The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Post by Steven Dale

Kuranda Station, co-located with the train station and a short walk to the town. All images by Matt Thredgold.

Last week I asked readers to help find information about 9 virtually unknown cable systems around the world. Regarding the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway in Cairns, Australia, Matt of Wellington Cycleways contributed this guest post (with pictures):

The first thing you notice about the Skyrail in Cairns, in Far North Queesland, Australia, after the initial shock of the ticket prices (A$42 one way), is that it is badly named. It doesn’t have a rail. It is a Monocable Detachable Gondola, so the cableway name is more apt. It does however fly above a rainforest, and the gorge of the Barron River complete with a spectacular waterfall.

The Skyrail is not an urban gondola, but rather a tourist attraction. It connects Caravonica, a nowhere place (you’ll probably have to get there by bus) on the flood plain of the Barron River in the northern suburbs of Cairns to Kuranda, a tourist town nestled 336 metres up and over Red Peak and the escarpment.

The cableway is 7.5 kilometres long, but it is not a continuous journey. You must alight at two intermediate stops. So you’ll end up queuing 3 times on the way up. The first stop, Red Peak, lets you have a short walk in the wet forest and has some audiovisual displays, and the second stop allows you to see the Barron Falls, which are hugely spectacular when in flood.

Overlooking Caravonica and the Coral Sea.

 Queuing at Red Peak Station. The  stations are designed to blend into the forest.

Queuing at Red Peak Station. The stations are designed to blend into the forest.

Most people ride the Skyrail as part of a loop combining it with a ride on the Kuranda Railway, spending a few hours being pleasantly fleeced in the town of Kuranda. Kuranda has a butterfly house, a venom zoo, a bat lady, a fancy aviary and some tourist markets. It also has some nice bushwalking around town, and if you’re keen, extended walking in the National Park.

Flying above the forest, with the Barron River Gorge behind the station.

Skyrail promotes itself as the most environmentally friendly aerial cableway in the world. Originally constructed in 1995 the 35 towers were lowered into place by helicopter, and their concrete bases were made by men hiking through the forest with pick and shovel. It runs on two 500hp electric motors, with diesel backups for power outages. It now has 114 gondola cabins (after a 1997 expansion) each seating up to 6 passengers, and has a throughput of 700 people per hour per direction It originally cost A$35 million dollars to build.

Looking down on the forest from above and its bird life can be quite interesting, and it is a quiet and peaceful ride. Maximum speed is 18 km/hr (5 metres per second), but they slow it down so that riders can enjoy the scenery.

Above the Barron River.

Approaching Kuranda Station at the end of the ride

If you make it to Cairns, then it is worth the money (yes, really) to have a ride. Skyrail works well as a tourist attraction and can be found on the web at http://www.skyrail.com.au/ The company behind Skyrail also operates Sydney’s Sky Safari from the ferry dock below Taronga Zoo, above the whole of the zoo to the front entrance.

As a provider of public transport it clearly doesn’t work. If I lived in Kuranda and worked in Cairns, or vice versa, I’d keep a bicycle at Caravonica and try to negotiate a rate for locals, or an annual ticket. At $61 a day for a return you’d soon be bankrupt.

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Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
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