The Atherton Tablelands, or more recently known as The Cairns Highlands, is situated around one hours drive West of Cairns City on a plateau with an altitude ranging from 600 to 1100 meters.
The Atherton Tablelands which is comprised of a series of small historic townships west of Cairns has much to offer travellers from all over the world.
This slice of beautiful Australian countryside features lush green rolling hills, crisp clean air and historical townships full of true blue Australian locals who are always more than willing to share with visitors this lovely part of Australia totally inspired by nature and relatively unspoilt by human development. Being conveniently placed so close to Cairns, The Atherton Tablelands is a great escape from the hurried City life most of us live daily.
There are several rainforest holiday accommodation retreats, weekend getaway bed and breakfasts and farm stays where travellers can get a true taste of Australian hospitality and culture and learn about the pioneers of the Atherton Tablelands region and the hardships they faced whilst creating a life for themselves and their families.
The Atherton Tablelands has now naturally become a major must do place to visit for all tourists coming to Cairns Australia to witness its beauty and diversity.
The primary industry on the Atherton Tablelands is agriculture. The Gold mining and logging history of the Atherton Tablelands bought immigrants from all around the world to this destination and this is now evident in the variety of exotic produce grown and exported world wide. The different cultures are also evident when you visit the local International Clubs and attend local Agricultural Events.
Horse riding is a big activity in the Atherton Tablelands and it is always fun to visit the local Pony clubs and attend the Gymkhana's and of course the annual Mareeba Rodeo when lot's of locals and tourists alike camp out for the weekend to see some genuine Australian Bronc riding and bull riding competitions with participants from around the world.
Driving from one side of the Cairns Highlands and Atherton Tablelands to the other you will see rolling hills of blissful dairy and cattle farms, orchards growing exotic tropical fruits like mangoes, papaws, mangosteen, jackfruit, dragon fruit, bananas, lychees, passion fruit and avocados, sugar cane plantations, wineries, distilleries and coffee plantations.
A lot of the farming on the Atherton Tablelands is based on Bio-Dynamic and Organic Farming principles and you can call in for lunch or afternoon tea to taste some of the farm fresh produce and see the produce being made.
Location of the Atherton Tablelands
The Atherton Tablelands can be accessed four different ways. The southernmost route is from Innisfail on the Palmerston Highway. Just north of Innisfail turn right, this easy drive winds through the rainforest and the Johnstone River Valley and finishes at Millaa Millaa.
The Gillies Highway from Gordonvale (20 minutes south of Cairns) winds its way through the rainforest and ends up in Yungaburra.
From Smithfield (10 minutes north of Cairns) take a left hand turn at the Kuranda roundabout and climb the steep, range for approximately 15 minutes; this route will take you to Kuranda.
The Rex Range, just north of Port Douglas is a lovely drive through sugar cane fields and pristine townships; this route is 75 kilometres and takes you to Mareeba.
The best way to see the Atherton Tablelands for the first time is to go with a local tour operator and they can show you the best attractions that the region has to offer in the one day.
Atherton Tablelands Ancient Rainforests
Another common sight you will see on the Atherton Tablelands is the ancient rainforests. The rainforest on the Atherton Tablelands are World Heritage listed in recognition of the fragility and exquisiteness of the ecosystem.
The rare Mabi Rainforest which used to cover the entire Atherton Tablelands is now confined only to the Atherton Shire.
This unique rainforest contains three species that are classified as being vulnerable to extinction (Pink Silky Oak, Atherton Sauropus and Atherton Turkey Bush) and many that are classified rare including the Pink Leaf Haplostichanthus, Coorangooloo Quandong, Red Penda and Gray's Cryptolepis.
The Mabi Rainforest is every animal and plant lovers dream. There are several tours, walks, hikes and trails through these unique environments where people can get an educated and informed perspective of this rare part of Australia's natural environment.
Atherton Tablelands Landscapes
The landscapes of the Atherton Tablelands are also decorated with many unique geological monuments.
Dormant cinder cone and shield volcanoes have left a torrid reminder of a once active volcanic past.
The result of the Cairns highlands volcanic history has left some unique basalt and granite rock formations that have attracted geologists and researchers to the region for years.
Atherton Tablelands Stunning Natural Scenery
If you're not coming to the Atherton Tablelands for the stunning natural scenery, the tranquillity and fresh air, the historical townships or authentic Australian culture then the beautiful fresh water lakes may give you a reason to visit.
The largest body of water, Lake Tinaroo, is actually the regions dam proving irrigation to all the agricultural farms in the area. Lake Tinaroo is also enjoyed by water sports enthusiasts and campers providing year round fun and excitement on the water.
Water skiers, wake boarders, wind surfers, canoers, kayakers, hikers and campers will love this natural outdoor facility; one of Mother Nature's playgrounds.
Lake Barrine which was formed by a volcano has a wildlife cruise and a beautiful tea house overlooking the lake and Lake Eacham also formed by a volcano is another great spot for families enjoying a lakeside picnic or a refreshing dip. Just look out for those bubbles of gas coming up to the surface then run for your life before the volcano erupts! (Just kidding)
Atherton Tablelands Highland Townships
There are several townships throughout the Atherton Tablelands and all can be easily visited in a long day or over a casual weekend holiday in a cute bed and breakfast lodge.
