Kuranda is a small bohemian Village nestled on top of the Great Dividing Range Mountains just west of Cairns and built cohesively around the rainforest which is quaintly unique to any other place in Australia. Tourists visit Kuranda to get a taste of the cosmopolitan village life that reflects a rich cultural past, omnipresent natural environment and electrical infusion of tourist activity.
People watching in Kuranda is a great activity to participate here with the eclectic infusion of cultures and lifestyles both as permanent inhabitants and visitors alike. The locals of Kuranda range from potters, painters, photographers, craftsmen, jewellers and designers; business people, merchants and restaurateurs; hippies, musicians, bohemians and alternatives; and of course the Djabugay Aborigines who have been seen to have occupied the Kuranda region for over 10,000 years.
The Kuranda locals are friendly and helpful and welcome the tourists who come daily to check out their unique jungle home. With a population of only 750 local residents the tiny Kuranda Village thrives on the daily influx of visitors interested in learning about the rare rainforest eco-system, endemic wildlife and creative arts and crafts.
The history of Kuranda is a large part of its present day so a visit or stay overnight in a resort or accommodation house in this tiny tropical mountaintop town is incomplete without some knowledge about the roots and creation that has made Kuranda village what it is today.
Like most of Australia, the Aboriginals were seen to be the first settlers of the land and have had a presence in Kuranda for approximately 10,000 years. Kuranda was known as 'Ngunbay' to the Djabugay people and was notorious to have good fishing and hunting.
The first white settlement happened in the late 1800's as mining for gold and tin began to boom. European Thomas Behan visited the area while surveying the land for a potential railway connecting the Atherton Tablelands to the new seaport in Cairns.
In 1886 the construction of the railway begun but it did not happen without objection. The Djabugay people, who felt they were under invasion, began protesting this construction with spears killing many bullocks and some white men. The Speewah Massacre happened when Englishman John Atherton avenged on the indigenous people for these killings.
From there the Djabugay people were rounded up and taken to the Mona Mona Mission Seventh Day Adventist Mission where they were unable to hunt and fish; this traumatic transformation saw a sharp decline in the population. The remaining aboriginals then worked as labourers on the coffee plantations while some began cultivating their own land.
The first cash crop in Kuranda and the surrounding Tablelands (Cairns Highlands) was of coffee until the crops got wiped out in the early 1900's because of severe frosts. After this Kuranda attracted weekend holidaymakers and honeymooners in overnight accommodation who had come to see the surging Barron Falls and surrounding rainforests.
For a short period in the 1940's during the war, military training and recreation took precedence over tourism. It wasn't until the 1960's when people began moving to Kuranda because of cheap living and wonderful year round climate. Kuranda attracted people wishing to grow their own foods and do their own thing without government interference; before long hippie communes began to flourish.
In the 1970's Kuranda became inundated with musicians and artists seeking the laid back bohemian lifestyle. Unique hand built houses, markets, and entertainment filled the streets and people again began to come see what this small hippie rainforest Village they called Kuranda was all about.
Kuranda the Village in the Rainforest
There are several reasons why people today decide to come and holiday at a resort or villa or choose bed and breakfast accommodation in Kuranda.
The beautiful scenic environment with waterfalls, wildlife and rainforest works in perfect harmony with the eclectic shops, markets and interesting people of Kuranda.
Most people visit Kuranda daily via the Sky Rail and Scenic Train. The Sky Rail was completed in 1995 and has won many accolades such as Australia's best tourist attraction with many environmental awards such as the Green Globe and the Australian Advanced Eco - Certification.
Visitors riding on the Sky Rail up towards Kuranda village will glide seamlessly overtop of the rainforest canopy soaking in a bird's eye perspective of the immensity and beauty of the World Heritage Listed Rainforest below.
The Kuranda Scenic Rail is the original rail line that has connected the Cairns Highlands to Cairns since the late 1800's. While riding on the historic Kuranda Scenic Rail visitors will catch a glimpse of wildlife and waterfalls and surge under 22 hand cut tunnels and over bridges thru the open window of their carriages on this beautifully restored old train.
