Travel: Queensland rainforest


Europeans first settled in Kuranda in 1885 to support the timber-felling trade and in anticipation of a rail link to Cairns ... 1000 feet below at the other side of the Wet Tropics Rain Forest and beside the Coral Sea. When the rail line was finished in 1891, Kuranda attracted enthusiastic tourists who journeyed into the rain forest to escape the tropical coast.

Hippies invaded Kuranda village in the 1960s. Some still remain in their hippy-style incense-ripe stores, that shout ethnicity but mostly ooze Indonesian and Indian imports rather than local artisan wares.

Having taken the Kuranda Scenic Railway to the village, my sister and I are presented with several options after a leisurely lunch, window-shopping and a quick look at boomerangs and the like. Not being great walkers, we opt out of a walk through the Jumrum Creek Conservation Park, a river walk beside the Barron River or a foray into the jungle to explore regenerating rainforest. We decide instead that the real experience in Kuranda is when you're going there or when you actually leave!

Stepping tentatively into a swaying cable car as it comes to rest at the Kuranda Skyrail Terminal, sister and I hold our breath as we swing towards the Barron Gorge National Park, one of the world's most striking tropical rainforests.

Established in 1940, but in reality approximately 120 million years old (give or take a few million), the National Park covers 2820ha of rainforest containing some of the world's rarest plants. It is home to tree kangaroos and Australia's heaviest flightless bird ... the southern cassowary.

Suspended high over the Barron River and hoping the cable doesn't go "ping-snap" for at least the next hour and a half, we try not to think of the freshwater crocodiles below and concentrate instead on our upwards journey. We are simply stunned by the sight of endless rainforest surrounding us.

A feeling of total tranquillity yet total insignificance washes over me as sister starts the camera clicking with one hand while she holds the hand rail with the other. "It's okay," I say, "you won't fall out."

Although it's not apparent at the time of gliding, one can get out of the cable car at two places along the journey. Our first stop is at Barron Falls Station, strategically placed so visitors can witness the magnificence of the falls as they cascade from 260m to the river below.

At this first Station is the Rainforest Interpretation Centre, but sister and I decide to take the brief walk along the path, trying unsuccessfully to identify trees including banyan, kauri pine and bird's nest fern. It is far easier, however, to catch sight of a few sulphur-crested cockatoos, which adore this tropical habitat.

Gliding just metres over the canopy we move on towards Red Peak Station, sitting 545m above sea level and nestled in the heart of the tropical rainforest. The best thing about this second stop is the well-informed and handsome forest rangers who offer guided tours along the 175m boardwalk surrounding the station. Secrets of the rainforest are revealed and we are treated to a rare glimpse of a 400-year-old Kauri Pine, and a view that no camera will do justice to.

Our descent from Red Peak Station takes us to Caravonica Terminal, located just off the highway, 15 minutes north of Cairns and approximately 50 minutes south of Port Douglas.

The glide down to sea level is breathtaking and we wish that our cable car could go into reverse so that we can see it all again.

The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway must not be missed when exploring Queensland. Not only because of the unadulterated magnificence of the rainforest but because of the engineering feat of the cableway, which took only one year to construct.

Surprisingly, all 33 towers that support the cableway were lifted into place by helicopter in order to ensure minimum impact on the rainforest.

At the end of our unforgettable ride, we browse the gift shop, purchase a couple of souvenirs and enjoy a refreshing cup of Earl Grey in the Canopy Cafe.

That part of our trip was totally obligatory ... because my sister and I shop ... and we drink copious amounts of tea. That's just what we do, because we're women.

- Hamilton News

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