Hi folks, heading back to Cairns for today’s post. Apart from the football, the thing I was most looking forward to in the Top End was taking the railway to Kuranda.
So we organised it a couple of days before we went at the hotel lobby where the tour company got us tickets taking the train up and the gondola back down. This is a pretty common approach, some do it in reverse, and from my research online I know that the $120 ish each (Australian Dollars) return we paid was pretty much an average sort of price for this journey.
This is for 45 minutes up, a little more probably back, and bus transfers to and from the hotel. But if it was just the train and gondola ticket, it’s pretty much the same price. Yep, it’s pretty pricey and if I wasn’t up there on a short break but backpacking slowly, I would probably have chosen not to do it.
The train was pretty full, and I had seats that faced backwards to the way we were going which is never my favourite. The carriages are all done up pretty nicely, and it’s pulled by a diesel locomotive. In FACT – TWO diesel locos pulled this very long train. I didn’t count the carriages but it would have had to be at least twenty. We started at Freshwater station where all the ‘tours’ seemed to catch the train – a little way out of Cairns.
What is the most amazing thing about the journey is the track that was originally laid well over 100 years ago. The track is in dense forest and winds up along some pretty hair-raising cliffs. As an engineering feat it’s pretty magnificent. It crosses OVER waterfalls and there are a number of tunnels which are always fun to go through. As a passenger it was impossible to conceive just how the line was made as it was so long ago. It was completed and began operations in 1891!
However, what is disappointing is that you just don’t see that much I guess. And it’s all pretty slick and well done. Compare that to my experiences on the train in Myanmar, and somehow the lack of comforts actually added to how special that journey was.
The one stop on the journey is at a place called Barron Falls, which is basically a lookout across the gorge which is great, but if you’re looking for views as you travel, the gondola is more rewarding.
At the top of the line you get off at Kuranda, a town that is frankly, ummmm, how can I put this? Disappointing – yes I guess it is. It’s just for tourists and really nine out of ten people you see there have taken the train like you have. There’s a little covered market where stuff is pretty expensive and the content is mainly those sort of hippy-for-sale sort of things. Sarongs, things on chains, incense etc. Interestingly a shop for all things Scotland!
Eating-wise we looked at all the places and settled on Rainforest View Restaurant because of its view. We passed on a German restaurant that looked pretty awesome, and that was without a doubt a mistake. The service was pretty much rude – and you know I get that, dealing with tourists all the time I’d probably develop a ‘f&^# you’ attitude, but the food was so unimpressive it really left a sour feeling in the stomach. I mean my burger was on a tasteless, slightly stale bun that was like an INCH thick. And then the contents were tiny in comparison. The filtered water was charged for and tasted as if it had been sitting in the bottles for a week. If only we’d checked reviews online beforehand. 1.5 stars on Trip Advisor. Says it all really.
Then the gondola ride down, definitely the best part of the experience. There are stunning views, it’s sort of peaceful (until you cross one of the pylon and the machinery makes a clunking sound!) and you can see for miles and miles. You have to change gondolas a couple of times and get off, but there’s a nice if very short walk you can do to get back to the opposite site of the gorge to the railway. And at the end of the ride there’s a nice little café in the souvenir shop.
So that was my experience. Train was a little disappointing, the food was shocking, the town is touristy, but the gondola ride was really nice. Have you ever been? What did you think? May the Journey Never End!