Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Riding the Kuranda Vintage Railway and the Skyrail , Queensland, Australia

As far as I'm concerned any opportunity to ride on a vintage train is well worth taking. Being in Port Douglas gave me the perfect opportunity to ride on  the Kuranda Scenic Railway, a vintage train which travels from just north of Cairns to Kuranda, high up in the Queensland rain forest.

Waterfalls so close you could almost touch them

I love trains so was really looking forward to both the train ride and the chance to get up into the forest. Our small group tour of 12 consisted of 4 Spaniards, 2 Americans, 1 New Zealander (that's me!) and 5 Australians  guided by the charming Hilary, who provided an informative commentary on the hour's drive south to the train station, then it was "all aboard!" for our trip up into the mountains.

Gold Class carriage
Stoney Creek falls bridge

Construction of the Kuranda Railway began in 1887 as a way of taking supplies up to the gold miners working in the mountains. 1500 men worked on the railway, creating 15 tunnels and 37 bridges, all by hand. The track is 75km long, includes 93 curves and by any standards is a remarkable feat of engineering and a lasting testament to those workers. The journey through thick rain forest, over ravines and past dramatic waterfalls is incredibly scenic and an easy, comfortable way to get up close and personal with nature. All the carriages date back to the early 1900s and are full of lovely vintage details, such as pressed tin ceilings and dark polished timber and you can open the windows to enjoy the cool, fresh mountain air.
 I traveled in the gold class carriage, a little more expensive but worth it. Extras included comfortable club chairs, a glass of
Kuranda Station
wine to start the journey, yes, you guessed, I had bubbly, and a delicious morning tea.  What luxury, that's what I call traveling in style! There are countless photo opportunities along the way including a 10 minute stop at Barron Falls for passengers to disembark and take in the spectacular 265 metre high water fall.  Apparently in earlier times people crossed this gorge by flying fox....um...no thank you!

The train ends its journey at Kuranda's heritage listed (1915) and very pretty  Federation style railway station set in tropical gardens.

We had an hour and a half to wander around the village of Kuranda, a bit of a Hippyville packed as it is with markets selling the usual markety stuff.  But there are also  a number of attractions including a Butterfly Park, Koala Gardens and Birdworld so plenty to keep you happy if markets aren't your thing.  I chose to just wander around, exploring the markets, enjoying the mesmerising aboriginal art at the Doongal Gallery, housed in an extraordinary Noah's Arc-like building, listening to a didgeridoo player while pondering the mechanics of circular breathing, visiting the tranquil little church of St Saviour's and sipping on coffee amidst lush tropical plants. A very pleasant hour and a half.

A Kuranda Market, one of several

The Didgeridoo, this skilled player  could make all sorts of bird calls

Aboriginal art
Then our group rejoined to catch the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway back down to Cairns. This cableway is 7.5km long and takes about an hour and a half, one way, allowing for a couple of stops at scenic points along the way. I have to admit I felt a bit squeamish as we sailed high over a crocodile infested river but soon settled into the spectacular scenery and enjoyed the ride.  

Crocodile alert!
Enjoying the Skyrail
It is a fantastic way to see the pristine rain forest and to do a bit of tree spotting using the handy tree guide. We stopped for a short board walk through the bush at Red Peaks Station to get the feel of the rain forest and spot some of the prolific bird life.  The last part of the journey took in panoramic views out over the town of Smithfield and along the coastline and out to sea.  All in all amazing.

To round off a truly wonderful day we stopped off at Palm Cove on our way back to Port Douglas. This held special interest for me since my son and daughter in law had honeymooned there.  It is a very pretty little seaside resort which for some reason reminded me of the Carribean, I think maybe because of the ice cream colours on some of the buildings. There we enjoyed conversation and cocktails  at a seaside bar before heading back up the coast.
Carribean colours at Palm Cove

If you are going to North Queensland I highly recommend this day out. I also highly recommend Brett's Day Tours.  Our guide was thoroughly professional, giving good advice on things to do and places to see.  I particularly like small group tours and the fact that there was free time to do our own thing in Kuranda.

