Kuranda Scenic Railway and Koala Gardens: Our Great Australian Adventure, Part 2

View from Kuranda Scenic Railway

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Great to see you again! Hope you enjoyed reading about Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef in our last post. Today’s post will focus on the Kuranda Scenic Railway, Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, Kuranda Koala Gardens, and the town of Kuranda, Queensland. You can pack all of these attractions into a full-day trip from Cairns, Queensland.

Getting to Kuranda

The mountain town of Kuranda is nestled in the rainforest about 19 miles (30 km) from Cairns, and there are a few options for getting there.

Kuranda Scenic Railway

Kuranda Scenic Railway departs from Cairns Railway Station in downtown Cairns, pauses at Freshwater Connection Station in the nearby suburb of Freshwater to pick up more passengers, and winds through rainforest to Kuranda. The narrated train ride offers remarkable views of waterfalls, mountains, rainforest, ocean, and Barron Gorge.

Kuranda Scenic Railway
Kuranda Scenic Railway

The train ride between Cairns and Kuranda is two hours one way, including a stop at Barron Falls Station for spectacular views and photos. You can take the train both ways, or take the train one way and the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway the other way.

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway travels between Kuranda Terminal and Smithfield Terminal located outside of Cairns. True to its name, the cableway glides over rainforest canopy with views of the Barron River and tree-lined mountains.

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Skyrail’s Kuranda Terminal is conveniently located next to the Kuranda Railway Station. Our Skyrail tickets listed the boarding time we had selected when booking our package (see the next section), but the cable cars run continuously, so as far as we could tell you can hop on at any time.

Passengers can disembark at two stops, Barron Falls and Red Peak, to admire the views, hike on well-established trails, and explore the Rainforest Interpretation Centre and Historical Precinct. Skyrail’s website suggests 20 minutes at each stop, but take as much (or as little) time as you want before hopping onto another car to continue your journey.

From Kuranda to Smithfield Terminal, the Skyrail experience lasts about 1.5 hours one way. You can take the cableway both ways, or you can take the train one direction and the cableway the other direction.

Kuranda Wildlife Experience package

We opted for Kuranda Scenic Railway’s Kuranda Wildlife Experience, which included:

  • Kuranda Scenic Railway from Cairns Railway Station to Kuranda – 2 hours (note: we walked from our hotel to the Cairns Railway Station)
  • Entrance to Koala Gardens, Birdworld, and Australian Butterfly Sanctuary (note: cuddling a koala costs extra) – expect to spend about 2 hours
  • Time to explore Kuranda – we spent about 1.5 hours walking around the town and eating lunch
  • Skyrail Rainforest Cableway from the Kuranda Terminal to Skyrail’s Smithfield (Cairns) Terminal – allow 1.5 hours
  • Bus from Skyrail’s Smithfield Terminal to our hotel in Cairns – about 25 minutes

We discovered this package cost about the same as if we had booked the railway, cableway, and entrance fees to Koala Gardens and Butterfly Sanctuary separately. However, it also included admission to Birdworld, which we hadn’t planned to visit but ended up enjoying immensely (more on that later).

Waterfall along Kuranda Scenic Railway
Waterfall along Kuranda Scenic Railway

We checked in at the Cairns Railway Station and received an envelope with tickets for the railway, cableway, Koala Gardens, Birdworld, and Butterfly Sanctuary, as well as a map of Kuranda and brochures. Easy peasy.

Our seats on the train were assigned, but astonishingly the train was fairly empty. Each row contained two benches facing each other, with a maximum of four passengers per bench. We had a bench to ourselves and the bench across from us was empty, and the same held true for our entire car. We took this trip on a Sunday, so we had expected a full train. Later we learned November is a low season for this part of Australia partly due to the heat.

If you plan to do the train, cableway, and Kuranda activities, we highly recommend purchasing this package.

View from Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
View from Skyrail Rainforest Cableway


A faster, but arguably less enjoyable, option for getting to Kuranda is to drive. Drive time between Cairns and Kuranda is approximately 35 minutes. If you don’t have a full day to allocate to Kuranda, this may be your best bet.

Things to do in Kuranda

The three major attractions in Kuranda were included in our package: Kuranda Koala Gardens, Birdworld Kuranda, and Australian Butterfly Sanctuary. They are within a short walking distance from one another and are approximately a 15-minute walk from the train station.

Koala Gardens: kangaroos and koalas and crocodiles, oh my!

Now that we’ve addressed the logistics for getting to Kuranda, it’s time to cuddle a koala at the Kuranda Koala Gardens!

The Koala Gardens houses not only koalas, but also kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, crocodiles, turtles, snakes, lizards, monitors, and other reptiles. We rushed to the Gardens immediately upon arrival in Kuranda to get in line for the 11:00 AM koala cuddle session.

