Located about an hour and a half inland from Cairns, Australia, the Atherton Tablelands is a large green plateau with lots of places to explore.
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Most people visit the region to either relax and dine in style or to explore the great outdoors. There is a wide variety of hiking trails, waterfalls, greenery, volcanic lakes and animals to get to know in the region, from the unique curtain fig tree to the World Heritage-listed rainforest, and you can find some delicious gourmet food here as well.
The Atherton Tablelands are often overlooked by travellers to Cairns, but in our opinion, this region offers a great sample of activities and experiences that highlight the best of Far North Queensland.
We were really lucky to have been able to explore the area for two days with a local guide, James, from FNQ Nature Tours, who showed us the hidden gems and most well-known sights that this region has to offer.
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How to get to Atherton Tablelands
One way you can get to Atherton Tablelands is by car. If you’re using a car, you can use the Kuranda Range Road, Palmerston Highway, and Gillies Range Road.
Kuranda Range Road is the most convenient option. You can start from Smithfield Road and turn on the AI. You will pass Kuranda on the way. If you decide to use Gillies Range Road, it is steeper. Start from Gordonvale and turn into the Bruce Highway. Then, you can make your way onto the Gillies Range.
If you’re travelling by bus, Trans North Bus and Coach service offer bus services from Cairns to Atherton. You can catch the bus from these stations:
- Cairns Central Shopping Center.
- 15 Therwine Street, Kuranda.
- Walsh Street in Mareeba.
- Smithfield Bus Shelter, Kennedy Highway.
- Speewah Bus Shelter.
- 54 Main Street, Atherton.
Catching an open-door train ride to Atherton Tablelands is a fantastic idea, as you can spot gorgeous scenery on the way. You can Catch the train from Cairns Central shopping centre to Kuranda. Then, from there, you can make your way to Atherton Tablelands. If you’re taking a day trip, the Kuranda Scenic Railway operates a daily return service.
Best Time to Visit Atherton Tablelands
The best time to visit the Atherton Tablelands is anytime. Atherton Tablelands is great for a vacation or a day trip all year round. The region has a temperate climate, so you can enjoy comfort whenever you visit, and there is no coastal humidity.
If you visit the northern part of the region, you can expect wet and warm summers, while the winters are cool and dry. But to the south, there’s more rainfall, and the temperatures are very low during the winter months. You should keep these in mind when visiting the Atherton Tablelands.
Summer in Atherton Tablelands is from December to February. This is a great time to visit, but keep in mind that there’s a lot of rainfall. It is also called the green season, and the tropical rains offer vibrant plants and animals that would have been stressed by the dry season. It’s a great season for viewing the curtain fig tree.
Autumn is another great time to visit Atherton Tablelands. It is between March and May, and after the summer rains clear, you will get green everywhere. The morning sky would become clear, and you can even see colourful sunsets at night, giving you the feeling of a tropical North Queensland.
Once winter comes between June and August, the Atherton Tablelands have crisp evenings, and some parts in the south have early morning frosts. It’s a wet season, perfect for stargazing. Some parts of Atherton Tablelands also experience a light drizzle, so you can enjoy time in front of the fireplace at accommodation facilities.
Spring lasts between September and November. During these months, there might be a lot of afternoon storms lighting up the sky. But Atherton Tablelands is a cozy place to be in during spring.
Best Things to Do in Atherton Tablelands
Spot Wildlife On Lake Barrine
The beautiful Lake Barrine is a small body of water in the northern part of the Atherton Tablelands. The main attraction of the lake itself is the wildlife that can be spotted in and around the lake. During our visit to Lake Barrine, we took a guided 45-minute boat ride around the lake and had a chance to spot turtles, iguanas, eels, snakes, and lots of beautiful birds.
Explore Crater Lakes National Park and Lake Eacham
Crater Lakes National Park, nestled in Queensland’s Atherton Tablelands, is a stunning natural site shaped by ancient volcanic processes.
Within the park lies Lake Eacham, a renowned volcanic crater lake offering crystal-clear waters for swimming and snorkelling.
The lush rainforest surrounding the lake provides a picturesque setting for picnics and leisurely walks along the 3-kilometre circuit track. Rich in biodiversity, the park showcases remnants of volcanic activity, adding an educational aspect to its natural charm.
With facilities like picnic areas, Crater Lakes National Park, and Lake Eacham, in particular, serve as a serene retreat for nature enthusiasts.
