Kuranda is a beautiful village nestled along the impressive Barron River and surrounded by ancient rainforests. With only a 30-minute drive up the hills from Cairns, Kuranda is one of the most sought-after day trip destinations from Cairns.
As a popular tourist destination, Kuranda offers a great range of attractions and activities to suit all needs. Here, you can join various bush walks to explore the surrounding rainforests and waterfalls; get up and close with native Australian wildlife; learn fascinating Aboriginal culture and history from the locals; check out a massive local market amidst a rainforest; and appreciate an unparalleled panoramic view of Barron Gorge and the stunning Cairns coastline onboard the Skyrail Cableway.
These unique experiences are all second to none & can all be easily explored during a day trip from Cairns to Kuranda. If you have more time and budget, I suggest spending a night at Kuranda to experience life in Kuranda after most visitors have left the village.
Here is a detailed itinerary and guide for visiting Kuranda on a day trip from Cairns. I hope it’s helpful to you.
Visit Kuranda by Car
Kuranda is only a 30-minute drive from Cairns and a 60-minute drive from Port Douglas. So driving is undoubtedly the quickest and more convenient way to visit Kuranda.
Along the drive between Kuranda and Cairns, you can visit the Rainforest Nature Park to join a Rainforest Discovery Tour and the Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience. It is only a 5-minute drive out of Kuranda.
There is also a stunning lookout along the winding drive between Kuranda and Cairns, the Henry Ross Lookout. It provides an impressive view over Cairns and makes a great additional stop when driving back from Kuranda to Cairns.
Since most visitors arrive and depart Kuranda Village via Skyrail Cableway and Kuranda Scenic Railway, the village typically only has limited tourists before 10 in the morning & it settles down quickly just after 3 in the afternoon.
So if you are visiting Kuranda by car, you can easily avoid visiting Kuranda’s popular attraction during the busy hours of the day & have a better experience in general. Since you have your transportation sorted already, you do not need to stick to the strict railway or cableway schedule either & can enjoy more of Kuranda at a pace that suits you better.
Visit Kuranda via Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is a 7-kilometre cable car ride over an ancient rainforest to transport visitors between Cairns and Kuranda. It is one of the most exhilarating and scenic ways of visiting Kuranda. In fact, it is a must-visit Cairns attraction in its own right!
Along a Skyrail Rainforest Cableway ride, you will be gliding over the lush rainforest canopy and obtaining breathtaking aerial views of Cairns’ impressive coastline, the charming Kuranda Village, the spectacular Barron Falls, and the fascinating Barron Gorge National Park.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway from Cairns to Kuranda departs from Smithfield at 15 minutely intervals, with the first gondola departing at 8.45 am. It is only a short drive from Cairns town centre, with free parking available.
Although you do not have to purchase a ticket online in advance, it is highly suggested if you want to secure a preferred departure time and avoid waiting in a queue at the ticket office. In my case, I booked my ticket online a week in advance but could only purchase a 9 am departure as the 8.45 am departures were already sold out.
Note: The advised arrival time for your Skyrail Cableway ride is no more than 15 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time. You’ll have to wait outside the terminal if you arrive too early for your Skyrail Cableway ride.
Once you have jumped into your Skyrail gondola, the cableway will take you on a steep uphill climb and present you with a magnificent view of the beautiful Cairns coastline with the lush ancient rainforests beneath you. In my memory, this was the best and most exciting part of the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway!
Once you have ascended above the mountain tops, your gondola will come to a brief stop at Red Peak Station, where you need to change into a different gondola to head further up towards Barron Falls and Kuranda.
That said, don’t rush to head up just yet. Make sure you check out the rainforest boardwalk and the lookout at Red Peak first before proceeding further.
At Red Peak, visitors can find an elevated boardwalk to explore the lush rainforest nearby. Complimentary guided rainforest tours are available throughout the day if interested. There is also a small lookout near the station, which offers a picturesque panoramic view of Kuranda Village and its surrounding rainforest.
Continue further along Skyrail Rainforest Cableway; you will then arrive at Barron Falls, where you can find a couple of lookouts with a spectacular view of the fierce Barron Falls gushing into the gorge beneath.
