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December 11, 2018

Rainforest rendezvous

David Bowden takes a scenic railway journey to Kuranda village in Queensland

Dreadlocks and beads were typical of those who championed the cause of free love in Kuranda in the past.

Once a centre for alternative lifestyle, the rainforest village in Tropical North Queensland in Australia is less controversial today and visitors, like me, are much more mainstream.

I took the 37km-long rail journey from Cairns to Kuranda village, located on the cooler escarpment above the city.

I opted for Gold Class on the Kuranda Scenic Railway (www.ksr.com.au), which has carriages dating back to the early 20th century, as it offers extra comfort and includes an onboard brunch of locally grown and sourced produce such as Atherton Tablelands cheese, Skybury Coffee, Daintree Tea, macadamias and Great Northern Lager.

A guide in nine languages is provided and announcements alert passengers to features along the meandering ride, which rises from sea level to 328m.

The train journeys through the Barron Gorge National Park, passing gorges, lush rainforests and waterfalls, as well as 15 hand-hewn tunnels and 37 bridges.

It continues on to what is considered the masterpiece of the railway — the 76m-long latticework bridge across Stoney Creek and its waterfall.

Completed in the 1860s, it is made from iron and supported by three trestle piers.

The train passes slowly over the curved bridge within metres of the falls.

Many of the rainforests here are protected as the Wet Tropics of Queensland Unesco World Heritage Site.

We were informed that the woods are home to thousands of flowering plants, of which 715 are unique. Some 336 birds have been identified, including the cassowary, a flightless bird that I later photographed in Birdworld Kuranda, a bird sanctuary.

There is a 10-minute stop at a viaduct overlooking Barron Falls, which the local indigenous people believe was carved out by Buda-dj, the Carpet Snake.

Passengers can alight to admire the cascading falls with a drop of 265m, which is most impressive during the wet season.

Local vibes

Kuranda village, which has just 3,000 residents, is just a short walk from the station. Its tranquillity appeals to those seeking an alternative lifestyle and the village first captured the attention of hippies in the 1960s. Artisans, craftsmen, New Agers and others seeking a lifestyle outside of the norm followed.

Time has mellowed many of the locals but their laid-back lifestyle and the diverse art and craft they produce — from pottery and glasswork to painting and photography — help Kuranda to retain a quirky edginess and attract a steady stream of tourists.

Many come to wander the streets and explore the Kuranda Original Rainforest Market or the newer Kuranda Heritage Markets.

On sale are products such as eco-friendly, recycled, holistic or handcrafted ware, local gourmet and homemade food, as well as art and craft, jewellery and fashion items.

Village and regional attractions also offer a wide range of activities. At the Rainforestation Nature Park, highlights include an amphibious vehicle tour through the forest or performances by the Pamagirri Aboriginal Dancers.

Visitors can also admire Australia’s unique avifauna at Birdworld, see the amazing and colourful butterflies at the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary and cuddle a koala at Koala Gardens.

Many visitors arrive on the first train, explore the village, then return on the last train.

I chose the more exhilarating option of riding the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway (www.skyrail.com.au).

The 7.5km journey down the escarpment to Smithtown, 8km north of Cairns, takes 90 minutes. Gliding over the canopy of one of the oldest continually surviving rainforests in the world is certainly an experience not to be missed.

GETTING THERE

■ I flew on Jetstar (www.jetstar.com) from Singapore to Darwin, then on Jetstar to Cairns. Kuranda is a two-hour train ride up from Cairns or a one-hour road journey.

TRAVELLER’S TIPS

■ There are a few boutique properties in Kuranda village but most travellers visit for the day, preferring to stay in Cairns. Cedar Park Rainforest Resort (www.cedarparkresort.com.au) is recommended.

■ Get more info from Tourism Tropical North Queensland (www.ttnq.org.au) and Kuranda Tourism (www.kuranda.org).

■ Bookings are highly recommended for the Kuranda Scenic Railway.

Trains depart from Cairns at 8.30am and 9.30am. Return journeys depart Kuranda at 2pm and 3.30pm. Check for updates as services can be disrupted by the weather.

■ Adventurous diners can drop by Frogs at Kuranda Heritage Markets and enjoy dishes such as kangaroo, emu and crocodile satay.

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