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Nestled high in the Great Dividing Range west of Cairns, the beautiful Atherton Tablelands is bursting with a variety of family-friendly activities and things to do. From ancient rainforest to towering mountains and the rich red volcanic soil of the farmland, touring through the area is a visual feast for the eyes. Both C and I were lucky enough to grow up on the Tablelands, so our childhood memories are filled with swimming at crystal clear waterfalls and volcanic lakes, eating farm fresh produce, and pretty picnic spots.
The closest major airport is located in Cairns. You can hire a car and drive from Cairns to Atherton Tablelands via the Kuranda or Gillies ranges, and take a self-drive Atherton Tablelands tour. If you are short on time or don’t want to drive yourself, there are a variety of tours available to join. Click here for an Atherton Tablelands map to help plan your trip. Atherton Tablelands accommodation ranges from hotels to quaint B&B’s, and even private treehouses. For Atherton Tablelands camping and caravanning, there are several caravan parks to choose from, as well as plenty of free and low cost camps.
Go chasing waterfalls
Exploring the Atherton Tablelands waterfalls is one of the most popular things to do when visiting the area!
Located just outside the tiny village of Millaa Millaa, the Millaa Millaa Waterfall self-drive circuit encompasses three different waterfalls. The first is the stunning, single drop Millaa Millaa Falls, one of the most photographed waterfall in Australia. Further along the circuit is Zillie Falls and Ellinjaa Falls. There are BBQ and picnic areas located at all three waterfalls.
Mungalli Falls is a little further out from Millaa Millaa as you head towards Innisfail. At 90 metres high, it is the highest waterfall on the Tablelands. Be sure to check out the Mungalli Creek Dairy while you are there!
Millstream Falls can be found just outside of Ravenshoe, the highest town in Queensland. This impressive falls are the widest single-drop waterfall in Australia.
Dinner Falls is a cascading waterfall just a short walk below Mt Hypipamee Crater.
Malanda Falls is located on the outskirts of the town of Malanda, and is perfect for a warm afternoon swim.
Pepina and Souita Falls can be found along the Old Palmerston Highway scenic route. This narrow and windy road means these waterfalls tend to be less crowded and you’ll often have them to yourself!
Check out ancient volcanoes and trees
Mt Hypipamee Crater is the remains of an old volcanic pipe, formed thousands of years ago. Surround by rainforest, the crater is filled with water and vibrant green duckweed. A short walk further along the track will bring you to the pretty Dinner Falls.
Lake Eacham is a volcanic crater, that is now filled with crystal clear water and encircled by lush rainforest. This is the place to go if you want to swim! There are plenty of picnic spots and BBQ facilities.
Lake Barrine, like Lake Eacham, is another crater lake surrounded by rainforest. Take a walk around the lake to view the gigantic kauri trees, or take a guided lake cruise. There is also a nearby tea house overlooking the lake.
Bromfield Swamp, near Malanda, is the remains of this shallow volcanic crater that has become a haven for birdlife, and includes a viewing platform.
The heritage-listed Curtain Fig Tree is a short drive from Yungaburra. This enormous strangler fig tree is over 500 years old, and its dangling aerial roots are reminiscent of large curtains. The short boardwalk around the tree is perfect to view this magnificent tree.
The Cathedral Fig Tree is another ancient strangler fig tree, located in the Danbulla State Forest. It tends not to be as busy as the Curtain Fig Tree, and also has an easily accessible boardwalk around the tree.
Step back in time
The Historic Village in Herberton is like stepping back in time, with an impressive collection of historical exhibits collected from around Australia. The outdoor museum also showcases the rich history of the Herberton area, with over 60 original buildings on site, plus countless antiques and memorabilia. The Tearooms serve up delicious meals and snacks for when you are finished exploring, or enjoy a picnic in the grounds.
Cost: $72 for a family of 4. Find more information at https://www.historicvillageherberton.com.au/
Go to new heights
At Millaa Millaa Lookout, you will be greeted with views of endless, green rolling hills. On a clear day you can see for miles, and even glimpse Mount Bartle Frere and Mount Bellenden Kerr, the highest and second highest mountain in Queensland respectively.
Your Tablelands tour isn’t complete without a visit to Ravenshoe, the highest town in Queensland. Enjoy a drink or meal at the highest pub in Queensland, the Ravenshoe Hotel.
For a bucket list experience, book yourself on a Hot Air Balloon trip! There’s nothing like seeing the Atherton Tablelands from the air at sunrise.
Be wowed underground
Situated under the main street of Atherton, The Crystal Caves are a unique attraction, with over 300 metres of tunnels that feature an impressive collection of beautiful crystals and fossils. You can enjoy the interactive displays on a self-guided tour, or crack open your own geode to find the hidden treasures inside.
COST: Prices start from $62 for a family of 4. Find more information at https://crystalcaves.com.au/
Food and weekend markets
The rich volcanic soils of the Tablelands is perfect for farming, with a huge variety of crops and produce grown.
For an icy-cold treat, be sure to stop in at Emerald Creek Ice Creamery, between Cairns and Mareeba. Coffee lovers should not miss a visit to Coffee Works in Mareeba to taste test all the locally grown coffee varieties. In Atherton, Petals and Piccones is a eclectic cafe serving up delicious meals and massive Creation Jars, which are described as ‘milkshakes on steriods’. For cheese and chocolate lovers, a visit to Gallo Dairyland is a must, or the Mungalli Creek Bio-Dynamic Dairy. During strawberry season, the kids will love picking their very own tasty strawberries at Shaylee Strawberry Farm.
Monthly markets are a popular drawcard for many visitors, with a variety of local produce and handmade goods for sale. You can find all the Atherton Tablelands markets listed by town here.
Spot the wildlife
The Atherton Tablelands are home to a diverse array of wildlife.
Platypus Park in Atherton is a the perfect location to spot the elusive platypus from the large viewing platform. There is also a playground and picnic area for the kids to play and stretch their legs.
Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for other very special and rare wildlife while you explore. Last year I was lucky enough to spot a tree kangaroo on the Kennedy Highway between Atherton and Ravenshoe, and also a cassowary just outside of Ravenshoe!