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When we booked a cruise departing from Cairns, in far north Queensland, we knew we wanted to tack on a few days to enjoy Cairns. There is so much more to Cairns then just the Great Barrier Reef and on our visit in May we had lots of time to sample the awesome family-friendly activities in the area. One of the things we didn’t do that really caught our eye was a canyoning trip through the rainforest near the Atherton Tablelands. We didn’t want to miss it this time! Miles was too young (minimum age is 8 years old) and so I stayed with him enjoying the Cairns lagoon, while Paul took the older kids.
The Atherton Tablelands is an amazing area of tropical rainforests, wetlands and savannah near Cairns in far north Queensland. Well known for its beautiful waterfalls and peaceful swimming holes, the rainforest near the Tablelands is a great place to try out canyoning.
Unusual for the blog, you get a post written by Paul where he tells you all about Cairns canyoning, provides a Raging Thunder review and will convince you this an awesome family experience. So here he is:
So what is Canyoning?
As my 8 year old put it, “it’s hiking down a river”. It’s maybe not that simple, but it is abseiling, jumping off rocks into river pools, sliding down small waterfalls and with Raging Thunder, even includes a zip line.
Raging Thunder has over 30 years experience in river based activities in the Cairns area. They have been running this canyoning trip for the last 1.5 years. It took them 2-years to get the permits to use the beautiful Crystal Cascades. The trip has been very carefully designed to ensure no environmental impact as the ropes are set up for each group.
The canyoning tours go twice a day from Cairns at 8am and noon. Raging Thunder picked us up at our hotel to drive us up to the river, about 30 minutes from Cairns. Arriving at Crystal Cascade we met our other Canyoneers. Our group consisted of 2 other families (of 5 and 3). My kids were obviously the youngest with Gavin only just 8, the minimum age and Ella at 10. The other kids ranged from 13 to late teens. Miles couldn’t come on this trip as he was too young so Dawn stayed back with him and it was just Ella, Gav and I.
Rob and Dom were great hosts, they quickly pulled out all of our gear and helped us size up. It helps if you tell Raging Thunder ahead of time your sizes so they can make sure they have the right fit. Since we had small kids we had told them and they had all the smaller gear for Gavin and Ella. You get at wetsuit, thermal jumper, water socks, shoes, a life jacket, helmet and harness; all you need is your swimmers. They quickly laid everything out for us and helped us get suited up. There are toilets in the parking lot to change in if needed and a water fountain.
I had brought a GoPro with us so we could capture lots of great video and photos to use in this blog. But Rob informed us that we couldn’t bring any camera gear (GoPro or cameras) as they get in the way and can cause safety issues. Imagine people trying to get a perfect selfie while abseiling down a waterfall; not the safest! Later I realized how great it was to not worry about capturing that perfect Instagram pic. We didn’t spend our time posing and planning the next pic. We got to just enjoy and make memories, so if you want to see how great this trip was, you will just have to go experience it yourself.
It was hot (part of the reason we like Cairns) so we just half put on our wetsuits and harnesses and carried our helmets. From the Crystal Cascade parking lot we followed the pedestrian path up past the public swimming holes and through a locked gate. From this point it gets pretty steep but it is paved and Rob and Dom don’t rush you to get up the hill. We took breaks as needed and the total distance was less than 2km, majority of which is a slight grade. Just the last bit is a steep hill. As Rob said, “you have to go up if you want to come down”.
We started right off with an abseil. Rob and Dom work hard to get the ropes setup so there is no waiting around. For the abseils, they control your descent so there is no worry if you don’t know what you are doing. The first drop was about 10m into a nice pool beside the top water fall.
The smaller water falls we generally climbed down or slid down if they weren’t too steep. Not too far from the start we got to the first jump. You could choose between a 4m jump and a 10 m jump. Ella quickly chose the 4m. Gavin (8) was all gung-ho for the 10m, so I climbed up to the high point with him. Rob helped with this one and gave great motivation to help everyone off. It was great fun and Gavin was so proud of himself for doing the big jump.
There are about 4 different abseils, some beside waterfalls, others almost right through them. After one specific abseil, we could climb under the waterfall and saw little frogs that live in the caves under the waterfall. The kids loved sliding down the mini-waterslides that occur at the bottom of the falls.
We did a few more jumps and then we got to the zip line. Dom set it up while Rob talked to us about the nature that lives in the canyon. The zip line is great fun as you land in the rock pool at the bottom. Finally, you finish up with an abseil down into the public swimming area, where all the locals and tourist look at you and wonder where you came from.
The total time in the water was about 3-hours. There was no standing around and the water was cool, but not cold. Raging Thunder can’t leave their ropes up, so Dom and Rob work as a great team to keep everyone moving over each obstacle. They are always there to help and everything was so safe, but at the same time exciting. I rocked climbed in my youth and can attest that safety was the #1 priority and all the equipment and gear was excellent quality. Ella and Gavin had no issues with the course and there are options to choose such as what height you want to jump from. As a bonus, there were wraps and hot chocolate afterwards which was such a great way to end the tour.
This was such a great experience. The kids have never done anything like this and handled it like pros. From all the families on the trip, you can really see why it is such a great family experience. You get to spend lots of great time together (no electronics allowed) on this thrilling adventure in far north Queensland, all the while building great memories.
Find more information on Raging Thunder’s canyoning trip on their website. The half day tour costs $149 per person. They came home raving about this Cairns tour and maybe in couple of years when Miles is older, we can go back!
Also Read: White Water Rafting Canadian Rockies
Disclaimer: Raging Thunder hosted us on this canyoning trip. As always, all opinion are our own.
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