Atherton Tablelands - Tropical North Queensland Holiday Destination
The Tablelands has a beautiful temperate climate making it an ideal January to December destination. Avoid the rush, and go in the low season (Dec-April). The climate is comfortable, free of coastal humidity but still accessible to those coastal areas. Alternatively, come in the high season (July-Nov), and feel the heat of our tropical sun!
Visit Hastie Swamp, a two level bird hide that views thousands of birds in their natural habitat, or Crystal Caves in the Main Street of Atherton. Mt Mulligan Escarpment is a must see. The region also hosts a number of antique and arts and craft shops, as well as art studios and galleries. You can spend hours driving around exploring this fascinating region so if you are around for a long visit, allow a few days to check everything out properly.
A beautiful, scenic and unspoilt, undulating tableland between 500 and 1000 metres above the the Great Barrier Reef, perfect for self driving tours, the Atherton Tablelands will not disappoint.
Ancient rainforest, volcanic lakes, waterfall circuit (including Millaa Millaa Falls), Mareeba Wetlands, national parks, World Heritage listed - wet tropic rainforest areas, and an abundance and diversity of flora and fauna including tree kangaroos, platypus, brolga, rock wallabies, kangaroo, bandicoot, quolls, bird life etc - guided night spotting tours can be arranged beforehand through your Atherton accommodation.
There are so many things to see and do at the Tablelands that we have broken them up into regions below:
- Main attractions
- Northern Tablelands attractions
- Central Tablelands attractions
- Southern Tablelands attractions
- Tours and experiences
- Getting to the Tablelands
Heritage gardens and ruins located on 13 acres of rainforest beside Mena Creek Falls. Built in the 1930's by José Paronella from Spain, the structures were built for public enjoyment and although they have been forced to endure the test of time and natural disasters, they are still now open to the public and form a unique and beautiful tourist attraction.
Tarzali Lakes Aquaculture Centre
Be assured of a catch at the Tablelands best fishing park or just feed and watch.
A family owned and operated fully functional dairy farm on the banks of the Barron River. Established since 1937, the dairy is not only an educational experience but is sure to delight the tastebuds too, with handcrafted chocolates, gourmet cheese and delicious greek yoghurt all made on the premises and available for purchase.
Rainforestation Nature Park
The award-winning Rainforestation Nature Park is set on 100 acres (40 hectares) in the midst of World Heritage rainforest. Experience indigenous culture, Australian native wildlife and World Heritage listed rainforest all on one site.
The last surviving structure of what was Cedar Camp, the Atherton Chinatown, established in the mid 1880's.
This historic Steam Train journeys leaves Atherton and passes wetlands to climb Queensland's steepest line. Enjoy panoramic views, tunnels, waterfalls, huge cuttings and timber trestle bridges on your way to historic Herberton.
Golden Pride Winery
Golden Pride Winery is a boutique winery operating just outside of Mareeba with a focus on using mangoes from their huge plantation. The cellar door is open daily from 8am to 6.30pm.
Granite Gorge Nature Park
This privately owned nature park features gorgeous and fascinating volcanic formed scenery stretching over a diverse landscape of volcanic boulders, native bushland and bubbling creeks. Camping is available along with a range of activities including feeding the rock wallabies and many walking tracks.
Warbird Adventures Aviation Museum
Aviation museum located just south of Mareeba featuring display and operating warbirds lovingly restored to original condition. Adventure flights available.
The Mareeba Tropical Savannas and Wetlands Reserve is located on 5000 acres and is full of lagoons and channels and home to many Wetlands creatures. The Reserve offers a great chance to explore this unique environment and learn about the conservation program that maintains the region.
Coffee Works located in Mareeba is a boutique roastery serving up and selling premium Arabica coffees from local Cairns Highlands plantations. To go with your coffee you can pick up a delicious selection of handcraft chocolates from the Chocolaterie. If coffee isn't your thing there's a selection of teas from local plantations which offer tea drinkers with an amazing insight into the delicious leaves from the region.
Mt Mulligan Escarpment
Mount Mulligan was once a busy coal mining town but is now a ghost town with only one occupied residence and a single cemetery. It's an interesting place to visit as it is also home to Queensland's most catastrophic mining disaster where 75 miners were killed in an underground explosion in 1921.
Tyrconnell Historic Goldmine
Located an hour and a half from Cairns is the Tyrconnel Historic Goldmine. It's well off the beaten track and you can learn what it was like to be in Cairns region in the goldmining era. Over 120 years ago 10 000 people roamed through these hills searching for gold and now you can trek through the same bush, learn how to pan for gold and enjoy an Aussie BBQ meal. You can even choose to stay overnight.
