Whilst in Cairns I decided to make the day trip up to Kuranda, having heard so much about it from my parents who visited there with my sister, brother and me many years ago on a family adventure.
Perched 1,000 feet above Cairns in the middle of World Heritage Rainforest, Kuranda is famous for it’s hippy arts and crafts markets, so as you can imagine I couldn’t wait to get there and explore. The best way to reach Kuranda is by Skyrail which takes you high above the tree tops and Barron River, dropping you right in the heart of the rainforest just a short walk from the village and markets.
The markets began in 1978, started up by a group of enterprising artists and craftspeople who wanted to attract visitors to the village. Famed for it’s hippy and chilled out vibe, people began to flock to Kuranda not only to escape the heat of Summer down below but also to buy direct from the ‘hippy’ locals making a living out of selling their wares. The markets have proved a huge success providing employment for local artists and makers as well as raising the profile of Kuranda, which is now recognised as a unique Australian Rainforest tourist destination. You can pick up lots of lovely handmade goods from locally made honey, handmade natural cosmetics, original artwork and didgeridoos (real ones not the trashy tourist souvenir versions) made by traditional local tribe the Djabugay people. Go to Jimmy’s Didges in the traditional market; he will give you a free didgeridoo lesson. You’ve got to be quick though as his stock is down to the last few didgeridoos, because the local tribe who make them only use wood that has been bored out by termites. This slow natural process combined with the widespread destruction of the rainforests means that traditionally made didges are now even more sought after.
Walking around the village, I got the impression that the original Kuranda artists markets were rather overshadowed by the new flashy tourist shops that line the main street through the village. The artists in the “Original Kuranda Market” seem to be struggling to sell, as most tourists get waylaid at the top of the village and distracted by the shops selling reproduction prints and imitation aboriginal artworks. In Jimmy’s Didges didgeridoo shop, newspaper cuttings covering the walls tell a story of cheaply manufactured didgeridoos and replicas of traditional Aborginal artwork undercutting genuine local artists and putting them out of business. The problem is that the average day-trip tourist looking for a souvenir to take home is often none-the-wiser to the affect these purchases have on the people who are trying to make a living out of genuine handmade products. It’s such a shame after the hard work put in by the locals over the last 34 years to build the village up to be such a popular tourist hub, they are the ones who deserve to reap the rewards!
If you get the chance to go to Kuranda it’s well worth the trip – I left wishing I had had more time to explore and meet local artists when I was there. The perfect way to round off the day was catching the scenic railway back to Cairns – the views are stunning and the train ride an unforgettable experience too.