Worth at least a quick look, especially for its shops, galleries and views, is the village of Kuranda. You can easily reach this former-biker-town-turned-artist-colony by driving up a narrow, winding, climbing road off the Captain Cook Highway, just north of Cairns. Signs along the way warn of kangaroo crossings, though none hopped in front of me. Near the top, be sure to stop at the Barron River Gorge lookout for a spectacular view of the falls. If you’re lucky enough to catch the river at high level, you’ll be awed as the whitewater plunges hundreds of feet to the bottom of this rock-walled gorge. Walking paths here allow for further explorations.
The town is rife with tourists traps -- including a steam rail train that connects with Cairns, a skyway that skims the top of the rainforest, and an Aboriginal culture center -- all of which locals advised me to avoid. (However, some tourists I later spoke to said they enjoyed all those attractions.) Instead, I chose to explore Kuranda’s many Aboriginal art galleries and outback clothing shops. I especially recommend the Tropical Pulse gallery on Coondoo Street, where I bought a small Aboriginal painting; they were very accommodating about wrapping the piece and mailing its certificate of authenticity to me.
On Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, Kuranda’s outdoor market, where locals proffer fruits and crafts, is in full swing. You might want to plan your visit accordingly. But whenever you visit Kuranda, be sure to get there early: everything is pretty much shuttered by three in the afternoon.