Situated on the Barron River, Kuranda’s first inhabitants were the indigenous Djabugay people who have lived here for over 10,000 years. Since then, their descendants continue to contribute to the rich cultural fabric of the area today. Early European settlers took up farming sites in the mid 1880s before Kuranda was officially surveyed in 1888. In those early years, Kuranda was a farming area producing mainly timber, dairy cattle and coffee. The village has evolved a lot since then and today, it’s a vibrant little Village in the Rainforest enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.
With the growing mining population in Herberton and a desperate need to get supplies to and from the coast, a railway route was planned. As the route was steadily cut across and through the mountains to the Tablelands, so began the Kuranda Railway. The railway from Cairns took several years to construct commencing in 1887, reaching Kuranda in 1891. An incredible feat of engineering with no modern machinery but plenty of sheer will, it’s safe to say manpower built the railway.
Negotiating steep terrain and dense rainforest, teams of workers forged their way up the mountain creating a railway line of 75km and consisting of 15 tunnels. The Kuranda Scenic Rail is now a popular tourist attraction where visitors marvel at the sheer beauty on a journey through World Heritage rainforest, but appreciate the hardships that workers endured to create the line.
The historic Kuranda Railway Station was built in 1915 and is the prettiest railway station in Australia. The railway is very much an integral part of Kuranda and brings many tourists each year to enjoy what Kuranda has to offer. Back then, as is still the case today, people were drawn to the picturesque rainforests of Kuranda and it soon became a favourite destination for honeymooners. Fairyland Tea Garden’ (1930s) was another popular destination for holidaymakers.
Kuranda played an important part as a connection point during both World Wars. It was a busy stop off point for recruits travelling from the Tablelands by rail, to enlistment centres in Cairns. The Kuranda Hotel was used during World War II as a medical centre and hospital by the Army Field Ambulance Units. As a destination, Kuranda was popular as a rest and relaxation place for troops on leave.
The Kuranda Range Road started as a single lane dirt track in the 1920s, but with the advent of World War II and the need to accommodate Defence vehicles, reconstruction of the road commenced in 1940. The route zig-zagged up the old Smithfield Track through rainforest and dense tropical jungle. It was opened to military traffic in June 1942. However, with continued use, the road soon needed widening and sealing. The current Barron River Bridge in Kuranda was completed in 1938 and the Kuranda Range Road today provides an integral link between the coast and the Tablelands and contributes largely to the economic development of the Atherton Tablelands and the growth of tourism in the district.
In 1935 the Barron Gorge Hydroelectric Power Station was opened; Queensland’s first hydroelectric power station. Demand for electricity soon exceeded supply and by 1959 the original station was decommissioned and replaced with a newer station further down the river in 1963. The station is still in operation today powering the equivalent to 660,000 light bulbs.
With the ‘flower power’ revolution rising as a symbol of passive resistance against the Vietnam War, Kuranda became the location of choice for hippie communes in the late 1960s. The laid-back atmosphere, connection with nature and agreeable climate saw ‘free and easy’ hippies seeking to live simply and be self-sufficient, make Kuranda home. Artists and musicians began arriving in the 1970s also seeking an alternate lifestyle in the rainforest.
The world-famous Honey House began operating in 1959 on Therwine Street, before it moved to its current location in 1968. The original Honey House is still operating today and has the best honey products around.
In 1978 the original Kuranda markets began on land owned by the Honey House. The then owner, realised his ‘markets’ vision for Kuranda and enlisted friends, artisans and community members to help build a series of market stalls using secondhand materials. The stalls were soon embraced by tourists who snatched up homemade food products, art and local crafts, while being entertained by buskers and fortune-tellers.
The market owners vision is now known as the Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets and is open 5 days a week, Thursday to Monday 9.30am – 3pm. The community then prospered. The population grew fast with the improved road allowing commuters to work in Cairns and live in the clean atmosphere of Kuranda.
In 1995 the award winning Skyrail Rainforest Cableway was opened and shone internationally as a first in environmental tourism. Stretching 7.5km, Skyrail was the world’s longest gondola cableway at the time of completion. The cableway project cost AUD$35million and is privately owned and operated by Cairns’ locals, the Chapman family. With a deep commitment to sustainability and providing their guests with the world’s most beautiful rainforest experience, Skyrail continues to shine as a leader in their field. Most recently, they opened ‘The Edge Lookout’ (pictured here) at their Barron Falls Station, which provides unimpeded panoramic views of the spectacular historical landscape.
The Kuranda experience today is an amalgam of all that has gone before, a cosmopolitan and happy village community. The people who live here have a deep appreciation of the beauty around them, and a cheerful welcome for the visitor.
© Kuranda 2021