Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is a 7.5 kilometre scenic cableway running above the Barron Gorge National Park in the Wet Tropics of Queensland’s World Heritage Area north of Cairns which has won more than 25 awards. It was the only Australian finalist in the 2014 International Tourism for Tomorrow Award. In 2012, it was the first tourism attraction in the world to receive Platinum EarthCheck Accreditation. It won the 2000 British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow International Environment Award, the 1996 EIBTM European Greening of Business Tourism Most Environmentally Conscious Visitor Attraction Award and the 2008 and 2009 Qantas National Award for Excellence in Sustainable Tourism. In 2000, it was inducted into the Queensland Qantas Award’s Hall of Fame for Best Tourism Attraction and in 2010 for Excellence in Sustainable Tourism. It was the longest gondola cableway in the world when it was completed in 1995. The cableway, which travels over the McAlister Range between Smithfield and Kuranda, includes six-person gondola cabins that travel metres above the treetops. A one-way trip takes about 1.5 hours and a return trip is about 2.5 hours. Two rainforest stations, Red Peak Station and Barron Falls Station, allow exploration of the forest floor on boardwalks, interaction with the environment and education of the World Heritage area. A Rainforest Interpretation Centre, developed in conjunction with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), is located at the Barron Falls Station. In 2012, Skyrail, in conjunction with Djabugay Native Title Aboriginal Corporation (DNTAC) developed walking tours with aboriginal guides on a rainforest trail on traditional Djabugay lands, departing from the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway Barron Falls Station.
The Skyrail concept was put forward in 1987, with construction beginning in June 1994. Pre-construction included consultation with and approval from 23 local, state and federal government agencies and local communities along with numerous assessments including an Environmental Impact Study. It also established an agreement with the Djabugay Tribal Aboriginal Corporation for the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage. Skyrail is owned and operated by the Chapman Group, led by George Chapman, AO, who was named one of Queensland Government’s 2011 Queensland Greats. His son, Dr Ken Chapman, is Skyrail’s managing director and daughter, Karen Hawkins, is a director. The $35 (AUD) million cableway opened to the public on August 31, 1995 with 47 gondolas. A $2.5 (AUD) million upgrade in May 1997 increased the number of gondolas to 114, enabling it to carry over 600 passengers an hour in each direction. In 2006, it underwent a $2.5 (AUD) million upgrade which included a replacement café, expanded ticketing services and larger retail store. In November 2013, it introduced 11 Diamond View glass floor gondolas, and in April 2014, the Canopy Glider, a ranger-escorted, open-air gondola, was added. Special guests at Skyrail include Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on March, 2002, former Australian politician Julia Gillard in 2004, and Australian tennis player Pat Rafter in 2013.
Before construction, the site was surveyed to make sure endangered and rare species wouldn’t be affected. The top soil and leaf litter were collected and reintroduced when construction was complete. Plant seedlings removed during construction were re-planted in their original locations. Construction began in June 1994 despite protests from conservationists. The 32 towers at Skyrail were built in 10x10 metre clearings and workers had to sterilise equipment and footwear before entering sites. Russian Kamov helicopters were used extensively to carry equipment, materials and cement to tower sites and rainforest stations. Helicopters carried 900 tonnes of steel, cement and building materials into the Barron Falls Station alone. Because no roads were built during construction, workers walked to the tower sites each day with their equipment.
The Skyrail Rainforest Foundation was established in 2005 to raise and distribute funding for tropical rainforest research and education projects. These include scientific studies of rare and endangered rainforest fauna and flora, canopy ecology and of rainforest species for medical research. The foundation offers funding for students and educators to research into rainforest protection. Since inception and from April 2014, the foundation has provided $302,000 (AUD) towards research projects.
Skyrail won a number of Australian National Tourism Awards including 2008, 2009 and 2010 Excellence in Sustainable Tourism, 1997 and 1999 Best Major Tourist Attraction and 1996 Best Tourist Development Project. Queensland Tourism Awards include the 2010 Hall of Fame - Excellence in Sustainable Tourism, 2008 and 2009 Excellence in Sustainable Tourism, 2000 Hall of Fame Best Major Tourist Attraction, 1997, 1998 and 1999 Best Major Tourist Attraction and 1996 Best Tourist Development Project. Its Tropical North Queensland Tourism Awards include 2014 Best Eco-Tourism, 2009 and 2010 Sustainable Tourism, 2004 Hall of Fame Best Major Tourist Attraction, 1998, 2001, 2002 and 2013 Best Major Tourist Attraction. International Tourism Awards include 2000 British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow International Environment Award, 1999 Wet Tropics Management Authority Cassowary Award, 1996 EIBTM European Greening of Business Tourism Award in the Category of "Most Environmentally Conscious Visitor Attraction" and 1996 Australian Federation of Travel Agents Awards for Excellence in the category "Best Resort or Tourist Attraction" Far North Queensland. It also won the 1999 Wet Tropics Management Authority Cassowary Culture Award.
Skyrail holds a number of business and environmental accreditations and certifications, including EarthCheck Platinum, Advanced Ecotourism Certification: Eco Tourism Australia and Climate Action Innovator.