The Atherton Tablelands (also called Tablelands) is a fertile plateau that covers almost 65,000 square kilometers.
The Atherton Tablelands (also called Tablelands) is a fertile plateau that covers almost 65,000 square kilometers. The zone includes the more popular towns of Mareeba and Atherton, as well as the lesser known Malanda, Kuranda, Chillagoe, Yungaburra, Tinaroo, Millaa Millaa, Herberton, and more. Because of its vast area, the Tablelands is home to a multitude of activities and attractions for everyone.
Hot air ballooning
Situated just west of Cairns and on the edge of the Australian Outback, the elevated location of Mareeba town is perfect for an early morning hot air balloon flight. Take in the amazing views of the Tablelands from above as you pass through plains and hills, maybe catching glimpse of a kangaroo or two.
Paronella Park on the other hand, is south of Cairns and was created by Spanish immigrant Jose Paronella with the idea to bring pleasure and enjoyment to the public. The facilities include tennis courts, bridges, tunnels, picnic areas, a cinema, ballroom, and of course, the amazing flora and fauna of the park itself.
Another popular attraction are the crater lakes, composed of Lake Barrine and Lake Eacham, which were formed out of volcanoes. Approximately 65,000 meters deep and over 10,000 years old, the lakes offer pristine blue waters for swimming, lush rainforests for exploring and viewing wildlife, river cruises, and even traditional Devonshire-style tea.
Looking for some country charm? Then visit the quaint town of Yungaburra. With its many cozy restaurants, charming buildings, craft galleries, and diverse markets, this village remains largely unchanged since 1910, allowing tourists to get a glimpse of what life was like back in the olden days. They even have a platypus viewing area and the popular curtain fig tree to snap some photos of.
Another activity worth doing is the Mamu Rainforest Canopy Walk. Located within Wooroonooran National Park, the 350 meter long elevated walkway allows visitors to explore and appreciate Mother Nature at its finest, from the forest floor all the way to the canopy. Marvel at the panoramic views of the North Johnston river gorge, the vine forest on basalt soil, and more. You can also opt to visit the Rainforestation Nature Park in Kuranda and tour the rainforest via an Army Duck six wheel drive, taking in the koalas and other native animals, and even enjoy a performance by the Pamagirri aboriginals.
The Tablelands is also home to 17 of the country’s most spectacular waterfalls. Start with Barron Falls in Kuranda, and delight in the 260 meter natural wonder. Move on to Davies Creek Falls which features a stunning waterfall cascading over huge granite boulders. Then head on to Emerald Creek Falls, which have tranquil natural made pools that are a great place to swim and cool off.
The picturesque Malanda Falls is another popular swimming hole for both locals and tourists alike. Moving south, opt to visit Millaa Millaa Falls, an extremely photogenic waterfall surrounded by verdant greenery and tropical plants. You can then move on to Mungalli Falls, which is the highest waterfall on the Tablelands (approximately 90 meters high). You can opt to hit two birds with one stone (both Atherton Tablelands and Josephine Falls) in this full-day tour.
You can consider visiting the former mining town Chillagoe as well, located 140km west of Mareeba. The town is a pastiche of outback landscapes, mining heritage, aboriginal art sites, and limestone caves. Learn about the time, history, and culture of the town, and get to see the fossilized remains of ancient coral reefs in hidden limestone labyrinths.
Another option is the Undara Volcanic National Park, which has one of the longest lava tube systems in the world. Some things to do are the lava tube tour, the evening wildlife spotlighting walks, watching microbats, and exploring wind tunnels.
How to Get There
Located approximately 90km south west of Cairns, there are four main entryways to the Tablelands region, and the route (via car) you take will highly depend on the area you’ll be coming from and/or the activities you plan to be doing.
- Gillies Highway: If you’re coming from the southern part of Cairns, follow the highway until you reach the top of the mountain range. Drive past the turnoff to Lake Barrine and Lake Eacham, until you arrive at Yungaburra.
- Kuranda Highway: If you’re coming from the northern part of Cairns, find the Smithfield Shopping Centre roundabout, which is the start of the Kuranda Highway. Continue past the village of Kuranda until you reach Mareeba.
- Rex Range Road: If you’re coming from Port Douglas, Mossman, or the Daintree Rainforest, the Rex Range Road starts at the base of the mountains near Port Douglas. Follow the road past the Mossman sugar cane paddocks, climbing Mt. Julatten and Mt. Molloy.
- Palmerston Highway: If you’re coming from Innisfail (which is 93km south of Cairns), follow the signs on the main roads that point you to the highway and to the Tablelands. While this is the longest route, it is said to be the easiest and most scenic one.