If your ideal holiday involves roaming from providore to providore, seeing 400-million-year-old rock cave formations and exploring waterfalls in between, there’s a town on the Atherton Tablelands you’ll want to get to know.
While the town of Mareeba itself might be relatively small, the shire is one of the biggest in North Queensland (in fact, it’s three-and-a-half times the area size of Brisbane to put it in perspective) with a to-do list befitting of its land size.
The holiday sunshine-gods regularly beam down on this part of the Atherton Tablelands (with up to 300 rain-free days a year), inviting you to explore its food bowl, savannah plains and water holes.
If you’re looking for an adventure-filled day trip from Cairns, hit the Kennedy Highway and discover Mareeba with this guide.
Mother Nature proves she’s all about balance, counteracting Mareeba’s tropical temps with refreshing water holes, like the ones you find among the granite boulders at Emerald Creek Falls.
Since it takes about an hour to hike to these falls, you’ll be well primed for an ice-cream to reward your 1.9km hiking efforts at the nearby Emerald Creek Ice Creamery.
Their ice-cream and sorbets are infused with native flavours such as lilly pilly alongside classics like chocolate, vanilla and rum and raisin.
For more hikes with a waterfall reward, lace up your boots for Lamb’s Head (Kahlpahlim Rock) or Turtle Rock with trails for both starting near Davies Creek.
Alternatively, swap two feet with two wheels, mountain biking the Davies Creek Bike Trails.
Try a different kind of daily grind
Cooler conditions, volcanic sandy soils and high altitude make for ideal growing conditions and the team at Skybury have maximised their 470-acre plot of land with coffee and red papaya plantations.
In fact, the Skybury team produces approximately 40 tonnes of green coffee per year and over two million kilos of red papaya, or, put into daily terms, 60 tonnes of red papaya per day.
Pop into their café for a taste of Australian Arabica coffee that travels from crop to cup onsite, while soaking in the rolling green vistas of Australia’s oldest coffee plantation from their deck.
It would be remiss not to stock up on their trademark sweet red papaya, which has earnt Skybury its title as the country’s largest producer.
Let wildlife rock your world
Looking for a true wilderness escape? Check into Granite Gorge Caravan Park and Tourist Destination, south-west of Mareeba.
Whether you choose to settle into the onsite cabins, safari tents or set up your own caravan or camping accommodation, the star attraction here is the Mareeba rock wallabies.
These marvellous macropods are an endangered species found only in the Mareeba area and due to daily hand-feeding, are tame enough to get close to.
When you’re not feeding the wildlife, explore the natural playground of Granite Gorge behind the Tourist Park with its boulders, swimming holes and waterfalls all linked by signed walking trails.
Lap up luxury at Mt Mulligan Lodge
There’s always been plenty of luxury to be found in Tropical North Queensland when looking out to the Coral Sea, but until recently the only stars you’d find west of the Great Dividing Range were in the sky, not the accommodation.
That was until Mt Mulligan Lodge burst onto the scene in 2019 with its all-inclusive guest experience on a private 28,000-hectare working cattle station.
You’d be excused for wanting to simply float life’s troubles away in the infinity pool, reading in your suite or taking your golf buggy for a spin to the sunset bar, but their activity menu is just as enticing.
Onsite activities include guided tours of the goldfields, exploration of the historic Mount Mulligan coal mine, barramundi fishing in the weir, scenic helicopter flights and ATV experiences around the station.
Sample paddock to plate
Farm-to-fork cuisine might be a buzzword in CBD restaurants, but in the Mareeba Shire it’s simply a way of life.
The region has long earned its reputation as the food bowl of North Queensland, with nutrient- rich soil, high altitude (417 metres above sea level) and plenty of water courses to support its agriculture industry.
From mangoes and avocados to cattle, coffee and wine, take your taste buds on tour from one producer to the next. To find out what’s growing, check out this guide.
Discover ancient history as told by the rocks
You’ll need to dip below terra firma to find the ancient wonderland that is Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park.
With the assistance of a guide, you’ll be led to ancient (we’re talking 400-million years old) limestone caves, Aboriginal rock art galleries and a historically significant mining site, which dates back to the 1890s.
While you’ll find spectacular limestone towers above the ground, below is where geology truly rocks with stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones.
No wheels of your own to drive to Chillagoe? No worries. Climb aboard the Savannahlander, one of Tropical North Queensland’s iconic rail journeys departing Cairns on a 1960’s classic “silver-bullet” railmotor.
Get twitchy on a nature escape
Over 200 birds of a feather flock together at the 2023-hectare Mareeba Wetlands.
Head out on a tour with FNQ Nature Tours and bring your birdwatching book because these interconnecting lagoons and creeks attract a range of species including six different quill species, eleven duck species, nine cuckoos and most varieties of Australian tropical water birds.
Given the changing conditions throughout the year, you can expect different feathered faces coming and going with the seasons, like Brolgas and Sarus Cranes.
Shop up a storm in Kuranda
From Mareeba, it’s only 30-minutes’ drive to the rainforest village of Kuranda whose hippie past has paved the way for today’s artisans, creators and markets for you to explore.
Kuranda’s most famous attraction is undoubtedly its two outdoor markets – the Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets and the Heritage Markets – where you’ll find handmade clothing jewellery, wood carvings, leatherwork, ceramics, gemstones and Indigenous art.
If you’re short on time for the full paddock-to-plate experience on the Tablelands, the markets also happen to be a one-stop-shop for the likes of macadamias, coffee and fruit.
Turn back the pages of history
History buffs needn’t rule out the Tablelands as a destination just for gourmands – beyond its farm gates there’s history to explore.
Step back to yesteryear at the Historic Village Herberton where you’ll find more than 50 restored period buildings to explore like an immersive museum.
To continue delving into the past, The Mareeba Heritage Museum is home to over 6000 items drawn from over 25 years of collections and the Visitor Information Centre at the front makes this well worth a stop.
Of course, if you prefer your history told with an icy lager in hand, the walls do talk at the country pubs peppered throughout the Tablelands.
Get a natural high
If an early start doesn’t deter you, drink in the Atherton Tablelands from above with a hot-air balloon ride.
With the ‘most consistent flying conditions in Australia’, Mareeba is the ideal location for a balloon ride to coincide with sunrise.
Your experienced captain will pilot your scenic flight as you glide over the Tablelands with nothing but the sound of the balloon burners to interrupt the serenity.