About an hour and a half inland from Cairns, Australia, you’ll find the Atherton Tablelands, a large green plateau with lots of places to explore. Most people visit the region to either relax and dine in style or to explore in the great outdoors. There are a wide variety of hiking trails, waterfalls, greenery, and animals to get to know in the region, and you can find some delicious gourmet food here as well.
Planning a Trip in the time of COVID?Keep in mind that information found in this article may have been impacted by travel restrictions and other closures. Double check opening hours, tour providers and hotel status before you go. And don't leave your home without travel insurance! If you are looking for an insurance provider that covers COVID-19, we recommend SafetyWing. Get Medical and Travel Insurance starting at just $40/month and you can sign up even if your trip has already started!
The Atherton Tablelands is often overlooked by travelers 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 2 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.
Things to do in the 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-min boat ride around the lake and had a chance to spot turtles, iguanas, eels, snakes, and lots of beautiful birds.
Crater Lakes National Park that surrounds the lake offers an opportunity to explore a lush rainforest ecosystem, similar to the one at Daintree National Park, minus the crowds.
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 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, but 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 nice walks 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.
Take a Dip in and Admire the Millaa Millaa Falls
The Atherton Tablelands are well known for their incredible waterfalls and Millaa Millaa waterfall is definitely the jewel of the Atherton Tablelands Waterfalls
Millaa Millaa Falls with its high flume below is a favourite spot not just for swimming but also among photographers and images of Millaa Millaa falls are often used to represent and depict the region.
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.
Davies Creek Falls consists of a series of cascades that flow across large boulders over both vertical and horizontal distance, 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.
Spend a Day Chasing Waterfalls
If you love waterfalls, consider joining a waterfalls tour and heading off on a waterfall discovery adventure to visit the other falls in the region. Follow the waterfall driving route of around 17 km for a chance to visit some of the region’s famous falls and swimming holes!
Sample Tea at Tea Plantations
The Atherton Tablelands are known for their incredible cuisine, specializing in all kinds of delicious products like dairy, seafood, produce, coffee, and tea.
One of the top tea producers in the region, the Nerada Tea Factory, provides an opportunity to take a tour of the facilities and taste some of the specialty teas frown on site. It’s a great way to learn more about tea and to sharpen your tea pallet while enjoying beautiful views of the region.
Spot the Elusive Tree Kangaroos
Tree kangaroos are a weird and wonderful marsupial that can only be found on the island of New Guinea and in Northeast Queensland. They are much smaller than their better-known kangaroo cousins and have slightly darker, 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. The tree kangaroos can be spotted in a number of places around Atherton Tablelands, but it’s unlikely that you’ll be lucky to find them without help on a local guide.
Luckily, during our visit, our fabulous guide James from FNQ Nature Tours, was able to spot these unique creates 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. The town 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 with handcrafted goods as well as local 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 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!
How to Visit the Atherton Tablelands
It is possible to visit the Atherton Tablelands by yourself in order to drive to the different points of interest within the region. However, in order 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 like Daintree National Park is, but that’s exactly what makes it so special. If you love amazing natural sights, 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.