Atherton Tableland (Cairns Highlands)

The Atherton Tableland (also referred to as the Cairns Highlands because of its elevation and proximity to Cairns) is quite simply a must for anyone interested in wildlife spotting and a gourmet experience.

The Tableland is the food bowl of the tropical north and at the same time is host to some of the most diverse and rich wet tropical rainforests, protected by the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Its elevation provides a cooler, less humid climate.

Covered in craters, the Tableland was once a hive of volcanic activity. Mount Hypipamee National Park is itself a crater, a spectacular area rich in wildlife. All over the Tableland you can expect to encounter red-legged Pademelons, bandicoots, several species of possum and one of the most diverse range of birds in the world (there are 13 endemic bird species on the Tableland, more than anywhere else in Australia). Platypus spotting in the rivers that criss-cross the Tableland is relatively easy.

For those who like to weave a little fine food, art and culture into their holiday, the Atherton Tableland won’t disappoint. Wonderful restaurants and cafes dot the Tableland, making the most of the fresh produce available.

Let’s take a little tour of the Tableland and sample a few of the delights on offer.

Kuranda is a bustling tourist mecca, with a tree-lined avenue of art and craft shops and restaurants. The Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail Rainforest Gondola both terminate at Kurnada.

On the way to Atherton, visit Mareeba, famous for its coffee plantations and hot air ballooning. The Tolga Scrublands are beautiful, offering a picturesque setting to spot the Coppery Brushtailed Possum (only seen on the Tableland), and enjoy this very special, dryer microclimate.

For a dose of the real outback, a visit to Chillagoe is a must.

Atherton us a lively town with cultural attractions (including the historic Hou Wang Miau temple) and is the starting point for the historic steam train trip to Herberton. Just fifteen minutes to Lake Tinaroo and you’ll experience some great fishing.

The historic town of Yungaburra is a beautiful town with great restaurants and cafes. The Crater Lakes are close by and not to be missed, notable for the old growth rainforest hosting giant Kauri Pines. The Curtain Fig Tree stands 50 metres tall and is over 800 years old.

The Waterfall Circuit on the Tableland takes in the Milla Milla falls, Mungalli Falls and a seemingly endless list of others. Take time to visit the town of Malanda, which has a classic Queensland country town feeel and the Malanda Environment Centre is a must.
Nearby, Broomfield Swamp is the largest crater on the Tableland and home to Sarus Cranes and Brolgas. Malanda also features a number of artistic murals throughout the town.

Ravenshoe is Queensland’s highest town, and to our mind is an area all should visit. Listed as a World Heritage Area (which ended logging in the area in 1988), this is the gateway to the Tully Falls at Tully George, the Innot Hot Springs and the Millstream Falls (Australia’s widest falls). Past Mount Garnet, you’re heading toward Undara Volcanic National Park where the unique lava tubes have been in the making for around 190,000 years.

From this brief overview you’ll probably appreciate the extraordinary diversity of this very special area. Given this, it is simply not possible to do justice to the experience by visiting for the day. Plan to stay at the very least for three days (ideally a week to ten days) and consider a tour with a local who really knows the area.

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