Tropical North Queensland's Rail Journeys
The Kuranda Scenic Railway is, quite simply, a history buff’s dream adventure
Cairns is home to some of the world’s most breathtaking natural habitats, including the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest, that are spread over a vast and diverse area that can change from wet tropics to dry outback in no time at all. And with well over 600 tourist attractions, it would seem a daunting task for anyone to try and discover them all. Yet thanks to countless miles of track that have been laid over the past century or more and the fantastic rail services that operate on it, accessibility is not an issue.
Wetlands, grasslands and endless outback; journeying through these ever-changing and expansive terrains is a challenge met head on by the Gulflander, otherwise affectionately known as the “Tin Hare”. Taking a ride on this charming railmotor is not just a scenic tour, but an insight into life in the Gulf during the early days of gold mining and the prosperity that followed in the local townships.
From Normanton to Croydon and everywhere in between, passengers will be able to observe the old buildings and cattle stations that were once the backbone of many industries operating in the area; wonder at the archetypal geological features that define the Tropical North Queensland outback; hear stories and useful information from on board experts; sample tea from locals during impromptu stops and much more. It may not boast the verdant climes of the neighbouring areas, yet the Gulf still continues to inspire those who venture through it.
If you are lucky enough to find yourself with more than a week at your disposal, a joint adventure between the Gulflander and the Savannahlander, also known as the “Silver Bullet” and not to be confused with Stephen King’s werewolf classic, should be seriously considered. The Savannahlander travels 400 km west from Cairns to the ancient town of Forsayth founded in the early days gold prospecting, but today a service centre for the mighty road trains carrying stock & goods across the endless outback.
After leaving Cairns, passengers are treated to a short experience of the verdant rainforest as the train makes it's way up the Kuranda Range (with brief stops at Stoney Creek & Barron Falls), followed by a traverse of the soft agricultural beauty of the Atherton Tablelands. However the major part of the journey consists of the stark beauty of the dry savannah that makes up the bulk of the interior of the continent, passing in turn the magnificent Undara National Volcanic Park and the spectacular Cobold Gorge both worthy of spending time if the traveller can spare it. In fact a combined Gulflander / Savannahlander voyage with a couple of nights layover at Undara would comfortably use up a week or so of true Aussie Outback experience - what the heck - when you get out there time counts for little anyway. Experience the absolute silence and the hugeness of the sky - it is magnificent.
The Kuranda Scenic Railway is, quite simply, a history buff’s dream adventure. Discover the pioneering history of the tropical north and events surrounding the construction of this world famous railway in the late 19th century; stepping into Freshwater Station is like a step back in time, and with the botanical glory of the Kuranda Sation, both are a tribute to the visionaries who built them between 1887 and 1891. Before embarking for the national parks, be sure to check out the museum and theatrette on the station premises for an even more in-depth look into Kuranda’s heritage.
As the train snakes its way through valleys teeming with life's natural wonders, take in some of the unforgettable panoramic views that you will rarely have the chance to see anywhere else in Australia. The Barron Falls Lookout boasts majestic examples of the creeks and gorges that typify this part of the region, mammoth waterways that have carved their way through hills and mountains over millions of years. Finally arriving in the mountain village of Kuranda, wander through bustling, vibrant markets and visit the attractions, with the Rainforestation Nature Park an absolute must-see.
Many travellers like to combine a Kuranda Rail trip with a Skyrail experience - their terminals are side by side in Kuranda and at the Cairns end there is a bus service to get you between the two terminals. And of course round out the trip you could also take the Djabagay rainforest walk on the Bama Way at the Barron Falls Skyrail station. You'll need all day and you'll be "toured out" at the end of it.
Sometimes, however, you need to swap sightseeing for getting from A to B as quickly as possible, and there is no faster or more efficient service than the Queensland Rail Tilt Train. Using innovative tilt technology, passengers can travel in comfort and style from Cairns to the Gold Coast, a journey covering 1691 kilometres in just under a day. Of course, you can always hop off and visit one of a number of beauty spots in between, including the Whitsundays, Fraser Island and Hervey Bay. But with a new train added to the fleet and other airline-inspired upgrades – first class suites, better entertainment systems, sleeper carriages and more – there will be little reason to leave your luxurious surroundings.
For those who do happen to have time on their side, then the Sunlander is a welcome alternative to its speedier cousin. Making the same journey over a placid 31 hours, you will have ample opportunity to relax, socialise with fellow passengers and appreciate the stunning coastline scenery. It is little surprise that the Sunlander experience has been chosen as one of the world’s Top 25 Rail Journeys by the Society of International Railway Travellers.
Looking for something out of the ordinary when it comes to seeing Cairns by train? Head over to Bally Hooley, located at Marina Mirage station in Port Douglas, on a Sunday and discover what steam train enthusiasm is all about. Rather than running an established scheduled service, a small team of passionate and dedicated workers have worked tirelessly to bring you an authentic steam locomotive nostalgic adventure. Unchanged for over a century, navigate the tracks aboard “Burdy” and “Speedy” en route to St Crispins Station, passing through lush areas of mangrove, the Sheraton Country Club and other beautiful resorts. What’s more, just by buying a ticket passengers are helping keep this traditionally important venture alive and available to hundreds of others, so be sure to point others in the direction of this unique experience.