2011 April 2-4 – Days 87- 89 – Cairns, Australia

The taxi picked us up at 5:15am to get us to the airport for our flight to Cairns.  We had to do some luggage re-packing when we found out we were only allowed one checked bag each on domestic flights.  The lady as the counter was very nice and helped us lower our weight allowance by stuffing stuff in our carry-on bags. (I have never understood what the difference is whether the weight is in your checked bags or your carry-on bags.  It is all on the plane anyway.) We were still a bit overweight but she let it slide.  We arrived in Cairns on time under cloudy skies.  We picked up our rental car and found our hotel.  It was early but our room was ready anyway. We had been told by our friends Harold and Martha that March/April was the wet season in Darwin and Cairns.  It was certainly wet in Darwin and the Top End. Cairns followed the trend as well. We were there four nights and we had clouds and/or rain every day.

We found the Visitor’s Center and booked a flight over the Great Barrier Reef and the Railroad/Sky Tram trip over the mountains to Karunda.  We drove north to Yorkey Bay and watched the kite surfers for awhile before returning to town and our hotel.  The early morning and bad night made for a lazy day and after fighting the free wi-fi in the lobby (internet in your room was $11.00 per hour!) with no success, it was also an early-to-bed night.

The next day was a down-day.  The lobby wi-fi worked at last so we did computer work, checked and sent emails, and uploaded photos to Photobucket for the folks at home to see.  We went for a short walk to locate the train station for our tour the next day and bought  breakfast and lunch food in the large shopping mall at the station. After dinner that evening we walked through a couple of the blocks of the Night Market and along the Esplanade before going bed.  We had to be up early the next day for our train trip. We were at the train station at 7:45 and boarded a restored 1880s rail car for our trip to Karunda.  There were only a dozen or so people in our car so we all had plenty of room.  The railway line was literally hacked from the cliff-sides of intensely thick rainforest to make a route to the gold fields during the wet season.  The land route Bump Track was impassable in the wet.  (The Bump Track was originally an Aboriginal trail between the coast and the mountains.  It was blazed by Europeans in 1877 too access the north Queensland gold fields.)

It took two years for surveyors to find a route for the railway and 18 months to complete the first 19 kilometers of track.  The second 25.5 km section took 6 YEARS and accounted for about 23 deaths and a £300,000 budget ( a LOT of money in 1887).  The government refused to spend any more money so private investors were found and 23 years later the third section was finished – in 1910.

It started to rain when we were part-way up the mountain pass but it was still a very scenic trip.  There are 15 tunnels (cut by hand with pick and shovel after an explosive charge lossened the rock) on the 75 kilometer line , 93 curves – some of them 80°, and more than a dozen bridges over very deep ravines. It was an engineering marvel of its day and would be a major project even today with our better equipment and technology.  The line starts at 5.5m (18′) above sea level and climbs to 327.1m (1073′) The bridge at Stoney Creek Falls.  Completed in the mid-1890’s, it stands on three trestle piers with a tight four chain radius. When the day is clear there is a spectacular view of the Coral Sea and Cairns after exiting Tunnel 14.  On a really good day you can see Green Island on the horizon. We couldn’t even see the horizon.Barron Falls were really flowing.  It has a drop of 265 m (870′).

We arrived in Karunda just before 11 am.  We had four hours before the SkyRail back to the town of Freshwater and a shuttle back to our hotel.  (Freshwater was so named because it was the first place that freshwater could be obtained by the railway construction teams.) After we walked around for a little while we visited the Butterfly Sanctuary (partly because it was indoors so we wouldn’t get any wetter).  They have over 1500 free-flying butterflies.  They maintain all their own butterlfy stock with an extensive breeding program.  You could also tour the lab with all the jars full of cocoons or caterpillars munching their particular favourite variety of leaves; all of which are grown by the sanctuary.                                           This butterfly liked my straw hat. We took a slow meandering walk around town before heading to the tram station.  The rain stopped for the majority of our ride over the rainforest canopy but the sky remained overcast.  The SkyRail is about 6.5 km long and goes from Karunda up to the summit of Red Peak before dropping down to the Caravonica Terminal at Freshwater. The cars run on a line 200′ above the forest and the distant views of Cairns (pronounced Cans) and the ocean were very nice despite the clouds.  There are 25 towers and #6 was the tallest at 120′.   You can get off the tram at two stations and wander around before getting on another tram and continuing your journey.  The first was Barron Falls Station where we strolled the rainforest walkways to three lookouts over Barron Gorge and Falls. Barron Gorge hydro-electric power station.  Built between 1932-35 it was carved out of the rock within the mountain on the northern bank of Barron River Gorge. It generates 60 megawatts of energy to the Queensland power grid.

At the Red Peak Station there is a long boardwalk which meanders through the tropical undergrowth past roots, tree ferns and climbing wait-a-while palms.  There are rangers available to answer questions or pass along information.

From Red Peak it is a straight run down the mountainside to the station where a shuttle is available to take you back to Cairns. Back in Cairns we walked up to Kewarra Beach, which isn’t far from our hotel and then went to a pizza place for dinner before going to our room for the night.  It would have been nice, on such a scenic tour, to have sunshine but nevertheless, it was a lovely day.



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