Things to Do in Cairns – World’s Oldest Rainforest via Skyrail to Kuranda

Exploring the World’s Oldest Rainforest and avoiding mosquitos sounds like a plan! Searching for things to do in Cairns – Skyrail and Kuranda need to be at the top of the list. Skyrail for its magnificent perspective of a unique and precious part of the world and Kuranda as a quirky if not borderline tacky, market town but destination and home to some terrific wildlife and tropical Queensland experiences.

Skyrail provides a spectacular alternative to experiencing a world heritage rainforest and the best part is that you could be on a gondola and soaring up the mountain side, high above the rainforest canopy within 30 minutes of leaving the Cairns airport. We’ve often dropped friends off directly from the airport on the way back to Port Douglas, it’s that easy… and the best sushi train this side of Brisbane is across the road, this just keeps getting better.


Cairns is often coined the gateway to the north. I must admit, our first experienced of Cairns was pretty much that. A means to and end. That particular end was Port Douglas, for many it’s the same, perhaps it’s Palm Cove or maybe Cairns is just a convenient base for most to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef. But the beauty in Cairns, is it’s diversity. It’s easy to fill a trip with a Great Barrier Reef orientated itinerary but if you look inward, or “inland”, there’s so much to explore and it will give you a much more comprehensive “Australian” experience.


To start, the world’s oldest tropical rainforest is within sight of Cairns airport… literally. Within the forest are ecosystems that exist no where else on earth. It is also home to one of the few places that cassowaries can be found, an endangered ostrich like bird and of course you have the usual stars, koalas, wombats, kangaroos and the spectacular range of tropical birdlife and butterflies. So in short, if a wildlife experience is what you are after there is plenty of things to do in Cairns.

The Skyrail Experience

We’ve driven past Skyrail for ten years. We’ve dropped of friends and family to the door step. We even sell a range of jewellery in their shop. But we had never actually indulged in the experience, so we decided to change that and see what all the fuss is about.

Did I mentioned that Skyrail is really close to the airport? Aside from the fantastic experience, I reckon its location has got to be a big part of its success. The destination point, Kuranda is also a great way to immerse yourself in tropical Queensland and being able to “kill two birds” (pretty sure that is inappropriate in this context) in a single day by scooting over the rainforest canopy is very cool.

Skyrail Checkin

We opted for the return on Skyrail. We’ve done the scenic railway before and it turned out that the reverse perspective on Skyrail was better with the afternoon light in our opinion.
Note, it’s around a 2 hour trip one-way and the the train doesn’t stop at the Skyrail terminal, so you’ll have to allow for an extra 10/15 minutes to find your way back, which will be taken care of in your ticket with a self-drive system. Check out Skyrail’s planner, I’ve also got the options covered in much more detail here, at the end of the post.

We usually like to do our own thing so the whole experience to Kuranda was always going to be a commitment, there is a lot to see and do. Skyrail has got it down though, the trip is broken up into three stages, the first one of which – Red Peak Station – you must get off then cue again for the next stage. That’s not really an issue as each stage is an event anyway and you’re best to hop off and indulge in the easy boarded walks and complimentary guided tours (10-20mins).

Skyrail is a terrific way to experience this part of tropical north Queensland, as you would expect the views are special. It’s almost a guilty pleasure in that you need to nothing. Just sit and let it come to you. The second stop will bring you to Barron Falls Station, there’s some wicked views of the falls themselves from the gondola but there’s also a purpose built viewing platform near the station.


Kuranda is a quirky town, more of a village that happens to be nestled in a very pretty location. Take away the tourism infrastructure and there would be very little left. But that’s the appeal, a one-stop shop for all things Australiana. Everything is within easy walking distance… a few hills to climb, but nothing insurmountable (depends on the time of day).

There’s buskers, lots of indigenous memorabilia and a good selection of hand made products. You’ve also got local industries like mango wine and if your after animal products – say kangaroo scrotums or a more conventional cow hide you could wrap’m around the mass of trinkets you’ll pick up (may require multiple scrotums depending on trinket quantities). Kuranda is a market town and provided you get there when it’s all open, it’ll all be there for you to explore. Just bear in mind, in our experience, Kuranda starts winding down after lunch.

