The Atherton Tablelands are the kind of place you want to take at your own pace. Jump in a car and head inland to tick off these must-do experiences.
Located just south of Cairns, the cooler-climate of the Atherton Tablelands features a huge variety of landscapes and attractions – from ranges and waterfalls to spectacular national parks and coffee plantations. Here’s a list of what not to miss when you venture to the region.
1. Cheese, cheese and more cheese
Dairy farmers were among the first settlers in the Atherton Tablelands, arriving more than 100 years ago. The industry is still thriving and you can happily spend a few hours dairy-hopping, stopping off to taste ice-cream, gelato, cream, milk, yoghurt and cheese. Mungalli Creek Dairy is a stand-out, offering the largest range of biodynamic organic products in Tropical North Queensland. Visit in summer and autumn for the award-winning ricotta and feta.
2. To market, to market
Find all the region’s best producers in the one spot at a classic country market. Yungaburra Farmers’ Market is the largest and oldest, and is held on the fourth Saturday of each month. The market has embraced the food truck trend, so you can snack on crispy potato skewers, fresh ham and cheese croissants or flaky cannoli as you wander between the stalls. If you miss Yungaburra, there are other markets spread over each weekend of the month.
3. Temple time
In the 1870s, the Gold Rush fever gripping the nation made its way north to the Atherton Tablelands. Thousands of people descended on the region looking to strike it rich, including huge numbers of Chinese workers. By 1877, the Chinese population numbered about 18,000, more than 90 per cent of the total goldfields settlement. A thriving Chinatown community sprung up almost overnight, with the timber and iron Hou Wang Temple at its centre. The boom was short-lived, and by the 1920s the site was all but deserted. Tucked away in a lush tropical jungle, this is still the only temple dedicated to Hou Wang outside of China.
4. Water, water everywhere
The sound of running water is an almost constant companion up in the tablelands, and the whole area is threaded with creeks and rivers that run into stunning waterfalls. Millstream Falls, just outside of the town of Ravenshoe, is the widest single-drop waterfall in the country and spills dramatically over an old basalt lava flow. Visit Tully Gorge near Ravenshoe during the wet season to see Tully Falls plunge 300m down sheer walls of rock and rainforest to the river below. Discover hidden falls as part of the Misty Mountains walking trails, Australia’s first network of long-distance tracks in a high-altitude rainforest, winding for more than 130km. Swim in a volcanic crater lake at Lake Eacham or kayak around Lake Barrine, getting up close to sunken fig trees and dense tropical rainforest.
5. Bean there
Think of Mareeba as the Melbourne of the tropical north – they take their coffee seriously up here. It’s one of the two major coffee-growing regions in the country with a number of small plantations producing high-quality beans. Visit the Skybury Tropical Plantation to watch the beans being processed and sample a cup of the fine Arabica coffee. If you’re more of a tea drinker, visit the lush, green fields of the Nerada Tea Plantation near Malanda for an insider’s guide on how tea is grown and processed.
6. Eat treats
All of the exceptional Tablelands produce can be found in great restaurants and cafes dotted throughout the region. The Whistle Stop in Yungaburra is a local favourite, serving excellent coffee and sweet treats in a leafy, butterfly-filled courtyard. Try freshly smoked barramundi and (if you’re feeling adventurous) crocodile at Smokehouse Cafe at Tarzali Lakes Aquaculture Centre’s cafe or sample a little of everything with a Tableland antipasto platter at Nick’s Swiss-Italian Restaurant, also in Yungaburra.
7. Sleep out in style
Step out of the rainforest and into the tropical savannah at Mareeba Wetland Reserve. Covering more than 2000 hectares, it’s a haven for birds and wildlife, and can be explored on foot, from a canoe or with a private guide. Spend the night in a stylish safari tent at Jabiru Safari Lodge and be woken by the distinctive laugh of a blue-winged kookaburra. Sleep on the edge of a dormant volcano at Mt Quincan Crater Retreat for a true insight into the rich, volcanic history of the Atherton Tablelands or meet a Cassowary and his chicks and plenty of other wildlife at the beautiful Canopy Treehouses.