Get Close to Wallabies at the Granite Gorge Nature Park
If you want to see some awesome wildlife, then Granite Gorge Nature Park is one of the best destinations to visit in the Atherton Tablelands. The wildlife park is famous for having all kinds of critters but is especially known for its adorable wallabies.
These cute creatures are similar to kangaroos but generally smaller. They are native to this part of Australia, and seeing them in the wild is an amazing experience. The park allows feeding of the wallabies, but we tend to opt out of activities like these, as it’s not very sustainable. We recommend you avoid participating, as even without the treats in hand, you’ll find some curious wallabies right at your feet.
There’s more to the Granite Gorge Nature Park than just the animals. There are some scenic trails inside the park and plenty of beautiful forests that you can explore nearby. There’s also an awesome swimming hole nearby called the Granite Creek Weir, where you can cool off on a hot day without the worry of crocodiles lurking nearby.
Visit The Wooroonooran and Tully Gorge National Park
Nestled in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, The Wooroonooran National Park, located in Queensland’s Atherton Tablelands, is a haven of natural wonders. With lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls, and diverse ecosystems, this park is a paradise for nature lovers.
Notable attractions include the iconic Josephine Falls, where visitors can enjoy refreshing swims in pristine waters. The park offers an extensive network of walking trails, such as the challenging but rewarding Bartle Frere trail, leading to Queensland’s highest peak. Wildlife enthusiasts can spot a variety of native species, including the elusive cassowary.
The nearby Tully Gorge National Park is another popular spot renowned for its spectacular landscapes. The mighty Tully River makes it another must-visit for outdoor enthusiasts.
The park offers thrilling white-water rafting opportunities for adventurers seeking an adrenaline rush. The Tully Gorge Lookout provides breathtaking views of the rugged gorge and the surrounding rainforest. The park is home to diverse flora and fauna, showcasing the unique biodiversity of the region. Hiking trails like the Tully River Walk offer a chance to explore the lush surroundings.
Admire Millaa Millaa Falls
The Atherton Tablelands are known for their beautiful waterfalls, and Millaa Millaa Falls is a standout.
Millaa Millaa Falls is a favourite for swimmers and photographers alike. Its serene pool and picturesque surroundings often make it the face of the Atherton Tablelands in photos.
Besides being a great photo spot, Millaa Millaa Falls has some nice walking trails. So, this place is a solid choice if you’re into a laid-back day surrounded by nature. It’s not just a good-looking waterfall but a popular relaxed hangout in the heart of the Atherton Tablelands.
Visit Davies Creek Falls
A short bush walk from the parking lot will bring you to Davies Creek Falls, a waterfall that is loved by locals as a place to spend a hot afternoon. It is one of the best Atherton tourist attractions.
Davies Creek Falls consists of a series of cascades that flow across large boulders over both vertical and horizontal distances, creating a number of perfect swimming pools with incredible forest views.
The rocks in the area are large and smooth, making it an awesome place to scramble over boulders for the best views of the valley below or simply stretch out and sunbathe. This is one of the Atherton Tablelands waterfalls that you should not miss.
Aside from the different volcanic crater lakes in the Tablelands, you can explore crystal caves and an extinct volcano in the region.
Spend A Day Chasing Waterfalls
If you love stunning waterfalls, consider joining a waterfalls tour and heading off on a waterfall discovery adventure to visit the other falls in tropical North Queensland, Tablelands. Follow the waterfall driving route of around 17 km to visit some of the region’s famous falls and swimming holes!
Malanda Falls is a gorgeous waterfall located next to the Malanda Visitor Center. The waterfall is surrounded by a lush green rainforest and is located close to the car park, so you don’t have to take a long walk. If you want a light adventure, you can explore the walking trails from the falls and look out for the elusive tree kangaroos.
Zillie Falls is located about 7.5 km from Millaa Millaa Falls. Zillie Falls is a magical and daring waterfall, and you can hear the deafening sound of water hitting the rocks. At the bottom of the waterfalls, you will see rock pools that you can swim in.
Ellinjaa Falls is also close to Zillie Falls, about 3km away. While exploring the waterfall, you can pause and use the barbeque and picnic tables that have been provided. The pool under the Ellinjaa Falls isn’t deep, so it’s not good for swimming. But something locals would tell you is that there is a hidden spot behind the waterfall. You can stay there and enjoy its majestic beauty.
