Australia seriesAustralia Day 1--Qantas flight 8 DFW-BNE (Dallas to Brisbane)
Australia Day 2--Flight to Sydney, the Westin Sydney hotel & sightseeing
Australia Days 3/4--Hunter Valley & the Blue Mountains
Australia Day 5--Sydney sightseeing and Manly Beach
Australia Day 6--Paddy's Market, Bondi to Coogee Walk & Darling Harbour
Australia Day 7--Sydney to Cairns, Holiday Inn Cairns & the Cairns Esplanade
Australia Day 8--The Great Barrier Reef
Australia Day 9--Kuranda Koala Gardens, Skyrail & Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park
Australia Day 10--Daintree Rainforest & Cape Tribulation
Australia Day 11--Going home, Part 1, Cairns to Brisbane
Australia Day 11--Going home, Part 2, Brisbane to Honolulu
Kuranda Koala Gardens
Another thing I was super excited to do in Australia was "cuddle" a koala. And just my luck, Queensland is one of the few places in the world it is legal to do so.
In doing my research, I found the Kuranda Koala Gardens had koalas (and other animals) and it seemed reasonably priced at $17 AUD for admission, and an additional $18 to cuddle a koala and get a souvenir photo. Cairns Tropical Zoo is another place with the cuddle a koala offering, but admission is more expensive (presumably because they have more animals). Ultimately, I decided to go to Kuranda because of the lower cost and other attractions in the area.
Kuranda is a small town in the rainforest located 25 kilometers northwest of Cairns. There are quite a few tourist attractions, including the Koala Gardens, Butterfly Sanctuary, Birdworld, lots of little markets, Scenic Railway and Skyrail Cableway. There are packages and such that make it easy for a tourist to have a fun-filled day, but I again decided it'd be best to DIY our itinerary for a lower price.
Getting there: I found two local bus companies, Trans North and John's Kuranda Bus. The website lists TransNorth as $6.50 AUD from Cairns to Kuranda. I couldn't find a current price online for John's, but I figured it was similarly priced. Both picked up from the same Orchid Plaza location in Cairns about 10 minutes apart, so we headed to the bus stop for an 8:30-ish pickup, and figured we'd get on whichever came first. Turns out John's bus came first and it was only $5. I love those little "wins."
|John's Kuranda Bus|
After a couple stops, we were right outside Kuranda Koala Gardens just in time for their 9 am opening. We were the first people in the park and basically had it to ourselves for most of our visit. The souvenir photos began at 9:30, so we had 30 minutes to walk around.
|Map of Kuranda Koala Gardens|
This was a small "zoo," if you could even call it that. Thirty minutes was more than enough time to walk around and see everything. There were crocodiles, lizards, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, koalas and snakes.
|Snake (thankfully behind glass!)|
The kangaroos and wallabies were in a big enclosure. There was a bucket of food nearby and you could just walk in and feed them. My cousin and I were too timid at first to just waltz into the enclosure, especially since there were no employees around. As we were finishing our koala pictures, another visitor went in with the kangaroos, fed them and took some "selfies." After watching her, we felt confident the kangaroos were tame and went on in. It was a great experience!
|Feeding a kangaroo|
|My souvenir koala photo|
The rules regarding koala handling seemed very strict, so I didn't feel like the koalas were being mistreated. Apparently, each koala can only "work" 30 minutes a day. And here's a fun fact: while many people call them koala bears, they are not actually "bears." The bear reference came from their teddy bear resemblance, but in actuality, koalas are marsupials. That's right, the same as kangaroos. Female koalas have pouches where they keep their babies, known as joeys.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
After leaving the Koala Gardens, we walked around the various marketplaces and window-shopped, as we headed through town to the next activity on our agenda: the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.
|One of the many markets|
This was another adventurous activity for me, being that I'm not a big fan of heights. The Skyrail goes high above the rainforest from Kuranda to Smithfield (near Cairns) and vice versa. While round-trips are available, I decided we should just take it one-way, then visit the neighboring Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park and take a public bus back to Cairns.
|Up in the air|
The Skyrail's one-way cost was $49 AUD so this was a fairly expensive activity, but I thought it was totally worth it for the 90-minute journey (less time if don't you get off and walk around at the two stops). While it was moderately scary being up so high, the views were mesmerizing. There were two stops, at the Barron Falls and Red Peak, that we got off and walked around to take in the views.
|Red Peak station|
|Beautiful views at the lookout near Red Peak|
Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park
|Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park entrance|
We arrived at the Smithfield terminal, and by this time it was around 2 pm. This gave us a few hours to visit the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. I have been intrigued by Australian Aboriginal culture for a long time and thought this would be a good chance to learn more about them. Admission to the park was a bit steep at $40 AUD. I enjoyed the park and all the attractions, especially the dance show. In hindsight, I wish we'd had more time to spend there for that price, but we were able to see most of the major shows and attractions.
|Talking about how the boomerang is used as a weapon|
|Playing the didgeridoo|
|Area where we could try it out for ourselves|
There was a stop right outside the Aboriginal park for the public Sunbus 123 that went back to our hotel area. The bus cost $3.90 and took us through more of the Cairns city area, and it was interesting to me to see where the locals live.
We arrived back in Cairns, decided to have dinner at a place called Outback Jacks Bar & Grill, and then pretty much called it a night.