Few words rhyme with my name. Panda. Propaganda. Memoranda. Now I can add Kuranda to the list. A town in Tropical North Queensland, a visit to Kuranda welcomed a slower-paced day of moderate activity. Everyone’s adventurous spirit needs a vacation day, right? Kuranda offered the pause to sit back and observe the scenery or meander through the shops of the village, unrushed, unscheduled. After four active days in Sydney, a day trip to Kuranda was the perfect introduction to Queensland.
Here’s what we did in Kuranda:
C’mon Ride The Train
The day commenced with a leisurely 2 hour train ride from Cairns to Kuranda. This historic, mechanical chunk of machinery weaved through the rainforest, charged up the mountains and barreled through the tunnels. Incredible sights unfolded during our journey – from the roaring Stony Creek Falls to the patchwork cane fields to the lush, towering mountains. It’s easy to get lost in the setting and forget that Kuranda Scenic Railway wasn’t always a tourist attraction – it first served as a railway for mining, agriculture and passenger transport.
It took five years to build three sections of this railway including wood & steel bridges and 15 tunnels – remember, this railway was constructed from 1886-1891. Late 1800s! Before we were spoiled with technology, industrial standards and workplace safety. Yes, many men perished during the railway’s construction and the workers were expected to BYOB (bring your own bush tools). Some even worked solely with their hands. Can you imagine digging out 15 tunnels of rock and dirt with your bare hands? Interestingly, most of the workers were recruits from Italy and Ireland. Nothing like some good ol’ pasta & potatoes, eh? It was HARD manual labor. These men faced adversity from steep land grades, decomposed rock, precarious angles, brutal rainy seasons, food supply shortages, and a lack of understanding of the geology of the earth and its dangers.
That’s part of the reason this railway is considered such a feat – for its time and the elements, it’s amazing that this endeavor successfully completed. Development in the 1880s was so hasty, it was believed that many construction projects were fast tracked (pun intended), often derailing (pun also intended) adequate engineering review before plans were approved. But don’t worry – it seemed to work out for them as I lived to tell the tale of this scenic journey over a century after its maiden voyage.
Meander in Kuranda
Once the train arrived in Kuranda, we had quite a few hours allotted to explore. That’s the beauty of visiting this village – as a completely unscheduled part of our day, we could mosey around town as we pleased. The mango wine teased and the cafes tantalized. There are plenty of food options here. If you’re someone who is anticipating a day trip, I highly recommend checking our their website. We enjoyed strolling through the older part of Kuranda that I would dub “hipsterville.” This corner of the village of Kuranda has an edgier vibe – seemingly more artistic, alternative, colorful and communal. It’s further past the main strip of markets. When we walked through it was pretty empty – which is why I’m under the impression that not many people walk far enough to come across it. Don’t make that mistake!
Birdmanda in Birdworld
While there are various places to visit in Kuranda for an entry fee – Butterfly Sanctuary, Koala Gardens ,etc. – only Birdworld made our itinerary. I mean, I had to stay true to my nickname, Birdmanda (I’ll save the story for later – but it involves the rapper Birdman & Canadian Geese on Belle Isle). Birdworld was smaller than I expected, but not so small that I’d consider it inhumane. These birds seemed to contently fly around the enclosure, snagging food from the hands of visitors. It was so fun to interact with these birds up close. One bird foe even decided to gnaw on (and break!) my awesome f-stop backpack. Rude! These are my favorite photos from Birdworld:
I’ll be posting plenty more Birdworld photos on instagram, so if you have an account, follow me there!
Shopping at Open Air Markets
Kuranda is known for its open air markets. I’m grateful for the suggestion to do most souvenir and gift shopping in Kuranda. While the kitschy Aussie shops were plentiful (kinda like UGG stores in Sydney… EVERYWHERE), there were some stand out stores that sold legitimate artist wares vs. the cheaper, mass-manufactured items. Trust me, you’ll know the difference. When you see the exact same didgeridoo and boomerang taunting in 3 different doorways, you’ll know to avoid it. I need to recommend Doongal Local Aboriginal Art (pictured below) – this is where Eric & I purchased our didgeridoo and boomerangs. The items are organized by artist and each artist has his or her own unique style. Not only are the items signed by the creator, each purchase includes an info sheet with a photo and biography about the aboriginal artist. The store attendant even played our didgeridoo for us to make sure we liked the sound quality.
There’s also a grocery store and bottle shop in Kuranda – so if you’re stranded on a resort like we were, here’s your opportunity to stock up on snacks and wine.
The skyrail cableway began the leisurely descent from Kuranda toward Cairns where our shuttles waited. As we stood in line, we noticed our new friend, Carol, that we had met earlier on the train. We invited her to join us. Sharing her company twice was a blessing. We chatted about Australia and the U.S. We discussed cultural differences, politics, economics, and all interesting and informative conversation we wouldn’t have had unless we spoke with a knowledgeable Aussie. Our eyes were opened much wider thanks to her. We glided high above the canopy and the Barron Gorge. The treetops looked like large fields of broccoli reaching for the sky. The cableway made stops at different lookout points – the Barron Falls, a rainforest stroll – a casual break from the heights. Although the cableway is safe, it’s still a stomach lurcher when you look down.
For the thrill seeker, a day in Kuranda my sound like a boring tourist trap. But for this adverturist, the change of pace and scenery really gave me the chance to inhale deeply and say, “aahh… so THIS is Queensland.”