Irvinebank is a well hidden secret located a short 2 hour drive from the centre of Cairns. The town was established in 1882 and grew to accommodate Queensland's growing mining domain. The town is full of beautiful heritage listed buildings and the town dam is picturesque spot to stop off and enjoy a picnic and a swim under the century old fig trees.
Queensland has had a rich (literally!) and diverse mining history however the town of Herberton was known for producing tin. It's located an hour and a half from Cairns and is home to The Herberton Mining Museum. The museum offers visitors a great insight to the Queensland mining industry and interestingly enough the Museum is actually built on an old 1880 tin Reward Claim.
A visit to the Atherton Tablelands is not complete without a stop off and a swim in Lake Eacham which is part of the Lake Eacham National Park. The lake itself was created around 12,000 years ago when magma rose to the surface of the water table and over the next hundreds of years created a huge lake which is fed by a constant underground stream. It's the perfect spot to stop off and picnic, lay about in the sun and enjoy water sports on the lake or bushwalking through the surrounding rainforest.
Lake Barrine was formed in a similar way to Lake Eacham and is a deep water lake surrounded by dense rainforest. The Tea House is built on the lake's shore and has been a family run business since the 1930s. It's a wonderful place to visit for breakfast, lunch and Devonshire teas. You can also enjoy a relaxing boat cruise around the lake.
Lake Tinaroo is located a few minutes from Atherton and is the region's inland water playground. The lake was created in 1959 when the Barron River was blocked and is now a great place to swim, sail, windsurf, water ski, fish and if staying on dry land is more your thing than the hiking and camping around Lake Tinaroo is also awesome.
Atherton was the first town settled in the region and hence the name the Atherton Tablelands. The pace isn't to quick through the middle of this historic town but it's a pretty place to stop and visit on your way through the area. The town sits on the side of Hallorans Hill which is an extinct volcano and is surrounded by the Seven Sisters which is a small collection of hills.
In 2011 The Parish of Malanda celebrated its centenary. The timber business and dairy farmers in the area lobbied to have Malanda join the railway line and in late 1910 the first train came into station. The township is now known for its wonderful bird watching, art galleries and the stunning Malanda Falls.
Yungaburra is one of the oldest towns in the Tablelands and is part of the National Trust of Queensland. This charming village which was established in 1890 has remained largely unchanged and has been a favourite tourist destination since the 1900s. One highlight of your trip to Yungaburra should be visiting Peterson's Creek to see the elusive platypus come out in the late afternoon.
Bromfield & Hasties Swamp
The Atherton Tablelands is like Mecca for birdwatchers. You can journey up into the highlands and sit in a relatively cool climate while you keep your eye out for birds. The Bromfield Crater is known as a breeding ground for the Sarus Cranes and is a great place to watch them in flight during the dry season as day break or sun down. Hasties Swamp fills during the Wet Season and is located just outside the town of Atherton and here you'll find some of the best bird watching around in the grassed area which is shaded by the eucalypt trees. If you stay long enough and quiet enough you may come across several hundreds of bird species.
Curtain fig tree, Cathedral Strangler fig tree and Giant Red Cedar tree
Atherton is home to many grand, old trees which are well worth getting off the beaten track to have a look at. One of those is the Curtain Fig Tree which is one of the largest in North Queensland There are some great examples of these strangler Curtain Fig Tree just outside of Yungaburra.
If you are in the are then you should check out the Cathedral Fig Tree which sits around 5km from the Gillies Highway. It's a type of Curtain Fig Tree and home to lots of different species of animals like Possums, Tree kangaroos, Doves and Scrubfowls.
Another of these great trees is the Red Cedar Tree which is the reason why loggers first came to the region. They are known for their supreme wood and their speedy growth. A great example is the Giant Red Cedar which is one of the only survivors of this logging past. It is located just near Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodge on Winfield Road.
Mt Bartle Frere and Mt Bellenden Ker
Tropical North Queensland is home to Queensland highest and second highest mountains. Mount Bartle Frere is located in the Wooroonooran National Park and sits 1622 metres above sea level. There are lots of different tracks from foothill to summit to explore. There's plenty of rainforest to scramble around and the clouds that come in up top are well worth a visit. Mount Bellenden Ker only sits 1593 metres above sea level and stands adjacent to Mt Bartle Frere. You can also explore this mountain and visit the beautiful Josephine Falls and the bubbling rivers which criss cross down the mountain.
Tichum Creek Coffee Farm
Tichum Creek Coffee is grown in the Cairns Highlands by a 4th generation farmer up in the Atherton Tablelands. The coffee is grown in a gorgeous, clean environment and then roasted in small batches which means that turnover is greater and so the coffee you drink is fresher. You can try this gorgeous drop at Tichum Creek's Cafe which is located amidst a lovely flower garden with your choice of sweet treats.
