We reserved 1st class railway compartments on the Sunlander from Brisbane to Cairns. There are a few different compartment configurations and by the time we booked our tickets, all the larger compartments were booked, so we put our name on a waiting list and went ahead and booked individual sleeping compartments. They turned out to be pretty cool because each compartment has a comfy single chair that turns into a single berth and they each have a tiny sink. They felt like strange space-travel pods so at first we kept the doors open so that we could talk back and forth across the aisle.
A Short walk through the palms takes you to the wide sandy beach where kite boarders surf the waves and flip and turn in the air as their kites pull them high above the waves. This beach is a favorite for kite boarding.
They did warn us not to walk too far down the beach to where the nearby river flows into the ocean as it is a hang-out for crocodiles. Needless to say, I kept my eyes peeled even though we didn’t go near there. Since we were there in the winter time, we didn’t have to worry so much about stinging sea creatures, but the beach was dotted with boxes on posts, containing sting antidotes.
The highlight of our time at the beach for Jim and Bob was when they realized that a couple of young women tourists were lounging naked out on a sandbar about a half mile out into the ocean. (Picture me frowning here).
We booked tickets through Skyrail. This company offers a number of combinations of Cableway and Railroad experiences within the rainforest. We decided to take the Kuranda Railway up into the rainforest and to the Tjapukai Cultural Center and explore the rainforest via Skyway Cable Gondola.
The famous Kuranda Scenic Railway was built over 120 years ago and winds its way through the tropical mountain ranges between Cairns and Kuranda. The view of the blue sea off the coast and wide flat valley far below changed to deep green canyons and graceful waterfalls and then finally lush green rainforest as our train chugged up the rail hugging the side of the mountain.
An art center features an amazing variety of authentic hand designed arts and handicrafts and you can talk with local artisans who may be working at the center when you are there. I bought a hand painted pottery piece, but Jim really went for it and bought a Didgeridoo after being told how it was made from wood hollowed out by insects and fire and then of course instructed on how to play it!
The Skyway experience takes about 1 ½ hours as you move through the rainforest canopy layers and stop at mid-stations where rangers take you walking through the forest while they explain the cultural and medicinal uses of the plants. The walks were really interesting and hanging in the rainforest canopy peering down from the treetops to the ground far below was a beautiful experience.
We had booked our tickets through Reef Magic Marine World and I must say snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef is an experience of a lifetime. Three of us decided we would snorkel, while Bonnie opted for the underwater observatory where you can see all the amazing creatures without getting wet.
Jim, Bob and I donned our on-loan wetsuits and pushed ourselves out into the rather-cold water. This barrier reef hosts one of the most colorful arrays of sea-life I have ever seen in my life. Jim held a sea-cucumber and we all marveled at the HUGE (I’m talking about 5 feet long) friendly fish called Walley that regularly waited for the tours to arrive, when the crew would give him treats. I have to admit, I was afraid to touch anything. Being in the water with strange sea creatures creeped me out a little!