Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Experience | rainforest | Far North | Queensland

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

A birds eye view of the worlds oldest rainforest

by Susie Baber  |  19 February 2023

We have visited Cairns several times over the last few years and up to now have avoided the Skyrail. We tend to gravitate to more low-key activities when we travel, National Parks, historic towns, hiking, and camping. But every now and then we do splurge on something a bit more touristy, and this was one such occasion. Attractions such as Cobbold Gorge and Undara Lava Tubes spring to mind as natural wonders worth joining the crowds for. Skyrail Forest Cableway has also made it on to that list.

We have seen plenty of rainforests over the years. We have driven through them, walked through them (on the ground and amid the canopy), we have even floated through them. But gliding just meters above and skimming the treetops gives a totally new perspective.

Getting on board the Kuranda Skyrail

If walking is not your thing, Skyrail offers an unmissable opportunity to see the world’s oldest living rainforest with the gondola doing all the hard work for you. The ride will take you up and over 7.5km of ancient tropical rainforest from Smithfield, 15mins from the heart of Cairns, to Kuranda high in the hinterland. Climbing from five metres above sea-level up to 545 metres above at the station at Red Peak. Hopping on and off the gondola cabins is a breeze, it slows right down at the stations and there are staff to help you if you need. As you glide over the trees an app delivers a commentary via your phone – it even knows where you are to point out highlights in the forest below.

Skyrail has been running since 1995 and currently has 114 gondola cabins – 11 with glass bottoms and two open ‘Canopy Gliders’, and can carry up to 700 passengers at a time.

The day we visited it was raining, to be expected in the wet season, but what better time to explore a rainforest than in the rain! Mist covers the surrounding mountains and the whole landscape takes on a mysterious ancient feel, it’s like you’ve stepped into a completely different world. The added bonus of visiting in the rain is the chance to see Barron Falls in flood. These falls sit just below a dam which means they can shut off like a tap and if you wait too long after a rainy day hoping for sunshine you might be disappointed.

We arrived at the lower station late in the day with just enough time to make the return trip and explore the two stops up the mountain. It takes 45 mins to get to the top if you ride straight through. Allowing for some time in Kuranda and stopping at the stations for a look around you really need about 3 hours to get your money’s worth – or longer if you can.

The cable car descends back through the canopy twice along the way – stopping at Red Peak and The Edge lookout at Barron Falls, both are worth getting out to explore. At Red Peak you have to get off and change gondolas anyway, so you might as well have a look around. There are ranger tours here if you are so inclined, or just wander the 175m boardwalk and soak in the rainforest atmosphere. There is interpretive signage and an audio guide for more information about the plants and animals that have survived since dinosaurs roamed the earth.

The Edge lookout is an absolute must, offering a spectacular view of Baron Falls that can’t be accessed without riding the cable car. The lookout is cantilevered out from the cliff edge through the trees and is about as close to the action as you can get. At Baron Falls station there is also an interactive, interpretation centre with history of the rainforest, flora and fauna, a top spot for the kiddies. The management even thoughtfully provide umbrellas to borrow at each station, to keep you dry while you wander.

Skyrail offers unimpeded views across the vast green canopy below, a bird’s eye look at otherwise inaccessible areas of the ancient rainforest. This World Heritage listed tropical rainforest is estimated to be 130 million years old, it has survived dinosaur extinction and Ice Ages. While the rest of Australia grew drier and the rainforest slowly disappeared, this narrow corridor of tropical rainforest stretching from Cooktown to North of Townsville has remained.

The cable car was built with minimal disturbance to the rainforest, each tower lifted into place by helicopter to avoid damage to the area. Skyrail strives to be as sustainable as possible and is the only cableway in the world to be awarded EarthCheck’s Certified Platinum rating. They also raise money for conservation through the Skyrail Rainforest Foundation, to support rainforest research and education as well as carrying out projects to help revegetate connectivity corridors for rainforest animals such as the cassowary (which by the way I still haven’t managed to spot in the wild).

Kuranda can also be reached by car or on the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway which winds through the lush green rainforest of Baron Gorge twice daily. Many people opt to get the train one way and the cable car the other. The town is quite cute and has a main street with many cafés and shops to browse. But a day out in Kuranda is as much about the journey as the destination, and this is definitely the best way to travel.

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