Atherton is the largest shire on the Tablelands and has the largest population base of 5,800 residents; Atherton was the first settled township on the Tablelands. Today all major services can be found here such as a full sized supermarket, retail clothing stores, restaurants, beauty salons, post offices and much more.
Tolga is an extremely fertile farming area. It is not a major tourist hub but is a great place to stop for a quick look around or to grab a bite at the Tolga Woodworks a favourite of the locals with home made scones and breads, hot soups in winter and fresh crunchy salads in summer.
The population of Tolga is 935 and it has facilities such as: A school, racetrack, post office and pub. Our favourite stop off is the Tolga Woodworks, great hospitality and home baked farm fresh food.
Yungaburra, this charming township has remained the same for nearly 100 years expressing an obvious pioneer feel when you visit. Yungaburra is the artistic hub of the Tablelands with an annual Folk Festival and farmers markets every month. Surrounded by lake, rainforest and wilderness this small country town has much to be explored.
Have a beer at the old Yungaburra hotel and talk to a few of the locals to get more of a feel of the way these Australians live their lives in this unhurried part of the country; you can even stay here for the night in some upstairs pub style accommodation.
Malanda is the wettest area of the Atherton Tablelands which is apparent by its lush green landscapes. Malanda is the capital of Queensland's dairy industry and tourists can visit the well known Organic Dairy Farm Mungalli Creek to sample some of their hand made cheeses and yoghurts and other baked goods at the out of the whey cafe on the farm.
Malanda also has several fresh water creeks for swimming and tranquil waterfalls for picnics.
Millaa Millaa is the gateway to the Atherton Tableland's famous waterfall circuit. Beautiful waterfalls such as Mungalli Falls, Millaa Millaa Falls, Zillie Falls, Ellinjaa Falls can be viewed on a day tour or independently just follow the brown tourist signs.
Stop of here for a refreshing swim with turtles and fish in the mountain fresh waters and pull out a picnic and take in the beauty of the region. A lot of big blockbuster movies have been shot in these Atherton Tablelands waterfall locations.
Mareeba is the Atherton Tablelands gateway to the outback. This fertile area is the 'bread bowl' of the Atherton Tablelands and a food lover's paradise; sample exotic tropical fruits, unique boutique wines and some of the best coffee and handmade chocolates in the world.
Mareeba is a busy township with all major services and facilities and features the must do Mareeba rodeo in July each year. Bronc riding, bullriding yee haa!
Dining on the Atherton Tablelands
There are several great places to eat on the Atherton Tablelands. Mareeba and Atherton both have a large assortment of restaurants, cafes, take-away shops and coffee shops.
Yungaburra has the legendary Nick's Restaurant which features unique Swiss Cuisine; Yungaburra also has a small pizza shop and a few small coffee shops and tea houses.
Every township on the Atherton Tablelands is guaranteed to have a local pub where simple meals and drinks can be purchased at a reasonable price.
All the bed and breakfasts, resorts and accommodation houses also offer country style meal options when staying in the Cairns Highlands overnight.
Nightlife on the Atherton Tablelands
Nightlife on the Atherton Tablelands is in true rural Australian fashion. Each local pub will draw a melting pot of patrons each night; tourists are always welcome.
The Barron Valley Pub in Atherton has some of the liveliest nightlife on the Tablelands and draws a large crowd of locals on the weekend.
Annual festivals such as Mareeba Mango Mardi-Gras, The Yungaburra Folk Festival and the Atherton Show really liven up the regions nightlife.
Otherwise call into the International Clubs and see what entertainment they have on for the evening.
Shopping on the Atherton Tablelands
The shopping on the Atherton Tablelands ranges from boutique clothing stores, eclectic souvenir shops and your larger chain operated stores like Target and Crazy Clarks.
Mareeba and Atherton have the majority of the major shops and the larger supermarkets.
Small towns like Millaa Millaa and Yungaburra have several unique one-off souvenir shops and artsy types of galleries.
Tours on the Atherton Tablelands
There is plenty to see and do on the Atherton Tablelands. Take a guided tour to visit the lovely waterfalls, spot platypuses, visit the Curtain Fig Tree and the cherished Paronella Park. There are Hot Air Balloon tours that leave from Mareeba each morning that will take you sailing in the calm skies with views of the Great Barrier Reef and World Heritage Rainforest. There is horseback riding and ATV tours as well as four wheel drive safaris through the rainforest. Also from the Atherton Tablelands go, on a wine, coffee or food tour or simply relax and enjoy a quiet family picnic or hike around one of the lovely fresh water lakes.
Climate on the Atherton Tablelands
The climate on the Atherton Tablelands is less humid than in Cairns City. The air is cool and very cold and crisp during the winter months and drier than Cairns City during the summer months.
In the winter expect varying temperatures between 5 degrees at night and 28 degrees during the day depending on where you are on the Tablelands. Enjoy the winter months by staying overnight at the Tablelands in one of the Accommodation retreats offering guests a warming fire place.
In the summer months expect warmer temperatures ranging between 20-35 degrees with heavy rainfall and storms in the evenings to re-fresh the rainforests and fields - a perfect time to enjoy a swim at Lake Barrine or Granite Gorge!