The only other option is to take a bus or hire a car and drive up the windy Kuranda range to the township. Kuranda is 25km northwest of Cairns and sits at an elevation of 380 meters above sea level.
Dining in Kuranda
Kuranda has several dining options from outdoor garden restaurants with balconies overlooking the valley, quaint coffee shops with chairs carved out of bits of natural formed timber, healthy organic bakery and take away stores and of course the multi cultural wok foods available in the Kuranda markets. Most eateries in Kuranda feature outdoor dining underneath the blanket of the rainforest and the food ranges from Asian inspired cuisines to authentic Australian meals. For a unique dining experience, a short drive from Kuranda village is Cedar Park Rainforest Resort which offers an al fresco fine dining experience on the the edge of the mountain stream. The restaurant is open on Saturday & Sunday for lunch.
Shopping in Kuranda
The shopping in Kuranda is like no other. The Kuranda Village is full of boutique stores offering unique handmade jewellery, hemp and safari clothing, handmade shoes, gifts, local arts and crafts. There are three markets in Kuranda and they include the Heritage Markets, Rainforest Markets and the New Markets.
Kuranda Heritage Markets - the Kuranda Heritage Markets are open daily from 9am until 3pm. These markets feature souvenirs such as opals, boomerangs and didgeridoos and arts and crafts like special metals, jewellery and fashion items. At the Kuranda Heritage markets you are also bound to find unique and one-off pieces and things you never imagined existed.
Kuranda Rainforest Markets - Kuranda Rainforest markets began in 1978 and were owned by a group of locals in Kuranda. In 2006 new owners acquired the site and while keeping the original concept in mind, developed a miniature village in the rainforest with unique trinkets, colourful art and authentic Aboriginal displays.
Kuranda New Markets - the Kuranda New Markers are located near the Sky Rail terminal in an undercover complex. Local pottery, arts, crafts, jewellery and painting can all be purchased here at a reasonable price.
Wilderness in Kuranda
If you are interested in plants, animals, birds and other wildlife then you have definitely come to the right place. Kuranda is set amidst The Green Tropics World Heritage listed Rainforest the longest continuously surviving rainforest on this planet. There are over 12,000 flowering plants in the rainforest surrounding Kuranda and it doesn't matter what time of year you come, the rainforest will be alive with floral electricity.
There are several ways you can discover the wilderness and rainforest in Kuranda. The Barron Gorge National Park is the beginning point of an extensive hiking trail network. Most of these tracks have important historical and cultural significance and all of them wind through the dense rainforest offering an up close and personal experience with the natural world. Hikers, walkers and nature enthusiasts can tackle these Kuranda wilderness trails that range from easy to hard.
The McDonalds Track - Connects Kuranda to the Barron Falls and is moderately difficult and 10 kilometres in length. This trail offers panoramic views of the Barron Valley and goes though dense rainforest and a thriving eucalyptus forest.
Djina - wu Track - The Djina - wu track is easy and only 30 minutes long. It connects the Speewah campground to the Smith and Douglas tracks.
The Douglas Track - The historical Douglas Track passes old mining and railway camps as it winds from Kuranda to Cairns. The Douglas Track is of moderate difficulty is 9km long and takes four hours to complete.
Smith's Track - the Smith's Track is a historical hike linking the Hodgekinsons to the Palmer Goldfields. The Smith's Track is 8 km and ranges from easy to very difficult terrain; only fit hikers should attempt this hike.
Gundal Wundal Track- This easy rainforest walk links the Smith and Douglas Track and takes about an hour to complete.
Yalbogie Track - the Yalbogie track is an easy 2-3 hour walk on an old logging road through the rainforest. On this walk you can view the rare Kauri Pine tree.
Why not stay overnight in Kuranda or the Atherton Tablelands and explore the region in depth, with a range of rainforest treehouses, retreats and B&B's, you can explore a few walks and wildlife spotting during your stay.
