…Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific – and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise –
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
– John Keats, On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer
As you watch the Coral Sea (a part of the same Pacific that ‘Cortez’ first saw from Panama) from the vantage point ensconced in your cozy gondola, you feel like you are an adventurer out to discover new lands. As you skim over the pristine canopy of a tropical rainforest you come face to face with raw sublime nature that is a source of everyday awe in these parts.
Kuranda Skyrail, a cablecar system high above the Barron George National Park, is a unique experience that every visitor to Queensland must savor for themselves.
As ecotourism gained greater fad during the 1990s, various parts of the world tried to marry ecological hotspots with tourism. This has many advantages:
The authorities earn revenue.
The tourism generates direct and indirect employment.
It leads to infrastructural development.
People learn about and appreciate nature and ecology.
The Kuranda Skyrail was conceived with the same objectives way back in 1987, and after numerous feasibility and scientific studies, the go ahead was given in May 1994, with the construction starting the very next month. There were protests, of course. Opponents argued that construction would lead to destruction of pristine forest land and cause damage to flora and fauna, many of which were endangered.
As a result, tremendous precaution attended the construction. Tower parts were carried by helicopters and downloaded with long lines to avoid wind turbulence around the forest canopy. All plants disturbed were re-installed carefully after completion of construction.
$35 million and 15 months later the Skyrail opened to great public acclaim. Even today it remains one of the most environmentally sensitive cableways in the world, with many accreditations like Green Globe 21, EMS ISO certifications, QMS ISO certifications and Advanced Ecotourism Accreditation.
Today, the Kuranda Skyrail is one of the major tourist attractions in the whole of Australia. Stretching over 7.5 kilometers of lush rainforests, 114 gondolas carry 700 people per hour and move continuously throughout the year – they come to a halt only on Christmas Day. The journey is a study in fascination – at times you hover over the canopy, and as the gondolas near the stations, you glide into the forest and touch the rainforest ground. A one-way trip takes about 1.5 hours, while a return trip would take at least 2.5 hours. A total of four landing stations – Caravonica Terminal, Red Peak Station, Barron Falls Station and Kuranda – one can start or conclude a trip either at Caravonica or Kuranda. Caravonica, situated just 15 minutes from Cairns is only 5 meters above sea level, whereas the Red Peak, at 545 meters remains the highest. The mid-stations of Red Peak and Barron Falls provide alighting opportunities that must be enjoyed. At the Red Peak is a 175 meter wooden broadwalk that shall take you into the heart of rainforest floor as you get to see the flora from up close. Complimentary guided broadwalk tours by informed attendants make the journey entertaining as well as informative. It is also the perfect place to spot many unique species of birds and butterflies. The blue Ulysses butterflies are the most famous among them. The approach to the Barron Falls station is one of the most spectacular sights as the cableway glides past the majestic Barron gorge with its steep granite walls lined with deep vegetation. The Kuranda terminal is situated in Kuranda, the ‘village in the Rainforest’, a tourist spot in itself. With a butterfly sanctuary, colorful aviary and koala park, shops, cafes, restaurants and various other historical buildings, Kuranda deserves a few hours by itself. Of course many people hurry through the tour and return back to enjoy as much of the tropics as possible in a single day. But if you want to savor the real taste of the rainforest and the Skyrail, you should definitely devote your leisurely hours at each of the stations.
Skyrail is considered a must by all tourists to north Queensland. It is easily accessible from Cairns and Port Douglas (50 kms). One may take a return trip on the Skyrail. Another popular option is to go to Kuranda on the Skyrail and return by Kuranda Scenic Railway, or vice versa. The railway winds majestically along the gorge past a spectatcular waterfall cascade, and is a marvelous historically significant contrast to the modern convenience of the skyrail gondolas.
A tropical country, it has warm temperature during summer months, and is cool during the winter. Rain need not dampen your adventure – the rainforest is used to being drenched in heavy rainfall, and many locals say the real beauty of the rainforest emerges only during the rains. So as long as you don’t arrive on Christmas day, you are sure to carry home a fascinating memory. And you might remember the lines from Keats on your way home.
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