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The Best Scenic Train Ride in Australia

See Far North Queensland’s stunning rainforest, gorges and landscapes from the train.

By i.c Golina

Kuranda Scenic Train

Train crossing Stoney Creek Bridge and Stoney creek falls

Kuranda Scenic Train is one of the most photographed train journeys in Far North Queensland and probably in Australia. With almost 15 carriages and when in its full capacity, it carries almost 700 passengers on each single trip. It operates all-year around, except on Christmas day or on a bad weather condition (mainly during the wet season from December to April each year). This scenic railway journey is right next to the Great Barrier Reef – one of the natural wonders in the world. Taking this scenic train trip takes you beneath vast mountains, through rainforest and beside jaw-dropping hill sides along beautiful Barron gorge and over-looking to glittering sea – Great Barrier Reef. This is why, it is one of the major pull-factors that keeps pushing tourists from all over the world to the Far North Queensland, especially the city of Cairns. 

Half of the train carriages. Goldclass carriages are located in the middle while Heritage class carriage on either end.

 

This train trip begins from the city of Cairns, through suburban outskirts to Freshwater station about 15 minutes from Cairns before going through lush open sugar fields and ascending through rainforest into its destination Kuranda township – a tiny town located in the rainforest up in the mountains. The views and the sceneries never looked more beautiful from the train window.

Seated on the right-hand side of the train journey up I had the forward seats in the direction of the travel. This gave me a great opportunity not only for views but was able to capture most of the best sceneries looking out from the window. I was certainly in my photography glory. Photos below certainly tells the story.  

View of the mountain from the window
View of the city of Cairns and the reef from the window

This scenic train ride leaves you with memories that you will never forget. In simple, it is one of the most rewarding way to travel up the mountain to this beautiful village in the rainforest. Sit back and relax into your train seat as scenes glide by your window like something from a movie.

 

Heritage Class

I took this train ride where my journey began on this unforgettable train trip at Freshwater railway station about 15 minutes out from Cairns city central station. The Kuranda Scenic train offers two classes of service, Heritage class and Gold class carriages. The Heritage class passengers travel in carriages in bright red vinyl cover seats with every passengers sitting alongside each other with no services provided. However, you’re allowed to take onboard any non-alcoholic drinks and food. For many families, packing your own lunch is always worth it.

Heritage class carriages
Heritage class seats

Gold Class

For Gold Class carriages, it is a premium option – a little expensive but it is worth it to travel on Gold Class – If you can afford it. The views are same as you’ll see in Heritage class but the onboard experience is excellent. The food and all drinks from coffee, tea, assorted soft-drinks to wines are all inclusive. Every passengers travel in comfortable singled lounge-like arm chair seats.

GoldClass carriages
GoldClass seats

On my many travels to various destinations around the world I try to upgrade to better options that is offered knowing that I may or may not return to do that particular tour. Therefore, I try to do my tours in style and always obliged to spend extra dollar without any hesitation. With no exception, when I took the Kuranda Scenic train, I upgraded to “Gold-Class” carriage when I checked-in at Freshwater station. I was then instructed to make my way to the pergola where gold class passengers gather before boarding the train. There, I was welcomed by very friendly staff for a pre-trip mocktail (non-alcoholic) drink as I waited for the train to arrive from Cairns. 

Finally, I stepped inside the train and was glad that I upgraded to Gold Class carriage. I not only had the comfortable seats but I was treated with special attention by the Gold-Class staff. Just before leaving Freshwater station, our Gold Class attendant welcomed us with introduction and house-rules. We were then given an onboard menu for drink selection from non-alcoholic to alcoholic drinks. As we slowly depart Freshwater station, our first drink was served immediately. It was definitely a great way to start my train trip up the mountain. As we slowly ascend up the mountain side, the Gold class attendant served our light snack with savoury muffins, cheese and spinach roll, followed by ANZAC biscuit and finally our locally produced 100% mango sorbet dessert. This was just mouth-watering on a summer day. Yes, they do cater for special dietary requirements but advance notice prior to travel is highly recommended.

Goldclass menu

Since, all drinks are inclusive, the complimentary alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks kept flowing where you can drink much as you like but the staff are all trained where their job description states that they are not allowed to make their passengers drunk. Yes, they are all qualified in their “Responsible Service of Alcohol” abbreviated RSA. As I sat there in my very comfortable seat with a glass of wine and snack as I look out the window to gasp the breath-taking views as we wind up the mountain side is something that no-one can take it away from me. It was just an amazing experience. 

View of Cairns city
View of Barron Gorge below and out to the reef

As we continued up the range with drinks kept coming and with endless stunning views certainly gave me a platform for fresh air and reflection-free photography. Prior to the journey I was given a Kuranda Scenic railway trip-journey guide which features a map-route guide listing all the points of interests along the way and the 15 tunnels that we passes through. The trip-guide had information about the train, the history of the route and the stunning falls that we might see. For those that doesn’t need a trip-guide, there is a run-on commentary throughout the whole journey that details the history of the railway, landmarks, stunning views, waterfalls, gorges and the significant cultural connections of the area to the Australian Indigenous people, especially the local Aboriginal people – Djabugay. 

As the train starts to climb during the trip, away from the lush open cane-fields, outer suburban areas of Cairns, passes through 15 tunnels and over bridges, one of the most scenic part of the journey is the Barron Falls apart from crossing the Stoney Creek bridge and falls. I was fortunate to capture Barron Falls almost in full flow.

Barron Falls
Barron Falls viewing platform

Here at the Barron Falls, the train stops for 10 minutes and I was able to go out to take a good photograph of this amazing waterfall. What a thrill to be enjoying this magnificent view of mighty Barron Falls as the water gushes down the rocks making its way down the gorge into the open sea. After leaving Barron Falls, our 1.5 hour train trip ended in Kuranda township station about a 5-minutes away from the waterfall. As the train approaches the Kuranda station, I could see the station garden well manicured, with lush tropical plants and kept well cleaned. After enjoying the station gardens along with famous mango smoothie with freshly baked scone with jam and freshly whipped cream, I then headed off to explore Kuranda township with bloated tummy. I think diet was on my mind that evening. 

Kuranda station
Kuranda station platform
Kuranda station gardens

This train has taken me on a majestic journey through the rainforest and unparalleled scenery, matched with a level of hospitality that I have not found anywhere else during my travels globally.

From personal perspective:

As we travel, we tend to experience different onboard services, whether on trains, airlines, coaches, cruise-ships or any other service oriented industries. Onboard this train, it was excellent. I was treated with special attention so as every other passengers. It was more than what I had expected – Expectations with full satisfactory.  

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