When construction started on this cableway through the canopy of North Queensland’s rainforest in 1994, the leaf litter and top soil were collected and stockpiled from the proposed site for reintroduction when construction was complete. Plant seedlings were catalogued at each site, then removed, propagated and re-planted in their original locations, along with the saved top soil and leaf litter, when all was done. Twenty years later, it is one of the world’s leading ecotourism attractions providing an interpretive experience over a rainforest environment consisting in part, of World Heritage Listed Barron Gorge National Park. Skyrail has maintained these stringent standards of minimal impact on the environment in which it operates, with many national and international accreditations under its belt including a Platinum rating from EarthCheck. Importantly, it maintains an ISO 14001 certified Environmental Management System (EMS) with a review of compliance undertaken annually.
Seeking to provide the best, most environmentally sensitive rainforest experience in the world, Skyrail has taken every environmental precaution it can on its own journey up to the heights of award winning attractions. The 7.5 km cableway is supported by 32 towers each with a footprint of 10 x 10 metres. Towers were sited to avoid impact on rare or endangered plants s and no roads have been constructed through the rainforest. The towers were built by hand, and were lowered into position by helicopters in sections of 100 metre lines to avoid damage from downdrafts.
There are ‘stations’ along the route at Red Peak and Barron Falls, where guests are guided along sensitively constructed boardwalks. These stations were built in existing cleared sites and, like the towers, were painted to blend in with the surroundings. At both stations, there are composting toilets and rainwater tanks, with water usage being carefully monitored. Solar power is also used as much as possible at Skyrail with panels on the top of each ‘gondola’ and some cableway facilities.
Visitors experience both close-up and panoramic views of the rainforest from above the canopy as well as learning about flora and fauna, culture and history from below on ranger guided boardwalk tours, via interpretative signage and an interactive interpretive centre. Skyrail is, fundamentally, a pedagogical journey, with measured and tangible benefits to the environment through conservation, education and research. As well as the ranger-led boardwalk tours, interpretive signage and an interactive Interpretation centre, all of which are included in the entry ticket price, they offer optional educational products which focus on the environment, such as group rainforest learning experiences led by Skyrail Rangers and sustainability seminars.
The commercial success of Skyrail has been well documented, enabling an additional arm, The Skyrail Rainforest Foundation, to be established in 2005 with the primary objective of raising and distributing funds to support local rainforest research and education projects. From environmental conservation, to innovative tourist attraction and now to charitable donations, Skyrail is destined to stay on the right track for many years to come.