QueenslandAtherton TablelandsDramatic mountains, lush surrounds, untouched rainforest, breathtaking waterfalls, rugged limestone caves, an abundance of seasonal produce and jawdropping vistas. Welcome to the Atherton Tablelands.
Tropical North Queensland is undeniably one of the most exciting and diverse regions to visit in Australia and the Atherton Tablelands sits at the very heart of it. With its breathtaking waterfalls, scenic vistas at every turn, impressive lakes, lush rainforest and rugged outback, a visit to this region promises to be one of great contrast, beauty and exploration. People often ask what is the best thing about the Atherton Tablelands. If you have ever visited the region, you will have discovered there is more than one. Visitors love to spend their days enjoying scenic country drives, leisurely boat cruises, wildlife spotting, experimenting with local food and unearthing the fascinating geological history. Explore the gateways from the reef to the rainforest before you find yourself spoiled for choice in this stunning region. Plan to stay at least five days, as there is so much to see and do. Divide your time between the Southern and Northern Tablelands on what will be an unforgettable self-drive journey and see for yourself the changing landscape of this diverse region. For history buffs, the Atherton Tablelands boasts some incredible historical points of interest from wartime to Chinese settlement and Australia’s early pioneer days. Country markets brimming with local produce and homemade crafts are also worth a visit. For those who like to play, you are entering an adventure playground complete with water sports, mountain biking, hiking and camping. Roadside stalls offer a bounty of fresh goodies and depending on the season expect to find mangoes, watermelon, papaya, avocados, potatoes, pumpkin, blueberries, strawberries, bananas and more.
Go for a swim at Millaa Millaa Falls
Millaa Millaa Falls are magnificent waterfalls surrounded by lush rainforest located on the Waterfalls Circuit, along with Zillie and Ellinjaa Falls. The falls cascade perfectly to a pristine waterhole below where you can enjoy a refreshing swim in the cool water. There's also a lovely grassy picnic area for you to relax. Millaa Millaa Falls are one of the most photographed in all of Australia, so make sure you bring your camera. And if you're lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of a platypus!
Visit Millstream Falls
Millstream Falls is reputedly Australia's widest single-drop waterfall. The falls flow over the edge of a columnar basalt lava flow, a legacy of the Atherton Tableland's volcanic past. Millstream Falls National Park is on the western edge of the World Heritage Area. These are the widest falls in Australia, spilling over an old basalt lava flow. Here in the rain shadow of the eastern dividing ranges, the dry open woodland vegetation offers a stark contrast to the rainforest only kilometres away. This park was the site of an army camp during World War II and many former soldiers make nostalgic visits to remember those times.
Visit Paronella Park
Everyone has a dream. José Paronella's dream became a reality. On five hectares beside Mena Creek Falls, he built his castle, a picnic area by the falls, tennis courts, bridges, a tunnel, and wrapped it up in an amazing range of 7,500 tropical plants and trees. He even harnessed the waterfall for his electricity. Paronella Park opened to the public in 1935. Today, visitors to the park marvel at the achievements of one man. Admission to Paronella Park is valid for 24 months and covers both the tours. There is a 45 minute guided walk that explains the extraordinary story and takes you through the highlights of the park, as well as the stunning Darkness Falls Tour where the castles and waterfall are flood-lit to allow for amazing photo opportunities. Admission also includes the souvenir guide book, fish food, umbrellas, access to the online photo gallery, as well as a site for one night in the adjacent van park.
Just over an hour south-west from Cairns, Yungaburra is the first stop for travellers who've completed the spectacular drive up the Gillies Highway from Gordonvale. With fresh air, great cafes and 28 heritage buildings, it's an enticing introduction to the charm of the Atherton Tablelands. There's a good interpretation of the local streetscape, so take the time to stroll around, pick up the local history and check out the locally made arts and crafts. The town itself is surrounded by the remnants of volcanic activity. Ask someone to point out the extinct volcanic mounds, the Seven Sisters, and then take a drive to the Crater Lakes of Barrine and Eacham. While they're often talked about in the same breath, the lakes have quite different characters. Barrine is smaller, with a quiet, almost Scandinavian feel (assisted by a delightful cruise boat and tea house), while Eacham offers large scale picnic facilities and is often very busy on a sunny day. Both, however, offer well-interpreted walks which are worth taking the time to complete. The Barrine track at 6.5 kilometres is too long for many day-trippers, so the fit nature lover has a good chance of a quiet time spotting the local wildlife. On the way to Lake Eacham, take the Gadgarra turn-off to the Giant Red Cedar tree. Although the tree fell in cyclone Larry and is now lying on the ground, the size of it is still a spectacular sight. Imagine the scale of the forests that once would have covered the rich dairy country of the Tablelands. Similar thoughts will no doubt come to mind when viewing another of the great Tablelands trees - the Cathedral Fig. It's well signposted off the Gillies Highway and has never yet failed to impress. Yungaburra is also well placed as a base for exploring the considerable expanse of Lake Tinaroo. Boating, swimming, camping, bushwalking and fishing are all available on the dam. Try the 28 kilometres Danbulla Forest Drive around the lake and follow the signs to find the many lookouts, swimming holes and refreshment stops along the way.
