Cairns and Kuranda

Mike and Liz Downing
Sun 4 Aug 2013 19:58
The key objective in Cairns was to obtain extensions to our visas and that all went without a hitch, albeit at a cost of $290 each! So there's no risk of us becoming illegal immigrants, at least not in the short term, and our journey north can now continue. Having achieved a good proportion of the things on our 'to do' list for cairns, and with lighter winds forecast (and the possibility of motoring), we decided to stay a little longer and do the tourist bit. So it was one day to the rainforest at Kuranda (via the scenic railway and returning via cable car) and a day out to the Great Barrier Reef for snorkeling on the reef.
Cairns is surrounded by hills, some over a 1000ft, and all covered in tropical rainforests which are supposed to be some of the oldest on the planet. Kuranda is 1,080ft up and A rail track was built between 1882 and 1891 that zig zagged up the hills, through 15 tunnels and over 37 bridges. It didn't take long for it to become a tourist attraction and is now a scenic railway with trains running twice a day. Kuranda is now very much a tourist town with markets and shops to brows, selling all manner of goods. The cable car down goes across the rainforest canopy and actually goes further up, to Red Peak at 1,788ft, and then down. So it's quite a ride and there are two stations en route with board walks to follow through the rainforest. 
For the trip out to the reef we took a new fast catamaran (taking 60 divers/snorkellers) and went out to Norman reef in the morning and Saxon reef in the afternoon. These reefs are close to the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef and not affected by the rivers and run-off from the land, so the water is clear and the reefs are just what tropical coral reefs should be like. However, they're 37 miles off the coast, so just as well that the catamaran cruised at over 20kts and it only took about an hour and 40 minutes to get out there. With lighter winds there was little chop on the water and it was good to explore coral reefs again - the first time for almost a year. The reefs were quite big so plenty of scope for us to explore on our own and there was plenty to see. The water temperature was not so impressive though - although we had our own, the boat supplied 5mm wetsuites and you needed them! Lots of shivering people got back on the boat, but it did have hot showers and that made all the difference.
We liked and enjoyed Cairns. Although It's a tourist town with lots of tourist shops, it's nicely laid out. The main activity is the Great Barrier Reef with lots boats of all shapes and sizes heading out to the reefs every day, most leaving from the marina which is lined with a boardwalk, restaurant and hotels. So the marina was good place to be see all the action every morning and evening as the boats departed and returned.
But, before pictures of our time in Cairns, a couple we forgot from Magnetic Island.
A survival tactic - don't move a muscle and hopefully we won't be seen. They stand there just
like statues. These two were on a driveway of a house as someone walked right passed them
and they didn't even blink or twitch. They're Bush Stone Curlews and with this tactic we're
surprised there are any left!
Surrounding hills, from the marina.
And looking the other way, the hotels and restaurants line the marina.
Finally found time to give the boat a bit of a polish.
Cairns shopping centre is well planted with trees and shrubs.
It's quite spread out - they have just a bit more space than in the UK!
Think this is a Banyan tree, like the ones we saw in Vanuatu.
One of several of these showing the local wildlife.
An avenue near the marina all lit up at night.
The local 'sparrow' walks across a forecourt in town during the day.

The train to Kuranda was pulled by two of these locomotives.
The start of the journey and full of anticipation - we weren't disappointed!
The engines make their way across one of the bridges   ..........
....... with the coaches still following behind! It's quite a long train. 
The views were spectacular.
The line passes the Baron Falls which must be spectacular in the wet season when in full flood.
Another waterfall along the way.
Just part of the cable car system that glides just above the forest canopy.
A Kauri tree in the forest at one of the cable car stations. We thought
these were only found in New Zealand, but at 400 years old, obviously not!
Back on Skyrail and another of the spectacular views.
The last leg of the trip - down towards the Coral Sea.
Pictures from the Great Barrier Reef to follow.