The Atherton Tablelands is a region about an hour south-west of Cairns in Tropical North Queensland.
It’s a region that changes from agricultural land, to scrub forest, to ancient rainforests and then eventually to the Queensland Outback and is worth spending a few days exploring.
There is plenty to see and do as many of our readers jumped out to tell us the Atherton Tablelands was one of their favourite places in Australia.
Our two days in Atherton was the start of our adventure along the Savannah Way Drive. Unfortunately, we had two days of rain while we visited, but we loved it anyway and still managed to see and do a lot.
The Waterfall Circuit
Starting near the town of Millaa Millaa there’s a 15km circuit that embraces some of the best waterfalls in the region. Because of rain we didn’t get to every waterfall but the ones below are well worth visiting.
Millaa Millaa Falls
Millaa Millaa Falls is the main event on the waterfall circuit and one of the most photographed waterfalls in Australia.
Any wonder as the waterfall is surrounded by lush rainforest and the water cascades into a pristine waterhole, perfect for swimming on those tropical humid days. Look for platypus in the late afternoon. There’s plenty of shady grassed areas for a picnic.
There are meant to be beautiful views of the Tablelands from Millaa Lookout. Worth a stop – we only had rain clouds to see!
Click here for information on the best place in Australia to see wild platypusus.
The viewing platform is at the top of these falls, but there is a muddy track (when it rains) taking you down to the bottom of the falls to see the cascading waterfall and rapids.
The tree ferns and jungle vines offer pretty surroundings on the short five-minute sealed track taking you down to the bottom of the falls. Ellinjaa Falls cascades over a series of lava columns.
Hot Tip: Have a waterproof bag for your camera. We didn’t. Rain got on it and the camera died and we had to take this pic on our Samsung phone. Totally hated that $700 mistake having to buy a new one the next day.
Not officially on the waterfall circuit but just off the Malanda-Atherton Rd is Malanda Falls, a cascade waterfall on the North Johnstone River.
There’s a beautiful walk through the rainforest across the road from the falls and if you look up you might be lucky to spot a tree kangaroo. Apparently, they are easy to find here – we’re just unlucky!
Curtain Fig Tree
Prepare to be wowed by the Curtain Fig Tree. It’s a definite must do.
I’ve fallen in love with the Strangler Figs here in Tropical North Queensland, they are such a vital part of the rainforest. Even though they strangle the host trees, they leave behind a twisting trail of beauty and a thriving ecosystem.
They were the supermarkets of the local Aboriginal tribe providing them with almost everything they needed.
This Curtain Fig Tree is incredible. It spans several metres across and the vines drape 15 metres down giving a lovely curtain effect.
The Curtain Fig Tree is located just outside of Yungaburra. While in this area of the Tablelands stop in at The Whistlestop Cafe for lunch.
Hypipamee Crater and Dinner Falls
Hypipamee Crater is a fascinatingly eerie place well worth visiting. Far North Queensland is brimming with evidence of a land once teeming with volcanic activity. Hypipamee crater is another example of this.
Thousands of years ago, during an eruption, gases trapped under the earth surface burst their way through the crust, creating a gigantic hole in the middle of the mountain.
The crater is now filled with water that runs under the mountain in the lava pipe. The top of the water in the crater is covered with duckweed; it’s vibrant greens giving a pretty, yet kind of deathly glaze, over the top. Sure wouldn’t like to fall in there!
Dinner Falls, a cascading waterfall is also a short walk below the crater and worth a look. The rainforest here is just beautiful – lush and green and if you’re lucky you might see a cassowary.
Kuranda is a small village in the Atherton Tablelands that draws a lot of day visitors from Cairns.
There are a few markets up here, worth a browse, although I think you’ll find better in other places in Australia. Although I did find the most magical mookite crystal while there, so it made it a winner in my eyes. Isn’t she truly beautiful?
While in Kuranda, we highly suggest you enjoy the 3km rainforest walk from the centre of town through the rainforest and along the esplanade to the train station. It was truly beautiful and I loved the last section along the esplanade. It was stunning with the afternoon light and the melaleuca gums along the banks of the Barron River.
Coffee World at Coffee Works
Prepare to wake yourself up with endless shots of coffee. That’s if you pay the admission fee ($19) into Coffee World at Coffee Works in Mareeba. From within there, you have access to unlimited quantities of coffee, tea, chocolate and liqueur.
We bypassed this sensory explosion and stopped in at the cafe for a coffee. You’d expect a good one at a place called Coffee World – and yes, it did not let us down.
We did get to taste a bit of the chocolate in the cafe. I fell in love with the chilli chocolate. The coffee one was pretty good too. And we had to drag the girls out of the tasting room.
We stopped in for lunch at the Mandala Dairy Centre. There’s a display area within the cafe if you are interested to learn about the dairy industry in the Tablelands. You can also pay to go behind the scenes into the milk factory
We had a delicious pumpkin soup which heartied us up in the cold rain.
Mungalli Creek bio-dynamic dairy also has a selection of their cheese and yoghurt to taste, which were deliciously creamy. They are well known for their gourmet cheese pies and Sicilian cheesecake if you want to indulge.
Lake Barrine Teahouse
Although it was still raining the Lake Barrine Teahouse was a lovely place to visit right on the lake. They’re famous for their Devonshire Tea and we appreciated that they had a little kiddies play area so we could have some down time with our tea.
Lake Barrine is also well known for its relaxing cruises around the volcanic crater brim, or if you’re feeling more energetic there’s a 5km walking track around the lake.
Mountain bike riding
The Atherton Tablelands is a mountain bike lovers dream play area. There are over 30kms of world-class dedicated mountain bike trails, ranging from beginner to hard core, and they take you winding through ancient rainforests and scenic back country roads.
Check out Tableland Adventure Guides who run guided mountain biking tours.
Hot Air Ballooning
Why not take a look at Atherton from above? Hot air ballooning is a magical way to join the sun in its journey up. You can see more of our hot air ballooning experience with photos here.
Hot Air Balloon Cairns operates flights daily, weather dependent, from the Atherton Tablelands, Cairns, Port Douglas and Palm Cove with door to door transfers included in your hot air ballooning ticket.
Tips from our readers
Chelsea Sutherland says – Peeramon Pub does a great lunch; the walk around Lake Eacham is very pleasant and family friendly. Gallos Dairy has a small petting area out the back.
Becky Ward says – Lake Tinaroo is beautiful and isn’t too far away! Also when visiting Milla Milla falls arrive as early as possible to get the place to your self!
Susan Wise says – Spot a platypus in the wild at Yungaburra – a great little town to spend a couple of days in.
Tanya Manwaring says – Our little ones loved The Crystal Caves, Milla Milla falls and Lake Tinaroo. Good spot to pick up some great local coffee.
Emma Michelmore says – Visit Granite gorge, you get to feed cute wallabies and there is a beautiful scenic walk.
The Atherton Tablelands is located about an hour south-west of Cairns.
Where we stayed:
The Big 4 Atherton Woodlands Tourist Park makes for a great base to explore the area. We stayed in a comfortable two bedroom cabin. Just down the road is the Chinese Gardens and the platypus pool – we couldn’t spot any, but many say they do.
It’s also close to the centre of town and a short drive to many of the Tablelands attractions.
For more places to stay in Atherton, click here.
Need car hire from Cairns? Click here
Need more information?
For more details on magical Queensland drives, including the Waterfall Circuit and the Savannah Way Drive visit Drive North Queensland.
We visited in partnership with Tropical North Queensland.