Millstream Falls National Park
Millstream Falls National Park is just an hour and half away from Cairns and is a great place to visit as it boasts the widest single drop falls in Australia. The park is rich in indigenous and more recent history as it was the site of an army training camp in World War 2. The area was set up as a training ground as it was close to New Guinea and would help give the troops an idea of what South East Asia would be like climate wise. Take the World War II Heritage track which is an easy 1 kilometre circuit through the area.
Tully Gorge National Park
The Tully Gorge National Park is a terrific place to spend your day and nights camping, bushwalking and picnicking by the Tully River. The park is also one of the wettest placed in all of Queensland and is very popular destination for white-water rafters. If you're not a thrill seeker like the rafters you an watch their progress down the tumbling torrents from many of the lookouts.
Ravenshoe is the highest town in all of Queensland and sits above all the others at 930 metres above sea level. The town was founded as a timber town and now is popular with tourists to the Atherton Tablelands wanting to get close to all the wonderful waterfalls, bush walking trails, rainforests and historical landmarks. While you're here make sure stop off for a cooling drink and a meal at 'The Top Pub' as it is also the highest pub in Queensland.
Millaa Millaa Waterfall Circuit
The Millaa Millaa Waterfall Circuit takes you past three of the Atherton Tablelands and Wet Tropics prettiest falls. On the sealed road your first stop off will be at the Millaa Millaa Falls which is really the only spot where you can jump in and enjoy the cooling waters. If you arrive at the right time you might lucky enough to come across a platypus or the iridescent blue Ulysses Butterfly.
There's plenty of barbeque and picnic facilities here so it's a great place to also enjoy your lunch. Hop back in the car and keep your eyes peeled for the next stop, the Zillie Falls. There's no swimming in this waterfall but you can take a short walk through the surrounding forest to the viewing are where you can get a great idea idea of the rapids and top of the falls. Finish off with some afternoon tea at the grassed picnic spot at Ellinjaa Falls.
There's some excellent viewing platforms which makes from some great photos at these last falls. It's not recommended you swim in these falls however, you can watch the platypus and turtles frolic in the waters.
See Australia's unique animals and birds in their natural environment on a rainforest wildlife-spotting tour in the Atherton Tablelands. Led by an expert nature guide, your small-group nocturnal tour visits a number of locations including lush tropical rainforest and a volcanic crater lake.
Discover the high-elevation landscapes of the Atherton and Southern tablelands on a rainforest and waterfalls excursion from Cairns. Spot rare kangaroos and the shy platypus, see some of Australia’s oldest and tallest trees, and take a morning cruise on tranquil Lake Barrine. Travel along the Waterfall Circuit to swim in Millaa Millaa Falls, and explore the romantic gardens and castle ruins at Paronella Park.
Rise up and float over the scenic Atherton Tablelands with it's rainforest fringed mountains and tranquil country landscapes. Time stands still when you're floating in a hot air balloon, and the memory will be one you will cherish forever.
At the award-winning Rainforestation Nature Park, you'll get to experience indigenous culture, Australian native wildlife and World Heritage listed rainforest all on one site. Enjoy the Army Duck Rainforest Tour, Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience and the Koala and Wildlife Park.
Take on the river rapids of the Tully River with a white water rafting adventure from Cairns! Step into a purpose-built raft and prepare for five hours of exhilarating white water rafting in this stunning location.
The Atherton Tablelands is around 90 kilometres south-west of Cairns. There are 2 ways to get to the Tablelands from Cairns and it really depends on which attractions you want to see.
The Gillies Highway takes your from the southern side of Cairns and up into the mountains. It's impossible to get lost as the signage is great and it will take you past such sights as Lake Barrine and Lake Eacham.
The other highway to take is the Kuranda Highway which takes you from the northern end of Cairns and into the highlands past all the attractions around Mareeba and through towns like Tolga, Atherton and onto Lake Tinaroo.
It's a beautiful scenic drive to take and the views from the road of the rainforest and sea are outstanding.
Atherton Tablelands Accommodation
The picturesque towns of the Atherton Tablelands are located between 30 minutes and an hour and a half out of Cairns CBD. As the townships are located at such high levels above sea level the climate is much cooler and more easy going. It's a great place to escape the humidity of the coastline. Most people visiting the Atherton Tablelands are here to bush walk through the national parks, visit waterfalls, go bird watching or to drive from one picture perfect place to the next. As you can imagine there's a huge array of accommodation spots and types to choose from.
More Atherton Tablelands Information
- Tropical Tablelands Tourism - the approved local tourism organisation for the area
- Atherton Tablelands Wikipedia entry