We went straight for a bite to eat and an overdue coffee at Cafe Mandala, the food was awesome and the coffee was surprisingly good. There’s quite a few options for food, we were told the “Old Market” was the place to go but most of it was shut down when we got there. Cafe Mandala is more toward the “park” end of the Coondoo Street, which you’ll find yourself on if you head up the hill from Skyrail toward Kuranda Village. The train station is next door to Skyrail so all the same directions apply.

Australian Butterfly Sanctuary

We had limited time so thought butterflies sounded quick and easy. You’ll find it on the far side of the park, just at the other end of town from Skyrail (don’t worry, that’s not far). It’s a fairly small “aviary” type enclosure with lots of butterflies just minding there own business. It’s very peaceful, perhaps serene. You can easily spend 30 minutes just taking it all in.

2/3 hours was our limit in Kuranda and after Cheryl had done her customary “art recy” it was time to high tail it back down the hill to the 2pm “Diamond View” Skyrail experience (the exclusive gondola’s with the hole in the floor), which was booked in advance.
All in all the Skyrail experience is definitely one for the list so aside from the various Skyrail experience options listed at the end of this post, I’ll leave you with some pix to suggest what might have been… the Kuranda Scenic Railway… and of course some more Skyrail☺️!

Skyrail Experience Options

Firstly there are a few option for you here. Skyrail has teamed up with the Kuranda Scenic Railway, which gives you a chance to mix up your return trip in whichever direction you choose. Yes, they do one-way… if you fancy a treacherous walk.

Option 1

Two-way return on Skyrail – $79 Adult | $39.50 Child | $132.50 Family

Option 2

One Way Skyrail & Kuranda Scenic Railway Experience – $112.50 Adult | $56.25 Child | $281.25 Family

With One Way transfer from Freshwater train station back to your car at Skyrail’s Smithfield terminal. The train station is in a cute little suburb of Cairns, around 10 minutes drive from the Skyrail terminal.

Upgrades & Add-ons

On top of these basic options you can opt for a “diamond view” (add $20 Adult & $10 Child one-way), which is a glass bottom gondola… pretty cool, or maybe not so much if you are already vertically queazy! And speaking of, you could go for the ranger accompanied “Canopy Glider” (add $100 per person, one-way) which is where they really mess with your insecurities by charging you more for less… well, less gondola, it’s an open air experience with the bonus of having the insight of a tour guide.

You could also upgrade to “Gold Class” on the train which’ll enable your drinking problem and get you a souvenir for the memory. Comfier seats are a bonus, as it’s the one thing I remember most about Kuranda Scenic Railway… or more accurately my arse remembers (yes, it does have a memory).

You can also get transfers from your accomodation.

Kuranda Experience

Kuranda is chock full of touristy things, in fact Kuranda is a touristy thing, but it does it in spades. Many of the below attractions in Kuranda can be packaged from the Skyrail terminal before you go, it’s more economical and will save you time as you’ll more than likely have a lot to cover.

*FYI – Kuranda is a tiny village so everything is walking distance.

Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

An interpretation of 40,000 years of Aboriginal history. This place is not in Kuranda, it’s fairly new and is right next door to Skyrail at the bottom of the mountain. Looks very comprehensive, reckon you could leave this for a full day activity in its own right.

Rainforestation Nature Park

Cruise the rainforest on a WWII Army Duck, indulge in an Aboriginal Experience and meet some iconic Australian animals.


A place with lots of… birds.

Australian Butterfly Sanctuary

This place is pretty cool. Maybe more so for kids but a wander around a garden full of butterflies is kinda magical.

Kuranda Koala Gardens

The marketing dream…say no more… it’s Koalas.

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Map - Things To Do in Cairns - Skyrail Kuranda

Photo Credits

Whilst many of the images are our own we did get some help from the following talented individuals, we like to give credit when it’s due! If you click their links you will see some fantastic portfolios of passionate travellers and photographers. All images were obtained under the Creative Commons Licensing Agreements, we may have lifted some levels, colours or cropped where required. You are free to use these images under the same Creative Commons Agreement.
Funky Koala – Jimmy Baikovicius | Yellow Butterfly – Kyle Taylor | Kuranda Tree Frog – Mad Visions | Kuranda Scenic Railway Moving Train – tata_aka_T and the train engine – Fs-phil