Barron Gorge Rainforest Walk


Thirty years ago, we visited Kuranda which was then a budding alternative village in the rain forest in the highlands out of Cairns. It was full of young hippies and had just established a market for various home made products to wear (or smoke?) - an interesting place. So here we are back again for a few nights, as a stay in a pleasant house in the midst of the rain forest seemd much nicer than a stay in Cairns, which has boomed into a big mega-tourist city. Kuranda itself, seems to have suffered from its own fame, with train-loads ( and now cablecar loads) of tourists visiting each day. The markets seem commercialised and the hippies have all grown old and tired. I think I'm turning into a cranky old man.

Part of the old Kuranda markets

Path alongside the river

Shady path through town

Barron Falls (much more impressive in the wet season)

The Barron River above the falls

View towards Cairns from Wrights Lookout

That said, the surrounding rain forest, including Barron Gorge and its magnificent waterfall, is now part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Site. That is what we came to see, though we first had a bit of a wander through the village of Kuranda, down to the waterfall and along the Barron River.

Speewah to Glacier Rock Circuit 11.5 km - 340m ascent - 340m descent)

The Barron Gorge National Park has a number of walking tracks, which can be interconnected in various ways. Several of these are historic routes, originally part of the aboriginal track network and later used by European settlers (miners, drovers etc) to access the highland country. Speewah campground is one of several entry points to this track network and we opted to set out from there. The route through the rainforest that we planned comprised a loop with an out-and-return sidetrip to reach one of the lookouts in the park.

From the campground, we set out on the Djina-Wu Track straight into the deep shade of the rainforest. The first short stretch of asphalt path and wooden stepped boardwalk gave the impression of a very easy walk, but this soon gave way to a natural footpad, criss-crossed by the gnarly roots of the rainforest trees. It may be the tropics, but the air was crispy cold in the shade of the tall rainforest canopy.

Walking through the rain forest .....

.... of the Barron Gorge National Park

The Djina-Wu was a short connector track and we quickly reached a junction, turning right onto Smiths Track, one of the historic routes from coast to highlands. From the junction we commenced a steady climb to the high-point of our walk. The forest became a little warmer and a little lighter as we left the deep gulleys behind and climbed this long spur.

Gnarly tree roots on the track

On the Douglas Track

The tracks are well signed

At the top, we met up with a wider 4WD track. Turning left, we then descended down the far side of this jungle hill to reach another junction. It was time to leave Smiths Track and take another short connector route, the Gandal Wandun Track, passing through a scrubbier section of rainforest to join up with the other main historic route, the Douglas Track.

More open woodland on the ridge top

A more open section of the forest

A rain forest creek

This was the start of our in-out sidetrip to Glacier Rock. We followed the Douglas Track eastwards, as it undulated and meandered its way beneath the dense canopy. Occasionally the deep shade was broken by a patch of sunlight, where a big tree had fallen, as we crossed a series of deep palm-filled, and mostly dry, creek beds.

This brought us to a steady climb up a spur to Glacier Rock. The gnarly roots of the rainforest valleys gave way to a rocky path on this ascent and, on reaching the top, we found ourselves in an island of drier, more open vegetation, with eucalypts and casuarinas replacing the dense-canopied rainforest trees.

Emerging at the cliff-edge lookout, we were greeted by a sweeping panorama of the forest and the coast - to the south, the city of Cairns lay surrounded by coastal mountains and ahead the long line of flatter coast stretched out. The one sad point was the large area of greyish silted water out from Cairns - blue is a much nicer colour for the ocean and one wonders what this means for the reef beyond.

View over Cairns and the coastal plain from Glacier Rock

The forest covered hills of Barron Gorge National Park

After lunch, we retraced our steps back to the junction, this time continuing along the Douglas Track as it meandered and undulated its way through the deep creek beds and spurs of the Surprise Creek catchment. The rainforest is a silent place, with only the occasional call of a bird. A brief encounter with a red-bellied (or pale-pink bellied here) black snake, basking on a small patch of sunlight on the path, provided a bit of excitement.

A tributary of Surprise Creek

Red-bellied black snake on the track

The beans are big in the rain forest

This track brought us back to the Djina-Wu Track to complete the loop and we quickly retraced our steps along it to the car. Apart from the lookout, we had spent the entire walk in the confines of the rainforest, surrounded by its intense greenness. It was good to experience the World Heritage listed forest on this walk, but I confess to preferring the more open vistas of a coastal or high mountain hike.