Kuranda Sightseeing, Tours and Attractions
As already mentioned the shopping, wilderness and restaurants in Kuranda serve as tourist attractions within themselves. On top of these, there are several more things to do for families, groups and travellers of all types in and around Kuranda village. Located centrally in Kuranda's village you will find Bird World, The Butterfly Sanctuary, The Koala Gardens and The Venom Zoo.
Bird World hosts Australia's largest collection of free-flying birds. Bird World has over 75 different species of birds including: Black Swans, Cassowaries, Macaws, Rainbow Lorikeets and Kookaburra's. Visitors of Bird World can purchase bird seed at the door and lure the birds onto their arms or shoulders with the promise of a yummy treat. Guided educational tours of Bird World are available at certain times of the day. Just hold onto your shiny jewellery as the Macaws can be very cheeky and try and steal them.
The Australian Butterfly Sanctuary. Over 1500 beautifully coloured tropical butterflies exist at the butterfly aviary in Kuranda. Wear bright colours such as pink red and white and you may be lucky enough to have some of them land on you. See the electric blue Ulysses butterfly and the bright green Cairns Birdwing Butterfly.
At the Koala Gardens in Kuranda you can cuddle, feed and get your photo taken actually holding a cute cuddly koala bear. Other animals at the Koala Gardens include fresh water crocodiles, kangaroos and wallabies, snakes, wombats, lizards and other indigenous reptiles.
The Kuranda Venom Zoo holds a collection of some of Australia's most venomous creatures so you can have a visit and scare yourself such as the huge creepy crawly tarantula spider, stinging scorpions, slimy snakes and cute lizards. Pet, play and hold these animals or just learn about how their venom is used for bio-pharmaceutical research around Australia.
As a Cairns or Kuranda local if you find a deadly creature in your yard you can ring the Venom Zoo and they will come and collect the animal and milk it for its dangerous venom and then set it free again. But not in your backyard in the natural bush environment that it should have been in the first place.
Kuranda Rainforestation is located just outside of Kuranda village and is accessible via day tours of Kuranda or shuttles from Kuranda. Rainforestation is set amongst 40 hectares of World Heritage listed Rainforest where you can view huge salt water crocodiles, float on water and cruise thru the rainforest in the amphibious water duck, take an Aboriginal dreamtime walk, throw a boomerang and watch a traditional Aboriginal Pamagiri Dance.
Getting to Kuranda
Getting to Kuranda from Cairns, Port Douglas and the Northern Beaches
From Cairns take the Captain Cook Highway north towards Port Douglas.
Take a left hand turn at the Smithfield Shopping Centre round-a-bout and head up the scenic Kuranda Range.
At the first set of lights at the top of the Kuranda Range make a left hand turn and follow the road to the main street of Kuranda Village.
Alternatively, take the Sky Rail from Caravonica Station and hour and a half (1.5) later you will reach Kuranda after two station stops at scenic lookouts on the way. You can also take the Kuranda Scenic Rail which leaves from Freshwater daily at 8:30 and 9:30; this takes 105 minutes with only one scenic stop.
Please note you need to pre-book your Kuranda Train and Skyrail options as these two tourist attractions are located in different suburbs and you need transfers in between to get you back to your location even if you have your own hire car.
Enjoy the natural beauty and sounds of the tropical Rainforest when you stay overnight in Kuranda. After a day exploring the markets, art galleries and local attractions settle back and relax in one of the Kuranda Accommodation retreats. Just a short drive from Kuranda Village is Cedar Park Resort which offers a unique retreat nestled along a private freshwater stream, offering a peaceful eco retreat for guests.
If you are wishing to explore the region a Hire Car is highly recommended, enabling you to explore the range of walking tracks, Crater Lakes and nearby townships of Mareeba, Yungaburra and Herberton Historical Village. If you have the time a self drive trip overnight trip through the Atherton Tablelands is highly recommended with a range of accommodation options including treehouses, retreats and B&B's.