Koala cuddles

We had a couple options for the koala session: the cheapest option allowed just one of us to hold the koala while the other could stand to the side and pet the koala, and the higher priced option allowed both of us to take turns holding the koala. We opted for the former and also received two free keychains, cute souvenirs for yourself or friends. While we waited for the koala line to open, we milled around looking at other creatures.

Note: not all states in Australia allow the public to hold koalas at zoos or sanctuaries. While it is legal in Queensland (where Kuranda is located), we have read it is illegal in New South Wales (where Sydney is) and other states.

After standing in line for a few minutes, we finally had our chance. Christina was told to stand like a tree to offer the koala support, and then the staff member placed Rocky the Koala into Christina’s arms. Rocky’s rear end sat firmly on Christina’s left hand, and Christina wrapped her right arm around Rocky’s back. Chris stood next to Christina and petted Rocky.

Christina and Chris cuddling a koala
Christina and Chris cuddling Rocky the Koala, who seemed utterly bored

What was it like to cuddle the koala?

In a word: short. We posed with Rocky no more than 30 seconds while the staff took photos with both their DSLR camera and our phones. Rocky’s fur wasn’t super soft, as koalas’ fur appears from afar, but it wasn’t coarse, either. Regardless, Rocky left us with unforgettable memories and a mysterious red goo on Christina’s palm.

Please DO feed the animals

After scrubbing our hands, we strolled through the rest of the Gardens to admire the other animals. Signs encouraging us to feed the kangaroos and wallabies lured us to the food station. Christina filled her palm with pellets and, after several feeble attempts, located a wallaby desperate enough to eat out of her hand.

A large kangaroo lay idly by on the ground. Crocodiles bathed in a pond. Again, we were pleasantly surprised at how few people were around.

Birdworld: our cat’s dream destination

We were admittedly skeptical about Birdworld Kuranda. We hadn’t originally planned to visit, but the entrance fee was included in our package. Birds are fine, but they aren’t really our thing; we usually bypass the aviaries at zoos. Birders, we are not.

But maybe Birdworld converted us!

Birdworld is an immersive experience. Humans and birds commune in an open area, where visitors can feed them and in return they may sit on a hand or shoulder if they so choose.

The birds at Birdworld are not your standard, garden-variety birds. We’re talking cockatoos, rainbow lorikeets, macaws, parrots, doves, and even a cassowary. Don’t know what a cassowary is? It looks similar to an emu or ostrich, but with a red and blue neck and head and a horn-type thing. They can be dangerous if provoked. Word has it they can be seen on the beaches in northern Queensland.

Cassowary at Birdworld Kuranda

We passed on buying small bags of food to feed the birds. Instead, we occasionally picked up uneaten food off the ground to feed the birds (did we mention we are cheap accountants?).

Christina was accosted by this cockatoo while trying to snap a photo of the cassowary.

Flutter around the Butterfly Sanctuary

The third of our main activities in the town of Kuranda was the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary. Of the three, this ended up being our least favorite. We walked around an enclosed area with flowers and butterflies. We were disappointed by the lack of diversity of butterflies. In all fairness, we have seen many butterfly enclosures in the past, which possibly contributed to our lack of excitement.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Sanctuary was the gallery of mounted butterflies from around the world. Many of the butterflies on display were as large as birds and more colorful than any live butterflies we’ve seen in person.

Explore Kuranda

Besides the three main attractions above, Kuranda is your usual tourist town teeming with art galleries and souvenir shops. We had a light lunch, followed by ice cream for dessert.

We wandered through the shops and walked along the river before hopping on the Skyrail cableway toward Cairns.

Honest assessment

Our day-trip to Kuranda was one the highlights of our Great Australian Adventure. Did it feel super touristy and a little cheesy? Sure. But we had a fantastic time hanging out with animals all day–even birds–and enjoyed the scenic vistas from the train and cableway. If you plan a visit to the Great Barrier Reef, consider adding in extra time to visit Kuranda.

After visiting Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef, and Kuranda, we left Queensland and headed south to Sydney and nearby Coogee Beach. You will NOT want to miss out on all the fantastic things to do in the Sydney area!

So, how much did this trip cost?

Since we documented Our Great Australian Adventure over a series of three posts, we summarized the costs for the entire trip in a separate post. Be sure to read our other posts about the Great Barrier Reef and Cairns and Sydney first before reading the trip cost summary!

Have you been? Would you go?

Have you been to Kuranda? Have you cuddled a koala? Tell us in the comments!

If you haven’t been there, would you go? Anything more you want to know? Let us know in the comments or contact us!

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Traveling Accountants

We are accountants who love to travel.

8 thoughts on “Kuranda Scenic Railway and Koala Gardens: Our Great Australian Adventure, Part 2

  1. WOW this looked like such an awesome adventure! I would love to go see all of the animals there. You’ve inspired me to think about starting to travel overseas!

  2. I’m obsessed with these animal photos! I have always wanted to visit Australia, mostly for all the cute critters. Thanks for the awesome post! Maybe I will have to talk my husband into going for our next vacation.

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