Travelling by train in Australia: Kuranda Scenic Railway

When planning a trip to Australia, travelling by train usually does not come to mind as a way of transportation. Long distances between Australian main tourist destinations and time restrictions often prompt to opt for a flight – fast and efficient way to hop to the next place. Alternatively, if one has time and wants to discover areas more off the beaten track, it’s a good idea to rent a camper and visit at your own pace without flight tickets’ constraints more remote destinations, especially stunning Australian natural sites.

Even if planes and cars are the most common choice for visitors to move around different places in Australia, many major cities have efficient train network within their agglomerations. You will find comfortable trains in busy cities such as Melbourne and Sydney which are a smart choice if you want to avoid standing in traffic or search for ages for a parking slot. The cost of the ride is not very costly so this is definitely an economical and eco-friendly way to discover various districts of Australian biggest cities.

But trains in Australia can be much more fun than just be an efficient way to transfer in big agglomerations. If you search a bit, you can find many scenic train journeys which cross in few days a big part of the country offering beautiful views at the coast and Australian desert landscapes. However, such journeys are usually very costly, since those trains are not typically a regular service but an experience for wealthier tourists.

Interestingly, Australia has more options for train enthusiasts. In certain areas you will find one day return trips offering scenic views so you can enjoy fantastic Australian landscapes in a convenient way.

One of such scenic routes is offered by Kuranda Railway which leads through mountains covered by tropical forests. The journey starts in Cairns which is a small town in tropical Far North Queensland and leads historical town of Kuranda.


The route leads through the heart of spectacular Barron Gorge National Park where you can admire World-Heritage-listed Wet Tropics Rainforest.

As the journey continues, visitors can take a closer look at the native plants of the ancient tropical forest, admire majestic waterfalls, rock formations  and have some stunning views at Cairns and the Coral Sea. Rising from the sea level to 327 meters, the train continues its way through 15 hand-made tunnels and over 55 bridges until it reaches its final destination – the mountain village of Ngunbay (Kuranda) which means ‘place of the platypus’.

The railway itself is an engineering masterpiece. The line was open in 1891, many solutions used to construct the narrow gauge railway in a very specific climate and geological conditions were very innovative at that time. Around 1500 men (mostly of Irish and Italian origin) were working on its construction. Nowadays, you can feel the history of time by travelling in the carriages which date back to the early 1900s. Each carriage is built from Silky Oak timber, however more sustainable timbers are used nowadays when maintenance is needed.


There are 2 morning departures every day at 8.30 and 9.30 from Cairns train station and the journey to Kuranda takes approximately 2 hours. You can also depart from Freshwater railway station at 8.55 am and 9.55am. You will arrive to Kuranda around 10:25am and 11:25am depending if you choose earlier or later departure.

The return is at 2pm and 3.30 pm and the train stops in Freshwater at 3.32pm and 5.02pm and finishes in Cairns at 3.55pm and 5:25pm.


Before planning your day, check the website of the Kuranda Scenic Railway to confirm the hours. The pre-booking is a wise option especially in the weekend and holiday season to ensure your tickets. You can send a form on the Kuranda Scenic Railway to reserve your seat or make a call, especially if you’re booking one or two days ahead. When confirmed, you will get an email with a reservation number which you present on the train station in Cairns (no idea how it works in Freshwater station). There you receive tickets with allocated seats.


When making reservations you can choose between two classes for the carriages, basic Heritage Class and premium Gold Class. Both of them offer a journey in beautiful historical carriages which induce an old-world charm. In the Heritage class you can observe the rainforest scenery through large open windows, all travellers are also offered an audio commentary and souvenir trip guide. There are filtered water dispenser at every carriage. If you travel in Heritage Class, you may consider bringing some small snacks as there will be no option to purchase any food on train (but there will shops and restaurants in Kuranda village). The Gold class has beautifully decorated Victorian inspired carriages’ interiors. The tropical welcome drink and locally-sourced snacks and beverages are offered throughout the journey. A souvenir trip guide and gift pack are also given.

If you don’t want to repeat the experience and you prefer to travel by train only one way, you can arrive (or have your return) to Kuranda by Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Check the website of the Cableway to see prices, schedules and booking options.


Kuranda mountain village is a charming place on its own with many attractions around. I recommend taking an earlier train and coming back by last one to spend here a bit more time and enjoy various activities available. There are many walking paths which allow you to discover the rainforest and have a closer look at the Barron Waterfalls. You can easily get some orientation maps  to navigate easily. If you prefer to stay within a city, I recommend checking out the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, Birdworld and Kuranda Koala Gardens. Koala Gardens are one of very few in the country where you can still cuddle a koala (however, this is possible for an extra fee which is quite steep). There are few koalas in the gardens and you can watch them play, eat and rest. There are also many other native Australian animals there, you can see from behind a solid fence few crocodiles or feed and touch wallabies (small-sized kangaroos). If you want to have a picture with koala, try your patience with wallabies to come to you and see many other animals, count more than one hour in the gardens.

Kuranda is a 100% tourist-oriented village and you will find here plenty of souvenir shops selling authentic Australian souvenirs. I was quite surprised that the products are not overpriced and the choice was really very good, especially if you’re into leather products, including more exotic ones like crocodile and kangaroo leather.  If you’re concerned for ethical reasons, crocodile leather comes nowadays from farmed animals in controlled conditions, in reputable shops you will also find sustainably sourced kangaroo leather. If you have reservations or just don’t want to buy these kinds of items, you will still find in Kuranda very interesting collection of Aboriginal art objects, traditional wooden instruments, local snacks among many others. Some shops offer better quality than others so pay attention and check the country of production. Sometimes the design is Australian but the product was made in other country (often reflected in price).

If you come back to Cairns by train, make sure to come on time, the train departures punctually and does not wait for late passengers. As the town is very isolated and there is no regular public transport alternative, the journey back if you miss your train (especially if you took the last one) might be complicated.


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