Note: these views are my own. I was not sponsored by Brett's.

#kurandavintagerailway  #kuranda #skyrailrainforestcableway #brettsdaytours #palmcove

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Port Douglas, Australia - A winter escape

We seem to have had a particularly rainy winter this year and after a while that gets depressing.  So it was with a spring in my step and a smile on my face that I boarded the plane for Port Douglas in tropical North Queensland, Australia, in search of some warmth and sunshine. I was traveling solo for a week of relaxation and adventure with a plan to alternate my days doing adventurous things on some and blobbing out by the pool with a good book on others.  I have to say that my arrival at Cairns airport was the best and smoothest arrival I have ever had anywhere.  I was through customs and immigration and had my suitcase in hand in 5 minutes flat.  What a joy!  And a timely reminder of the misery of the two and a half hours it took to negotiate Houston airport earlier this year. What a contrast and such a great, stress free start to my holiday.

The drive from Cairns to Port Douglas (population around 3200) takes about an hour and follows a spectacular coastal road with waves crashing on golden beaches on one side and a mountain range cloaked in dense rain forest on the other. It is a stunning landscape.

Four Mile Beach Port Douglas - photo by Malcolmj

The road entering Port Douglas is lined with huge African oil palms, grown at his own nursery by the late Christopher Skase, the notorious Australian billionaire and fraudster who developed the Sheraton Mirage Resort in 1988.  Tourism to the Great Barrier Reef had started to turn the once sleepy fishing village, with a population of just 100 in 1960, into a holiday spot in the 1970s but it was really Skase who set Port Douglas on the map as a holiday resort and his avenue of palms was one way of ensuring an impressive welcome.  Nowadays the town's population doubles during winter when the temperature is generally around 28-29 degrees and the days are fine and sunny. Summer is the rainy season and can be way too hot with temperatures in the 40s.

 Four Mile Beach

The old sugar cane wharf on the Estuary, Port Douglas

One of the things I love doing most on holiday is walking so as soon as I had settled into my accommodation I was off. Port Douglas has one long main street which runs from one side of a small headland to the other, the glorious Four Mile Beach, on one side, and the estuary and marina on the other. This is Australia and crocodiles abound.  It is safe to swim in the life guard controlled part of Four Mile Beach but not in the estuary or Marina area, that is if you don't want to be crocodile dinner! Fortunately this is not stinger season.  Stingers are the lethal box jelly fish which fill the sea off Four Mile Beach in summer and make  swimming there a deadly exercise.

Right: Stinger warnings on Four Mile Beach with handy bottles of vinegar in case of stings, but, beware, a Stinger can kill you.

Don't be fooled, the popular out back themed Iron Bar is new
The main street, Macrossan Street, is lined with shops and restaurants and has a laid back, resorty vibe to it.  I had heard there was a market on Sundays so made my way to Anzac Park on the estuary side of town.  It was a typical market with stalls selling jewelry, souvenirs, hand crafts, fruit and vegetables, a pleasant place to browse. I couldn't go past the plump, golden, Queensland pineapples.

Next I was tempted by a sign to a lighthouse and took the short track up the hill, past the Courthouse Museum, (which unfortunately was never open during my stay) to have a look.  I am a bit of a sucker for light houses.  I find the idea of a light glowing a warning across the sea very romantic. I was expecting a tall slender,  white column but instead  found something very utilitarian. I was disappointed but nevertheless, if it is effective as a warning it doesn't matter what it looks like.

The Court House Museum

The Port Douglas light house

Needing a rest I stopped for a while at the picturesque and lovely little church of St Mary's by the Sea right at the water's edge in Anzac park.  Small, romantic, historic and beautifully restored, it is easy to see why it is so popular for weddings.

St Mary's by the Sea

Tired out from my 3am start I headed back to my hotel.  Night falls fast in the tropics so it was dark by 6.30pm and  I had about a 600 metre walk from the main street home, nevertheless I felt very safe.  There were plenty of people out strolling and my route was lined with resorts and hotels.

I fell into bed for a deep sleep pleased at my choice of Port Douglas and looking forward to some fun adventures ahead.