The Barron Gorge contains the most visited waterfall in North Queensland and for many people it’s the highlight of their trip to Cairns. That depends, of course, on the time of year.
Barron Gorge in full flood
If you visit the Barron Falls in the dry season the Falls will be just a trickle, but in the wet season (January to March) you’ll see a thundering spectacle as the Barron River crashes over the edge of the Gorge falling 260 metres to the chasm below.
Queensland’s first hydro-electric power station
The Barron Falls were once an impressive sight for most of the year, but in 1935 the waters of the Barron River were tamed to form Queensland’s first hydroelectric power station. A weir was built across the lip of the gorge to raise the water-level.
The water now enters a 3 metre wide tunnel and flows horizontally for 1.7 kilometres. Then the tunnel angles steeply downwards and the water falls 286 metres over a distance of 400 metres before entering the turbines that power the hydroelectric generator.
Like the railway, the original power station was an engineering feat and was built underground, carved into the rock-face, 200 metres above the bottom of the Gorge.
The Barron Falls Hydroelectric Power Station has a Visitors Centre that is open weekdays where you can see displays and videos about the construction of the power station and they’ve also got a functioning model of a hydroelectric generator.
Bird’s-eye view from the Barron Falls Lookout
This is a great place to view the Falls. An elevated boardwalk winding through thick rainforest takes you to the Lookout from where you can see the Falls and the Gorge below and also watch the Skyrail cable-cars coming and going on the other side of the gorge.
If you visit during the wet season you’ll likely be enveloped in a cloud of mist and will feel the ground tremble beneath your feet. The boardwalk is 1.2 kilometres (return) and is wheel-chair accessible. To get an even better view of the Falls, follow the boardwalk from the Barron Falls Lookout for another 5 minutes down to the railway line and the fenced-in viewing platform.
For those keen on photography, the best time to do this trip is in the morning so that the light is on the Falls.
Enjoy the panorama from Wrights Lookout
You can reach this Lookout from the same car park where the Barron Falls boardwalk begins. Walk down Wright’s Lookout Road until you reach Wright’s Lookout – it’s a 3 km round trip and takes about an hour.
From Wright’s Lookout you’ll get panoramic views of the Barron Gorge (but not the Falls) and Cairns.
Skyrail boardwalk – a great view of the Falls
The Skyrail boardwalk gives you a view of the Falls from the other side of the Gorge. Some people prefer the view from the Skyrail side, others prefer the view from the Railway side. However, to get to the Skyrail Lookout you will have to purchase a ticket on Skyrail.
White water Rafting in the Barron Gorge
The Barron Gorge is not just for sight-seeing – you can also go white-water rafting on the Barron River, below the Gorge. This is a great option if you’ve never rafted before and just want to see what it’s like.
It’s a half-day excursion whereas Tully River rafting is a full-day (and quite a long one). Another advantage of rafting on the Barron River is that the levels are high enough for white-water rafting all year round.
Catching the Bus to Kuranda
One last tip: if you’re on a tight budget and don’t want to spend money on the train or Skyrail, there’s a bus service from Cairns to Kuranda that charges just $6.00 each way. Be aware though, that from Kuranda you would have quite a long walk (3.3 kilometres) to the Barron Falls Lookout.