System Dossier: Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Post by Gondola Project

Spectacular view of the rainforest, Coral Sea, and Cairns from the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Image by Rainforest Skyrail Cableway.

Rainforests are some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems despite covering only 6% of the earth’s surface area. In fact, rainforests are so diverse that they contain more than half of the planet’s plant and animal species. These tall, dense jungle regions are replete with valuable resources such as a variety of foods, raw materials, and medicines. Unfortunately, large swaths of rainforest are destroyed each year for the purposes of mining, timber, and grazing cattle.

Australia, on the other hand, has been a leader in the protection and preservation of these forests. The Wet Tropics of Queensland located in northeast Australia is a World Heritage Site covering over 900,000 hectares and is internationally recognized as one of the world’s pristine tropical rainforests.

A popular excursion that allows tourists to experience this tropical rainforest is the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, a 7.5-kilometer cableway that travels above Baron Gorge National Park and Macalister Ridge. This ambitious project was proposed in 1987 by a 5th generation Cairns family, the Chapmans, who currently still own and operate the system today. Due to the rainforest’s sensitive nature, many years were initially spent consulting with local, state, and government officials as well as seeking approval from the indigenous Djabugay tribe in order to ensure maximal environmental and cultural protection.

When construction began in 1994, the developers used an innovative set of techniques that were new to cableway developments in order to adhere to the strict environmental codes imposed on the project. This included no swath clearing along the cableway route, no new access roads, and minimal interference with the rainforest environment. Additionally, the cableway towers and stations were placed strategically in areas of the rainforest where gaps already existed, reducing the number of trees that had to be removed.

When Skyrail was completed in 1995, the ropeway was recognized as the longest multi-stage Monocable Detachable Gondola (MDG) system in the world. Since its inception, numerous upgrades have improved the system’s riding experience including the installation of eleven Diamond View glass floor cabins in 2013. Today, the ropeway continues to be a unique attraction as it is a part of a larger tourist experience that takes riders deep into the rainforest.

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Image by Flickr user Eric.

The gondola experience begins at the Smithsfield terminal, which is located 15 minutes north of the coastal town of Cairns. From Smithsfield, the system stops at two mid-stations, Red Peak Station and Barron Falls Station, before reaching Kuranda – a small rainforest village. Both mid-stations offer their own their unique experience that allows passengers to hop on and off the gondola and learn more about the interesting rainforest environment by foot.

At Red Peak Station, a complimentary Ranger guided tour is provided along a boardwalk, and at Barron Falls Station, riders have access to lookouts over the Barron Gorge and Falls as well as access to the Rainforest Interpretive Centre. While the gondola travels at a maximum speed of 5 m/s, the system often moves at a slower pace giving riders an optimal amount of time to enjoy the scenic views.

Lookout over the Barron Gorge and Falls. Image by Flickr user Shaun Johnston.

Lastly, the gondola reaches its conclusion at Kuranda Village. This relaxing, laid-back village gives tourists a first-hand experience of life in the rainforest. From handcrafted jewelry to the local cuisine, and an Australian wildlife attraction, there is no shortage of options for visitors to learn and experience everything that the rainforest has to offer. All in all, visitors typically spend 1.5 hours one way and 2.5 hours roundtrip experiencing the cable car and its associated amenities. Tour packages are available and can be combined with the Kuranda Scenic Railway – a train built over 120 years ago that also connects Kuranda to Cairns.

The incredible success that Skyrail has experienced can be seen with the numerous national tourism awards and international environmental awards representing a breakthrough in ecotourism and sustainable tourism standards for many projects to come.

To see the cable car in action, check out the live webcam provided on the Skyrail website.


Length (km) 7.5
Year Opened 1995
Capacity (pphpd) 600
Cabin Capacity (persons) 6
Stations 4
Speed (m/s) 5

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

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