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Cairns to Kuranda ... short but scenic rail trip in Australia's tropical north.

Cairns to Kuranda . . . short but scenic rail trip in Australia's tropical north

A land of long distances, Australia enjoysfame among train buffs for railroads that stretch arrow-straight across unpeopled outback. But luckily for visitors with limited time, the country's most dramatically scenic train trip is also one of its shortest.

The Cairns-Kuranda Railway winds inlandfrom Cairns--popular base of vacationers exploring the watery pleasures of the Great Barrier Reef. End of the line, in a rain-forest clearing at 2,000 feet, is tiny Kuranda. The 3-hour round-trip ride over narrow-gauge rails--coupled with the town's tropical Victorian charm--makes for a very enjoyable day trip.

Railway construction started in 1886 tolink a mining region with the coast. By 1891 the route was open, complete with 15 hand-dug tunnels. Today, the trip from Cairns winds through fields of waving sugar cane. Tree-clinging vines and giant tree ferns soon take over, as you gaze down Barron Gorge to the Coral Sea. Trains stop for picture-taking.

Kuranda's postcard-pretty station sits bythe Barron River (50-minute boat rides leave from the landing nearby). A block uphill is the main drag, Coondoo Street, which curves into Kennedy Highway two blocks away--that's just about the whole town. You'll find a busy hostel here, host to people of many nations, and one motel.

April through October, Kuranda's populationswells for the Sunday morning market, 9 to noon, where you can buy regionally made items in stalls that line jungled walkways just off Kennedy. Shell, leather, and ceramic jewelry is of particularly high quality. Also look for soaps, perfumes, potpourris made from flowers and herbs, wooden toys, batiks, tropical produce. In June, July, and August, the market sets up on Wednesdays, too.

Anytime, you can watch craftsmen atwork in shops on Coondoo and Kennedy: potters at their wheels, lapidaries fashioning jewelry from opals. Try a hot meat pie from a bakery or horse-cart vendor. Cafes offer tea. Try Frongs for frog legs or the Bottom Pub to grill your own steak.

Trains leave Cairns at 8:30 and 9 daily,return at noon and 3:15; on Sundays, there's added service, leaving at 1:45 and returning at 4. Round-trip fare is about $7 U.S. For details, ask at Cairns Station or call the Far North Queensland Promotion Bureau, (070) 51-3588.

Photo: Lush ferns and tropicalflowers hang above passengers and knee-socked stationmaster on platform of 1915 Kuranda station, believed to be Australia's first precast concrete building

Photo: Just a dot near the coast,Kuranda lies in Australia's tropical north

Photo: Carriage windows slide wide open forbetter views of Stoney Creek Falls, where railroad builders fought steep slopes, dense vegetation, hostile Aborigines

Photo: Arcaded sidewalks along Kuranda's Coondoo Streetshade numerous restaurants serving casual fare

Photo: Hot-off-the-griddlesausages make hearty sandwiches for patio diners at Honey House; inside you can sample local honeys to buy

Photo: Sea snails and sand dollars become stylishjewelry, sold at weekly outdoor markets
COPYRIGHT 1987 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Apr 1, 1987
Words:483
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