Sample Tea At Tea Plantations
Aside from the Atherton Tablelands attractions, the region is known for their incredible cuisine, specialising in all kinds of delicious local produce like dairy, seafood, produce, coffee, and tea.
One of the top tea producers in the region, the Nerada Tea Factory, offers you the chance to tour the facilities and taste some of the specialty teas grown on-site. It’s a great way to learn more about tea and to sharpen your taste buds while enjoying beautiful views of the region.
Spot The Elusive Tree Kangaroos in Tropical North Queensland
Tree kangaroos are a weird and wonderful marsupial that can only be found on the island of New Guinea and in tropical North Queensland. They are much smaller than their better-known kangaroo cousins and have slightly darker but richer colouring in their fur.
Tree kangaroos are considered endangered species, as their population has declined in recent years due to hunting and the destruction of their habitats. These tree kangaroos can be spotted in a number of national parks around Atherton Tablelands, but it’s unlikely that you’ll be lucky to find them without help from a local guide.
Luckily, during our visit, our fabulous guide, James from FNQ Nature Tours, was able to spot these unique creations and give us a chance to admire them in their natural environment.
Search For Platypuses In Yungaburra
Just to the west of Crater Lakes National Park, you’ll find the town of Yungaburra. One of the most picturesque towns in Atherton Tablelands, Yungaburra is small but full of eclectic character, and tourists often stop here on their way in or out of the Atherton Tablelands. While in town, make sure to visit the market to browse stalls selling handcrafted goods, fresh produce, and specialty foods.
But the highlight of this town for us was a visit to the Platypus viewing area on Peterson Creek. It’s one of the few areas in the region where elusive platypuses can be spotted in their natural habitat. Come with plenty of time to spare so you can follow the river and search for these shy creatures.
For your best chance of seeing them, visit at dusk or dawn, although thanks to our fabulous guide, James from FNQ Nature Tours, we were able to spot them during the day!
READ NEXT: The Best Things to Do in Cairns, QLD
Where to Stay in Atherton Tablelands
Blue Summit Hideaway
Blue Summit Hideaway is a luxury hotel located in Gillies Range. It is suitable for couples on a romantic getaway and groups that want to explore the Atherton Tablelands. The hotel offers luxury Studio Spa Villas and is a secluded and quiet spot to stay in. It is surrounded by trees and consists of six villas.
On The Wallaby
For budget accommodation in Atherton Tablelands, consider staying at the On The Wallaby. This is an eco-lodge located in Yungaburra, QLD, that offers a homely environment for people travelling alone or small families. It’s located close to waterfalls and beautiful lakes in Atherton Tablelands and offers paid tours.
The Summit B&B
The Summit is a bed and breakfast hotel in Atherton Tablelands, located in Atherton, QLD. It features a swimming pool, express check-out, a laundry room, and airport transfer. It is a 15-minute walk away from Mt. Hypipamee crater and is also close to beaches. The B&B also organises cars for rent, horse riding, canoeing, and hiking.
Atherton Blue Gum B&B
Atherton Blue Gum B&B is a home-away-from-home bed and breakfast hotel that you can base yourself in the Atherton Tablelands. The bed and breakfast is about 45 minutes away from Clifton Beach and 4.8 kilometres from Mt Hypipamee National Park. It has different activities, including hiking, bowling, horse riding, and a kid’s pool.
How To Visit The Atherton Tablelands
You can visit the Atherton Tablelands by yourself and drive to the different points of interest. However, to truly experience the best of the area, we suggest taking an Atherton Tablelands tour with a reputable local provider.
We had a great time visiting the region with FNQ Nature Tours. Our guide, James, was a real expert in the region and its ecosystems and was able to put together an itinerary for us that included all of the above spots and more!
Atherton Tablelands may not be as popular or crowded of a destination as Daintree National Park, the Danbulla National Park with the unique cathedral fig tree, or the Great Barrier Reef, but that’s exactly what makes it so special. If you love amazing natural sights and local produce and are excited to spot some unique Australian wildlife, Atherton Tablelands is a place worth visiting!
Have you ever been to the Atherton Tablelands? What was your favourite place you visited or the first place you would visit?
Disclaimer: Our trip to Atherton Tablelands was provided courtesy of FNQ Nature Tours, but all opinions expressed in this article are our own.