Along the last section of this Skyrail Rainforest Cableway ride, you will admire the beautiful Barron River and Barron Gorge National Park from above the canopy. It was a truly magical view and experience.
If interested, a Diamond View gondola with a glass bottom can be booked at an additional cost. But I honestly think it is unnecessary, as you can still get a decent view of the rainforest below via the curved side windows.
Although the gondola does not swing much, it still shakes a bit with a few ‘bumps’ here and there. I don’t usually get travel sickness, but I did feel a bit sick towards the end. So you may want to prepare some travel sickness medication if you are prone to experience travel sickness.
Visit Kuranda via Kuranda Scenic Railway
Another popular way of visiting Kuranda is via the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway.
Kuranda Scenic Railway was constructed between the 1880s and 1890s to connect Cairns and Kuranda. It meanders through 15 hand-made tunnels and crosses 37 bridges along the Barron Gorge, providing breathtaking views of the ancient rainforest, massive waterfalls, and incredible gorges through your cabin windows.
It is more of an attraction than a mode of transport, in my opinion.
Two cabin classes are available on board Kuranda Scenic Railway: Heritage Class & Gold Class. Both cabin classes offer audio commentary on the history of Kuranda throughout your scenic railway trip.
Heritage Class offers travel in a refurbished original timber carriage & Gold Class offers a Victorian décor carriage with guaranteed window seats (but at almost twice the cost of a Heritage Class ticket). Morning or afternoon tea is also included in Gold Class.
The Kuranda Scenic Railway usually departs from Cairns Station & bypasses Freshwater Station twice in the morning. It then returns from Kuranda Station to Freshwater/Cairns twice in the afternoon. A one-way ride along Kuranda Scenic Railway takes about 2 hours between Cairns and Kuranda & about 1.5 hours between Freshwater and Kuranda.
For the best experience, many people like to take Kuranda Scenic Railway in one direction and Skyrail Rainforest Cableway in the other to get the best of both worlds. So you may want to purchase a combined Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail Rainforest Cableway ticket instead.
Gold Class Kuranda Scenic Railway option is also available for combined tickets, so you can still travel in styles when combining these two iconic Kuranda transportations.
Kuranda Village is a beautiful village tucked within an ancient rainforest. Even its buzzing commercial streets are lined with giant fig trees, making Kuranda Village an excellent place to escape the coastal heat.
Although the Kuranda Village you see today is more geared towards tourists, with buzzing shopping streets and markets, it is still brimming with nature and local culture, which should not be overlooked.
At Kuranda Village, you can stroll along Kuranda Main Street (Coondoo Street) to check out a range of unique arts and crafts. One place I highly recommend checking out is the Doongal Aboriginal Art and Artefacts.
Doongal Aboriginal Art and Artefacts is a shop selling a range of arts and crafts from local Aboriginal artists. To me, it was more of a gallery where you could appreciate a vast collection of fascinating local artworks. Especially for visitors new to the Australian Aboriginal arts, this is a place you must check out when visiting Kuranda & it will not disappoint!
In addition to the arts and crafts, Kuranda Village is well-known for its buzzing markets, regularly featured in travel guides and documentaries.
There are two main markets in Kuranda to explore: Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets & Kuranda Heritage Markets. They are very close to each other, with the Original Rainforest Markets being the larger & (in my opinion) more interesting market of the two.
Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets
Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets was first established in 1978 by a group of local artists along the rainforest in which it is currently located. Forty-something years later, the Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets still retains its original hip vibe and has become a key attraction in Kuranda Village.
Set amidst a rainforest, Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets is buzzing with funky stalls selling handmade crafts, jewellery, and clothing items. You can also find a range of gourmet food stalls specialising in various cuisines, perfect for grabbing lunch and a drink. With music coming from different corners of the market, you will want to linger around here for hours if time allows.
A mini golf court is also located within Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets. The ticket was AUD 5 per person when I visited & it can be a fun spot to check out, especially for families with kids.
Kuranda Heritage Markets
Just across the road from Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets, you will find the other famous Kuranda Markets, Kuranda Heritage Markets.
