With waterfalls, lakes and national parks, the Atherton Tablelands is nature at its best.
Located in the heart of tropical far north Queensland, the Atherton Tablelands makes for an excellent side trip from Cairns. Here, tropical green gives way to heaven-sent country-side as you move through the sensuous Tablelands, inland from the coast between Innisfail and Cairns.
The Atherton Tablelands is the site of the continent’s most recent volcanic activity, some 10,000 years ago. Atherton is the main town of the region, named after its first European settlers, John and Kate Atherton, who established a cattle station here in the mid-19th century. The wealthy agricultural centre of Mareeba now stands on the site of this former ranch.
With an altitude of more than 1,000 metres in places, the Atherton Tablelands offers some of the best self-drive terrain in Queensland. Plan to spend a couple of days in the area exploring the Tablelands’ waterfalls, lakes and national parks.
Atherton Tablelands Things to Do
The Atherton Tablelands things to do list revolve around the towns that make up the tablelands. These towns form the base from where you can plunge into your ‘high country’ adventures. Below is a list of the top four towns that are worth visiting in the Atherton Tablelands.
If you’re visiting the Atherton Tablelands you can’t miss Mareeba. This town is well known for its ‘wild west’ atmosphere, with local merchants selling leather saddles, handcrafted bush hats and oversized belt buckles. If you can plan your trip in July you’ll be greeted to Mareeba Rodeo, one of the biggest and best Rodeo festival in Australia with bull riding, a ‘beaut ute’ muster and some of the finest country music in town.
For the nature lovers, head to the Mareeba Wetlands, a 20-sq-km sanctuary harbouring more than 200 bird species. Choose one of the many walking trails that criss-cross the park and enjoy a relaxing walk among the natural beauty on offer here. Alternatively, you can join a safari tours which departs during the week, or you can take a 30-minute eco-cruise or paddle in a canoe – the options are endless.
To get here take the Pickford Rd turn-off from Biboohra, 7km north of Mareeba.
While considered as a part of the Atherton Tablelands, Kuranda is closer to Cairns and makes for a popular day trip while visiting Cairns. Rated as one of the best places in the Atherton Tablelands, the journey to Kuranda and back is, perhaps, the best part of the trip. To read more about Kuranda, visit our Kuranda page.
Tiny, unassuming Yungaburra is one of the hidden gems of the Tableland. Home to a colony of platypuses, it is also Queensland’s largest National Trust village with 18 Heritage-listed buildings. With its boutique accommodation and stunning surroundings it’s no wonder it’s become a popular weekend retreat for those in the know.
There are a few attractions in Yungaburra worth inspecting. The 500-year-old Curtain Fig tree, signposted 3km out of town, is a must-see for its gigantic, otherworldly aerial roots that hang down to create an enormous ‘curtain’.
If you’re very quiet, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a timid monotreme at the platypus viewing platform on Peterson Creek. Dusk and dawn give you the best chance, but it’s worth stopping any time.
Southwest of Yungaburra is the eerie, green crater lake at Hypipamee, stretching 60 m (200 ft) in diameter. The water surface is covered with duck weed. Visitors often throw rocks down into the water to hear the loud bang when the rock hits the surface of the water and the noise echoes up the sides. Dinner Falls at the head of the upper Barron River gorge is also part of this park.
The vibrant Yungaburra Markets that open up on Sunday mornings are a great place for hunt for unique crafts and delicious local produce.
In late October, the Tablelands Folk Festival features music, workshops, and poetry readings.
Nature-based tours are also conducted here including night canoeing; tour packages and transfers are also available from Cairns.
4. Millaa Millaa
Millaa Millaa contains the most spectacular waterfalls of the region. A 15-km (9-mile) sealed circuit drive takes in the Zillie and Ellinjaa falls, while not far away are the picturesque Mungalli Falls.
When is the Best Time to Visit the Atherton Tablelands?
The best time to visit the Atherton Tablelands is during the winter months (June to September) when the weather is cool and pleasant. Easter (March or April), Christmas (December and January) and Australian school holidays are the busiest times of the year so it’s best to avoid these dates if possible.
Queensland is a tropical state so it’s weather is broken up into wet and dry seasons. Roughly speaking, the dry season runs from April to December, while the wet season runs from January to March. Summers can be extremely hot and the stifling humidity unbearable, so it’s best to travel here during the warm, sunny days and refreshingly cool nights of winter.
Where is the Atherton Tablelands Located?
The Atherton Tablelands is located inland between Innisfail and Cairns, in the tropical far north Queensland, Australia. In terms of distance, it is 93 km southwest of Cairns and 103 km northwest of Innisfail.
Atherton Tablelands Map
To find out more about the Atherton Tablelands, visit the official site.
Tell us what you think. Have you been to the Atherton Tablelands? Which town is your favourite and why? Is there any other information about the Tablelands that you would like discussed in this post?