Visit Lake Eacham at Crater Lakes National Park
A serene blue lake surrounded by lush tropical rainforest, Lake Eacham is part of Crater Lakes National Park. Take a refreshing dip and then relax in the shade, or wander along with the viewing decks for uninterrupted water views. The lake is a maar—a volcanic crater formed by massive explosions from the superheating of groundwater. The crater has filled with water, forming a lake 65m deep. Stroll around the 3km track encircling the crater lake for forest-fringed views of the lake. You'll be surrounded by birdsong as the lake's birds call, twitter, screech and sing from the treetops. Over 180 bird species have been recorded from the rainforest. Look for musky rat-kangaroos—these small, chocolate-coloured macropods are often seen during the day. Learn about the rainforest and animals as you wriggle like a snake, search for dragons and create amazing creatures on the fun active Children's walk. Paddle a kayak or canoe on the smooth waters of the lake, keeping an eye out below for curious turtles and schools of fish.
Hou Wang Chinese Temple and Museum
Atherton Chinatown is the Award-winning site of the unique Hou Wang Temple and interpretive museum. Located just over a scenic hours drive south-west of Cairns, the National Trust of Queensland property ensures visitors a fascinating insight into a part of North Queensland's history and heritage. The site was chosen by the Chinese settlers during the 1800s. The temple is the only one of its type remaining and the only temple dedicated to Hou Wang outside of China still existing. It has an ornate interior with original wood carvings that can be seen during the guided tour of the property. Allow time to browse through the interpretive museum with its interactive displays and 'world-first' artefact scanner. The gift shop has a good array of Feng-Shui symbols and souvenirs.
Go to Rainforestation Nature Park
The award-winning Rainforestation Nature Park is a 100 acre (40 hectares) tourist attraction set in the midst of World Heritage Rainforest. 30 minutes by coach from Cairns and five minutes away from Kuranda Village. It's locally owned and operated by the Woodward Family. Board an amphibious World War II Army Duck for a unique rainforest tour on both land and water, where your guide will identify and explain fascinating plants and wildlife as you pass by. Then meander through the Tropical Fruits Orchard, with over 40 different species of exotic tropical fruit trees. Learn about indigenous culture with the interactive Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience. Join the Dreamtime Walk which includes boomerang throwing, spear-throwing and the didgeridoo. The park contains many Australian species such as crocodiles, dingoes, snakes, lizards, cassowary and Tasmanian devils. Hand-feed kangaroos and wallabies. Enjoy a fantastic lunch or snack in the licensed Colonial or Outback restaurant with much variety of meals to choose from. There is the Tropical Treats Juice Bar for fruits, ice creams and fresh juices.
Visit Crystal Caves
The Crystal Caves will rock your world! One hour from Cairns on the Atherton Tablelands, share one man’s passion for crystals and fossils at the Crystal Caves. Journey through 300 square metres of tunnels and grottos that Rene built to feature his million-year-old natural crystals and prehistoric fossils. Take a self-guided tour and marvel at the interactive displays which allow you to touch and photograph the crystals, you can even crack your own!
Visit Curtain Fig National Park
View a spectacular curtain fig tree from different vantage points along a boardwalk in this small but popular national park. This large fig tree is unique because the extensive aerial roots, that drop 15 metres to the forest floor, have formed a 'curtain'. Starting from a seed dropped high in the canopy, this strangler fig grew vertical roots, which gradually became thicker and interwoven. Over hundreds of years, these roots have strangled the host causing it to fall into a neighbouring tree-a stage unique to the development of this fig. Vertical fig roots then formed a curtain-like appearance and the host trees rotted away, leaving the freestanding fig tree. The tree is thought to be nearly 50 metres tall, with a trunk circumference of 39 metres, and is estimated to be over 500 years old. Explore the elevated boardwalk that encircles the curtain fig, protecting the roots while allowing for uninterrupted views from all angles. Return at night to spotlight for glimpses of the elusive Lumholtz's tree-kangaroo and other nocturnal animals. This park protects a small area of an endangered type of forest, called mabi forest, the local Aboriginal (Ngadjon) word for the Lumholtz's tree-kangaroo.
Try mango wine at Golden Drop Winery
Golden Drop Winery is a family-owned and operated boutique winery situated on one of the largest commercial mango plantations in Australia. The Winery was established in 1999, making it the first commercial winery in North Queensland. Golden Drop Wines are of premium quality and are refreshing and light. Golden Drop Wines are available in three delicious varieties - Dry, Medium and Sweet. As well as these there is a Sparkling Mango Wine, Mango Port and an extensive variety of fortified liqueur style wines. The product is 100 per cent Australian, and are produced from their very own Australian Kensington Red Mangoes.
Discover more in Queensland
- Atherton Tablelands
- Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park
- Cape Tribulation, Daintree National Park
- Cape York
- Carnarvon Gorge, Carnarvon National Park
- Fraser Coast
- Gold Coast
- Great Barrier Reef
- Hervey Bay
- Magnetic Island
- Mission Beach
- Outback Queensland
- Port Douglas
- Seventeen Seventy
- Southern Queensland County
- Sunshine Coast
- The Whitsundays
- Thursday Island
- Tropical North Queensland