All aflutter over elusive Ulysses

COLOUR EXPLOSION: The delicate beauty of the residents of The Australian Butterfly Sanctuary.
COLOUR EXPLOSION: The delicate beauty of the residents of The Australian Butterfly Sanctuary.

THEY are unquestionably beautiful and childlike in their playfulness. They are also big teasers.

As they pass by, I swear they are laughing at me and my clumsiness.

They are the unattainable celebrities and I am the lowly paparazzi.

This is all part of the game they are used to winning.

I find myself spinning round and round and only stop when I fall into a fellow admirer.

I apologise, and we share the joke of the impossibility of the task at hand: trying to photograph the Ulysses butterfly.

The famed electric blue and black Ulysses - the emblem of Dunk Island and found naturally in Tropical North Queensland - is in its element at The Australian Butterfly Sanctuary in Kuranda.

We have arrived here as part of the Rainforest, Skyrail and Butterflies shore excursion while in Cairns aboard Cunard's Queen Mary 2. But after 30 minutes trying to capture a prized photo, the closest I get to the Ulysses is probably the sign out the front of the complex.

No sooner do I spot the flash of blue in my peripheral vision and try to focus my camera, the little blighter has fluttered away somewhere else.

In pairs and threes, they switch from hide-and-seek to chasey and back again until I am spinning around hopelessly like blind man's bluff.

Finally, I give up on the photos and turn the camera to movie mode.

But the butterflies still have the upper hand: the skill needed to zoom in and out, here and there, up and down as one beautiful creature after another flies into range is well beyond my reflexes and steady hand capabilities.

Suddenly, a lone Ulysses lands on my husband's camera phone, not 10cm away. And you guessed it: in my fluster and excitement to snap a close-up, my 10 thumbs fail to manipulate the camera settings in time and it flies away… again.

But I do have a very nice photo of my husband's hand holding his black phone horizontally.

Like I said: Ulysses is a big tease. And cheeky to boot.

Only much later, back at home, do I read the brochure informing me that visitors can buy a special photo of themselves, taken by staff, that shows them surrounded by the butterflies. Grrrrrr!

The brochure also tells visitors they will be "enchanted by the aerial dynamics of these elusive wonders of nature".

Enchanted? Yes.

Frustrated? Definitely.

I must admit that if I were a butterfly, I would want to make the most of these "digs", too.

Green and leafy, pleasant surrounds. Free food and water for life. No predator or car windscreen to worry about. Nice and quiet.

The Sanctuary boasts the nation's largest live butterfly exhibit with more than 1500 specimens.

The butterflies are tropical rainforest species and the gardens, complete with waterfall and stream, are designed to replicate their natural habitat.

All are hand-reared on the premises.

Laboratory staff collect and clean eggs and hand-raise them through to the chrysalis stage, before being released into the sanctuary.

The breeding laboratory on-site is worth a look independently or on the guided tour as it houses up to 4000 caterpillars in their various stages of development.

While in Kuranda, we've also had the opportunity to stroll the village shops and browse the various markets as well as spending time riding the Skyrail atop the canopy of the World Heritage-listed rainforest.

Skyrail is like a modern-day Tarzan. But instead of swinging through the jungle using vines, the "people pods" effortlessly glide along the cables through the rainforest from tower to tower.

This is our third trip on Skyrail and we can never get enough of looking down on the magnificent green fluffy blanket of rainforest and the sight of the brown Barron River snaking its way below.

At Barron Falls and Red Peak Stations, we alight from the carriage and head into the lower storeys, walking the boardwalks to see and smell and feel the trees around us, marvelling at the diversity of the plantlife from the rainforest floor to epiphytes such as staghorns and bird's nest ferns hitching a ride high up the trunks, to towering Alexandra palms and massive kauri pines and a banyan tree.

Kuranda certainly is another world. And a visit will have you all aflutter, too.



Kuranda Heritage Market is on Rob Veivers Drive, Kuranda. Open daily, 9.30am-3.30pm.

Kuranda Original Rainforest Market is on the corner of Therwine & Thoree Sts, Kuranda. Open daily, 9.30am-3pm.


Australian Butterfly Sanctuary

The complex is on Rob Veivers Drive, opposite the Tourist Information Centre, in the heart of Kuranda Village.

A free shuttle service operates from Kuranda Skyrail terminal and Scenic Railway Station to the sanctuary.

Opening hours are 9.45am-4pm daily.

Phone 4093 7575 or visit

Entry with a guided aviary and laboratory tour is $18 adult, $9 children and $45 family (two adults, two children).



Expect to take up to 90 minutes each way on Skyrail, which will allow time to walk around Red Peak and Barron Falls mid-stations.

The 7.5km cableway was completed in 1995 after a year in construction.

All towers were lifted into place using helicopters for minimal disturbance of the environment.

The cableway has 114 gondola cabins and 33 towers. The tallest tower - No.6 - is 40.5m high.

Red peak station is the highest point of the cableway at 545m.

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