Tucked behind the main entrance for Birdworld Kuranda and Kuranda Koala Gardens, Kuranda Heritage Markets can be challenging to find for many visitors.
In comparison to Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets, Kuranda Heritage Markets is much smaller in size and has fewer stalls. Although it also offers a range of stalls with handmade crafts, fashion items, and delicious food, Kuranda Heritage Markets feels more like a regular Sunday market which you can find all around Australia’s east coast.
That said, since Kuranda Heritage Markets is an undercover market, it is a great alternative when visiting Kuranda on a rainy day.
Also, being right next to Birdworld Kuranda, Kuranda Koala Gardens, and Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, Kuranda Heritage Markets is perfect for grabbing a quick bite between your visit to the surrounding sanctuaries.
After a morning stroll around Kuranda Village and its famous Kuranda Markets, let’s now check out the fascinating wildlife sanctuaries Kuranda offers.
There are three wildlife sanctuaries in the heart of Kuranda Village: Kuranda Koala Gardens, Birdworld Kuranda, and Australian Butterfly Sanctuary. They are positioned alongside each other, right next to the Kuranda Markets.
Tickets for all three sanctuaries were all almost identically priced at around AUD 20-21 per adult when I visited. You can also purchase a combined Kuranda Koala Gardens and Birdworld Kuranda ticket for a better deal. A deluxe ticket for visiting all three of the sanctuaries is available too.
Here is a summary of these three wildlife sanctuaries for you to compare and decide which to visit.
Kuranda Koala Gardens
Kuranda Koala Gardens is a wildlife sanctuary for not only koalas but also various other native Australian wildlife, such as kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and freshwater crocodiles.
In addition to admiring those cuties from afar, you can also hand-feed the kangaroos and wallabies here at Kuranda Koala Gardens. Visitors can also hold a koala for a memorable photo if interested (for an additional fee).
Birdworld Kuranda is home to over 60 native and exotic species of birds. Within its rainforest, you can find a range of fascinating birds, including an endangered Southern Cassowary!
You can also hand-feed and interact with many of its curious and sociable free-flying birds.
That said, you may want to put away your shiny jewellery and accessories before heading into Birdworld Kuranda. So you don’t get too much unwanted attention from these curious birds.
Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
Australian Butterfly Sanctuary is a sanctuary for over 1500 tropical butterflies. It is set in a tropical rainforest environment to recreate the natural habitat for its butterflies & it is Australia’s largest open-air butterfly aviary.
In addition to wandering through its enchanting rainforest and interacting with the butterflies, visitors can join guided tours to learn more about the sanctuary and its beautiful butterflies.
Tips: Wear bright colours when visiting to attract more butterflies during your walk.
Depending on your mode of transport, you would likely have already viewed the impressive Barron Falls along your Skyrail Rainforest Cableway or Kuranda Scenic Railway ride when heading up Kuranda from Cairns. However, if you are visiting Kuranda by car, make sure you have visited Barrons Falls before heading back to Cairns.
Barron Falls is a 3.5-kilometre hike from Kuranda Village. Various signages are available within Kuranda Village and along the track for navigation. Depending on fitness level, a return walk between Kuranda Village and Barron Falls should take about 2 hours. So make sure you bring some snacks and water along.
To save you from a long hike, you can also take a short drive from Kuranda to Barron Falls Train Station, where you can find a short trail to Barron Falls Lookout.
If you are visiting in the wetter months between December and March, you can typically find Barron Falls at its fullest, which is undoubtedly the best time for admiring Barron Falls.
That said, the spectacular views of Barron Falls and the Barron Gorge are worth checking out all year round, even during the driest months.
Is Kuranda Worth Visiting
The short answer is yes!
Although Kuranda has been criticised for being overly touristy, it is still a unique Australian and North Queensland experience, which everyone should at least check out once in their lifetime.
Because where else in Australia can you find a rainforest village brimming with Aboriginal culture and buzzing with hippy markets? There are also many rainforest walking tracks and spectacular waterfalls to be discovered immediately around the village. Making it an oasis for both nature and culture lovers!