Australia. On so many levels, it just seems to be wrong. Mudflaps and dirt bikes – we’re all good there!

Regardless of location… “a country boy can survive!”


Bundaberg Beer was one of the novelties I stumbled upon here. “Bundy” as they are affectionately known makes several kinds of alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages. Based a little further south on Queensland’s coast, Bundaberg is big business here.


This bit of artwork caught my eye:


I get the sense that Kuranda is the mountain tourist town designed for families. It felt a lot like Helen in Georgia, Leavenworth in Washington, South of the Border on I-95, and Laytonville in California.

The question on my mind was: “What was I going to do here for the next four hours?”  Welcome to Kuranda!


Route (almost):


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One response to “Kuranda Scenic Railway”

  1. Christine Avatar

    What a crazy, funny place to find the Dixie flag! So many questions… =)

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