Barron Gorge National Park
One of the state’s most popular places, Barron Gorge National Park offers lush tropical rainforest in a rugged mountain setting of steep ravines and picturesque waterfalls – right on the doorstep of north Queensland’s capital of Cairns. Part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, the magnificent rainforest-clad mountain scenery can be viewed from the train, cable car or walking trail.
From Cairns to Kuranda then via Barron Falls Rd; from Kuranda, Freshwater or Cairns via rail; from Kuranda or Smithfield via cableway
All year; but hot and wet in summer
1404 km north-west of Brisbane; 18 km north-west of Cairns
NPRSR 13 7468
Camping permit and fees apply for Speewah Conservation Park; bookings essential
Cairns (07) 4051 3588, 1800 093 300
Kuranda (07) 4093 9311, 0407 758 645
Featured Activities in the National Park
Get a bird’s-eye view of the rainforest from the dizzy heights of the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
See the mural at Barron Gorge Lookout depicting the park’s wildlife
Ride the rapids of the Barron River in a whitewater raft
A look at the past
Gold and tin mining in the 1870s ﬁrst attracted European pioneers to the Atherton Tableland. The Douglas and Smiths tracks were established in 1876, based on trails forged by the local Djabugay people. These tracks were the ﬁrst pack routes linking the hinterland goldﬁelds to the coast and the port of Cairns and still traverse the park today. In the 1880s timber cutters moved into the area, logging the beautiful red cedar trees and using the Barron River as a means of transportation.
The Cairns–Kuranda Scenic Railway, built between 1887 and 1891, has a heritage-listed section through the park, rising to 328 metres and with 15 tunnels, 93 curves and 37 bridges. It took hundreds of men, working mainly by hand, to complete a 24-kilometre section of railway through the almost impenetrable rainforest, and several workers' lives were lost during this difficult task. The park is also home to the oldest underground hydro-electric power station in Australia, built in 1935 to harness the power of the Barron River.
The national park was declared in 1940 and in 1988 it received its listing as part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway was completed in 1995.
The Djabugandgi Bama (Djabugay people) are the traditional owners of the Djirri Nyundu Nyrrumba area, which includes Barron Gorge National Park. The Djabugay people believe that all the rivers and creeks in the national park were created by the carpet snake ancestor Budaadji. In 2004 the Federal Court of Australia recognised the Djabugay people's native title over the land, and a formal Indigenous Land Use Agreement exists to align the park's cultural importance with the state's conservation efforts.
The national park encloses a wild river valley that plunges steeply down the side of the Atherton Tableland towards the coastal plain north of Cairns. The stunning Barron Gorge, carved by the Barron River, has created a truly spectacular landscape in the mountainous terrain. The falls are located at the top of the gorge, around 5 kilometres from the hillside town of Kuranda. As a result of its use to create hydro-electric power, the once-powerful falls, over 250 metres high, now ﬂow only after a release of water or after ﬂooding rain.
This park protects the most accessible tropical rainforest close to Cairns, along with vegetation of mountain heath, grasslands and open woodlands featuring groves of she-oaks. If bushwalking, take care not to touch the large heart-shaped leaves of the giant stinging tree, which inﬂict lingering and severe pain on contact.
The rich diversity of wildlife includes possums, ﬂying-foxes, bats, platypuses and echidnas. Lesser known species include the leaf-eating, Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo, the tiny musky rat-kangaroo, which forages in the leaf litter for seeds and nuts, and the carnivorous spotted-tailed quoll. Here too resides Australia’s longest snake, the amethystine python, which can grow up to 8.5 metres in length and can feed on animals as large as a wallaby. The vibrant green, 14-centimetre giant tree frog, Australia’s largest, is easily distinguished by the white stripe along its lower lip. Birdlife is abundant – listen for the distinctive ‘wallock-a-woo’ call of the wompoo pigeon and the low, booming note of the large ﬂightless southern cassowary (see feature, page 188), but stay out of this aggressive bird's way. Beautiful, vibrantly coloured butterﬂies inhabit the rainforest; watch for the Cairns birdwing, and the azure blue Ulysses, which ﬂies high above the rainforest but drops down to feed on rainforest ﬂowers. Crocodiles inhabit the lower reaches of the national park so heed crocodile warning signs and be crocodile-wise at all times (see page 361).
The main natural feature of the park, Barron Gorge, can be explored by scenic railway, cable car or by foot along one of the numerous walking trails. Barron Falls Lookout offers a wheelchair-accessible, elevated boardwalk (300 metres return), and Wrights Lookout offers great views over the gorge.
The walking tracks in the park range from easy strolls to challenging treks. Barron Falls Lookout track (1.1 km, 20 minutes) leads to an informative mural depicting the park’s wildlife. The historic Douglas Track (7.8 km one way, 4–6 hours, medium difﬁculty) climbs up the gorge to Glacier Rock before heading up onto the Atherton Tableland. Smiths Track (8.3 km one way, 6–7 hours, medium difﬁculty) is a strenuous hike through rainforest and includes a steep climb to the top of Stoney Creek. The trails that are graded ‘medium-difﬁculty’ or ‘steep’ are best suited to experienced bushwalkers. For your own safety, do not walk along or below the railway line.
Cableway and rail trips
You must take at least one of these rides and preferably both. The historic Kuranda train winds its way up the steep slopes of the MacAlister Range, with spectacular views of the gorge, where it brieﬂy stops. The train runs daily from Cairns to the picturesque heritage station at Kuranda; for further details call (07) 4036 9333 or 1800 577 245. The cable car offers another perspective of the rainforest, departing from Kuranda station then riding high above the canopy, stopping at Barron Falls (and the Rainforest Interpretive Centre) and at the top of Red Peak (where there is a boardwalk through rainforest ferns), before dropping down to the Caravonica terminal in Smithfield, 14 kilometres north of Cairns – or you can take the trip up from the Caravonica terminal. The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway operates daily; for information call (07) 4038 5555.
Lake Placid, in a municipal recreation park at the edge of the national park, offers a peaceful retreat for canoeing (facilities include picnic tables and a cafe/bar).
Several companies offer whitewater rafting tours along the Barron River below the power station. The ride is brief but offers an exciting plunge over cascades and through stunning gorge and rainforest scenery.